There is a new kind of map. It’s that stringy map everybody is publishing of the areas where ISIS is operating. Looking like taffy, or pizza cheese. I don’t recall one like it.
When I first started working for a newspaper, one of the things I did was draw maps. I like maps. I liked to emphasize known reference points so readers could orient themselves. I liked to put in boundaries of counties and towns. I noticed that some people who were advising me were far more oriented to roads than to boundaries. I made note of that.
This brings us to the new ISIS maps. Political maps based on roads rather than boundaries. They may not be the very first, but they’re relatively rare. They illustrate movement. They are fluid and ambiguous. Like the situation. They raise questions. If you drive up and down a road, do you control it? How much? If your corridors encircle an area, who controls the enclosed part?
But the maps also show cities where ISIS is shown to be in literal control. This is also significant, because it violates one of bin Laden’s rules of terrorism. “Don’t claim territory unless you can feed the people.” This list of bin Laden rules is also interesting. I’m not sure bin Laden is the final word in smart behavior. One of his rules was “Kill civilian Americans.” And now his organization is in shambles and he is at the bottom of the sea trying to find his 70 virgins amongst the squids and sponges.
But the attempt to rule territory is usually the ultimate aim of any movement, and this is where we are now, tangled in those ISIS strings. Feeding the people is not the only problem with holding territory. You also become the owner of hard targets in a world with a lot of air power. That’s even more amorphous to map.