Although they revile democracy, thousands of European Muslims have, in Lenin’s line, ‘voted with their feet’ and left free societies to join the most reactionary terror group in the world: the Islamic State (ISIS).
Over 3000 have left their families, relative material comfort and wealth, and in many cases university places, to go to the desert and acquiesce in unspeakable crimes against humanity.
Many went to fight a promised millenarian battle for an Islamic utopia, convinced it was a holy duty. Others, moved by suffering, went to fight the Assad regime and became entangled in Isis as an opposition force.
This phenomenon was not unforeseeable; rather, it was depressingly predictable.
Many young Muslims in Europe have been told by Islamist preachers and recruiters they are living in decadent, materialistic and ignorant societies where man-made law rules over the divine law of Allah. Promiscuity, alcohol, drugs and the horrible cult of gender and sexual equality are regnant. The world is partitioned into a Manichean struggle between belief and unbelief and Islam is the solution to this earthly sickness.
For once, ‘panacea’ is truly the mot juste.
No-one has exploited this disconnect better than ISIS, who spread their eschatological message through a well-oiled propaganda machine.
ISIS’ glossy magazine, Dabiq, is published multiple languages, filled with theological casuistry justifying atrocities and glorification of achievements. Slickly assembled video-game-like montages romanticising fighting and war are watched by young radicals in awe. This is high-definition, Tarantino-esque, Jihad. And if you die, eternal paradise awaits, for you have served Allah.
But if you’ve grown up in Britain, then join a conflict you don’t truly understand, where fighters give orders in Arabic, which you don’t understand; and you see the mutilated corpses , crucifixions, mass graves, beheadings, enslavement, rape, and genocide, then the idealistic light inside you may somewhat dim.
More so when you realise you’re almost exclusively killing other Muslims.
It’s clear that some British and European fighters have realised the all-too human complexion of this conflict, become ‘disillusioned’ all over again, and want to return. But faced with execution by ISIS for deserting, or life imprisonment for returning, they are left in a hard place, near the proverbial rock.
One of the strongest voices against Islamism in Britain has been Maajid Nawaz, a former radical turned counter-extremist. In an open letter to fighters with cold-feet he says: “This is no jihad. This is the worst Muslim on Muslim civil war of our age.”
That some want to return is a huge opportunity for western countries to swing a meaningful axe at the root of the radicalisation tree.
Those who genuinely renounce violence should be given the chance of rehabilitation within prison. After all, what more powerful way to dissuade potential Jihadists than the ex-Jihadist?
They know the ideology intimately and what moves people to embrace these corrosive ideas. They know what a man sounds like being crucified. They know how people look being torn open by bullets. They have seen the Yezidi children and women buried en masse. This gives them the legitimacy that the local imam or politician does not have.
Former global counter-terrorism director of MI5 and MI6, Richard Barrett, takes this view: “These repentant fighters need a way out, and although the law must take its course, they need to know there is a place for them back at home if they are committed to a non-violent future.
“Their stories of brutality and the motives behind it will be far more credible and persuasive than the rhetoric of men in suits.”
The ‘Jihadi john’ image of bloodthirsty, head-chopping purist fanatics grab all the headlines and attention, but in their midst are naïve, regretful young westerners with AK47’s trembling in their hands. There are different gradations of foreign fighters and some are not beyond redemption.
While imprisoned, fighters will be able to unravel their previous beliefs, get psychiatric help and counselling, and take part in deradicalisation programs followed by surveillance and monitoring after they’re released.
A report by the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam highlights that these programs should: “not only include processes which deconstruct the narratives espoused by violent extremists, but also challenge the ideological principles behind extremist organisations which divide society along binary lines.”
Though he is an authority in this area, Barrett’s opinion is not by any means the majority one. Some Members of Parliament have called for the antiquated law of high treason, which carries a maximum of life imprisonment. Others want Jihadists to be rendered stateless and stripped of their citizenship, a nebulous proposal under international law.
Such draconian suggestions are understandable, but will not go any way in solving what is going to be a generational confrontation. This is a battle of ideas, analogous in a way to the challenge of Soviet Communism in offering a totalitarian, revolutionary solution to the crises and problems of the modern world and systems governing it.
Despite the obvious security concerns and all the precautions and caveats that will be necessary, stripping their citizenship or locking these people up and ‘throwing away the key’ will destroy what could potentially be the most powerful tool to arrest the growth of European Jihadism.
“I have not given up on you.” Nawaz beseeches at the end of his letter, “To do so would have been to give up on myself.”
Source Global Political Insight