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09212014_1It is not possible to read the news lately without encountering an article about ISIL. They are stories of death, war, and humanitarian disaster halfway around the world, yet they directly involve the United States. On September 10, President Obama spoke to the nation about the importance of confronting ISIL. Last week, Congress approved training and arming Syrian rebels so that they may fight ISIL. Last week also saw French planes destroy fuel depots and ammunitions controlled by ISIL in Iraq, American air strikes resume against ISIL, and record numbers of Syrian refugees flee ISIL and cross into Turkey. As the United States tries to create a coalition of western and Middle Eastern allies, it becomes increasingly clear that ISIL is not going away anytime soon. It is time to learn more about ISIL.

In a word—

09212014-2As you explore the resources in this article, it will help to understand a handful of specialized words: Jihad, Sharia law, and caliphate. They are key to understanding why ISIL appeals to its supporters and why it terrifies those who live in areas it overruns, people of different faiths, women’s rights activists, and democratic leaders. First, learn what a Jihad is (and isn’t), what Sharia law is and ISIL’s interpretation of it. Visit DiscoveryNews, use the menu bar at the bottom to scroll forward, and watch the videos about Jihad and Sharia law. Then, watch the BBC 90 second explanation of ‘caliphate’.

One thing you will notice is people refer to ISIL by different names—ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh. Where does each name come from and are they all interchangeable? To answer those questions, read the Vox article, ISIS, Islamic State, or ISIL?  

How ISIL evolved—

09212014-3ISIL has recently emerged in headline news and online in gruesome videos but ISIL has been around for several years. The power struggle during Syria’s on-going civil war, the withdrawal of American troops in Iraq, and Iraq’s crumbling independence and history of tribal divisions bolstered ISIL’s growth. Watch the BBC video The Rise of Islamic State. Today, ISIL controls regions of Iraq and Syria. Scroll down to see a map of the Islamic State Group’s War in Iraq. Use the timeline bar to turn back time and see how ISIL has advanced across Syria and Iraq. Pay attention to the lightly shaded areas of Iraq. These denote Iraq’s three major tribal groups. ISIL has capitalized on a long-standing tension between the Shias and Sunnis. Scroll down to the final map for a view of the territory ISIL leaders have targeted and aim to force in their Islamic State.

How ISIL works—

ISIL is a highly organized, well financed, and well-equipped group. How did a rogue group become so rich and attract thousands of fighters? For more information about its organization, territory, financing, military, governing, and weapons, visit the New York Times overview, How Isis Works.

09212014-4Horrific violence is one of ISIL’s hallmarks. Earlier this year, they posted videos showing the beheading of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and the British aid worker, David Haines. In each video, a masked man warned other beheadings will follow if the West continues to carry out airstrikes. Visit the BBC profiles of Foley, Sotloff, and Haines. Dozens of other Westerners are hostages. Their identities and details of their capture are not always widely publicized. Meet a few of them.

The international response—

09212014-5On September 10, President Obama spoke to the nation about the need to confront ISIL. Revisit the Associated Press interactive. Play four excerpts from Obama’s speech and hear his plans to expand airstrikes, support allied ground forces, wage a counterterrorism campaign, and continue humanitarian assistance. Vox.com shares three numbers that explain why ISIL will be hard to destroy.

09212014-6One challenge for the President is how to create a coalition of allies in a region full of frenemies. Is it possible for secular nations to work with nations guided by religious law?  Is it possible for the United States and Iran, long-standing foes, to cooperate against ISIL? Is it possible for Arab nations to work with Israel, or for Iraqi Sunnis to ally themselves with Iraqi Shia? Scroll further down in the Associated Press interactive to see what a coalition of nations could each contribute to the fight against ISIL.

The situation is a strategic, humanitarian, and political mess that challenges today’s leaders. It will no doubt mutate and future generations will inherit whatever hostilities, dangers, and messes rise from today’s actions.