Lured into the void of the Islamic State group

Lured into the void of the Islamic State group
Thousands of disaffected young Arabs have travelled to fight for the Islamic State group, where many are killed. Do they know what they are getting into?
3 min read
04 Dec, 2014
Disillusioned and embittered in their own countries, many have turned to the IS [Getty]

She could barely talk over the phone, and couldn't stop crying. Her 25-year-old son, Elias, was killed in Syria fighting for the Islamic State group against the Free Syrian Army - one of the enemies of the self-styled "caliph", Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Why was he involved? How could he be so brainwashed that he left the comfort of his family to fight for the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS)?

I tried to calm the grieving mother, who wanted to share her story with other mothers so they could rescue their sons from a similar fate. I asked her to tell me his story.

Neither poor nor underprivileged

Elias' middle-class family was an integral part of the mildly conservative Moroccan community.

Elias was the youngest of three brothers. He studied at Spanish mission schools, got a job with an international company, was about to get married, and showed no signs of "extremism".

His mother works in public education and his father was a fighter in the Independence Party of Morocco who wanted a free, independent, progressive homeland. He thought his dream would be achieved the minute the last soldier left Morocco. But the years of independence depressed him.

They dream of heroism and of belonging to a project they believe to be grand.

Elias was not recruited by the IS through a mosque, or by sleeper cells, or even through direct contact with sheikhs, advocates of jihad or fighters.

He was recruited on the internet. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were his radicalising grounds.

He watched videos of Syrian suffering under Bashar al-Assad's barbaric regime, which convinced him of a Shia plot against Sunnis. He watched videos that espoused jihad against the "infidel" US and its allies.

And the solution he was offered to these problems? Pledge allegiance to Baghdadi, join the IS, perform jihad and die for God - a direct route to paradise, without retribution, penalty or question.

And so Elias travelled to Istanbul, then the Syrian border, then finally to territory controlled by the IS. He called his mother a few weeks after leaving: "I am in Iraq, I'm a soldier fighting for the faith," he said.

Within a few months Elias was dead.
The death of dreams

What pushes a young man into the heart of a battle he knows only through videos and online slogans? No one knows the full answer.

Perhaps Elias and people like him dream of heroism and of belonging to a project they believe to be grand.

Perhaps he thought he had found a solution to what he had seen all around him: the death of Arab nationalism, the growing irrelevance of the political left, the undermining of Islam, and the end of the Arab Spring.

In Morocco and the rest of the Arab world from the 1950s to the 1970s, young people were attracted by the call of Arab unity, the liberation of Palestine and the revolution of workers. Today, young people are lost as these grand political projects collapsed. Even the promise of the democratic spring has been undermined by the forces of the counter-revolution.

Because of this, many have embarked on a suicidal project, created by adults, that kills youth. Many of these youngsters have never read a book about Islam or jihad, and don't know anything about the doctrines of war or politics.

Nevertheless, they travel to lands that are not theirs, and die. Those who are not yet dead are waiting to die. They did not stop to think, to ponder the complexities of the world before they threw themselves into the void.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.