ISIS or ISIL or IS – they are so creative in their name changings, I have to give them that – has startled the whole world it seems with their ambitious brutality. The Iraqi military just gave up their weapons and ran, despite the years and years of trainings from American experts, trying to compensate their invasion. The Kurdish Peshmerga tried to hold the fort but failed. But should we really have been so surprised?
I won’t discuss what a failure it is for Iraqi intelligence not to recognize the threat of ISIS, nor will I discuss the exclusion of minorities from the Iraqi government and the consequences it has had. This blog post will go back in time, and ask how these young men became ISIS terrorists in the first place.
How can a normal human being become attracted to such a merciless, murderous organization with no respect for humans what so ever, not even for their own kind? ISIS is not Al Qaida who will spare Muslims, they’re not the “good Talibans” of Pakistan, they’re a group of young men who supposedly sell women as sex slaves and twitter about it; who make children die of dehydration on a mountain. They don’t seem afraid of dying themselves. It is as if they had no attachments of their own, nothing to relate to but the darkness inside of them.
Let me start my trail of thoughts by telling you what I know of Iraq before the invasion. I’m not Iraqi, I have just lived there, and I’m not claiming to take an Iraqi’s place. I will just give you my impressions.
Iraq did not have a solid welfare state, well how many countries do?, and many rural areas were neglected under the long era of the Saddam regime. But there was an educational system, universities free of tuition fees and complimentary dorms for male and female students, making it possible also for women to gain an education away from home. In the cities there were governmental orphanages. Women were able to work and access public life. Religious freedom and coexistence was something to take for granted (no, I’m not bringing in Kurdistan in this discussion, because it’s not affected by the civil war that followed the invasion). In southern and central Iraq there was peace.
After 2004 not only bombs tore the country apart. Neighbors turned on each other, people started disappearing; regular civilians with no political connections. Corpses were dumped by the roads. Internally displaced people crowded the streets. Child-headed households became a new phenomenon. Child prostitution sky rocketed. A women’s rights NGO I worked with once received a teenage girl asking for help, who had been a prostitute since she was a child. She didn’t know who her mother was or why she had been left at the brothel so young. But it could have been anything – in a collapsed society you don’t always find a reason. The girl didn’t know how old she was, and at the brothel they called her different names.
“What is her real name?” I asked when hearing about the case.
Also this she didn’t know. She had no name.
Now imagine you’re a boy growing up with these reversed values around you. Where there once had been moral guidelines and a public condemnation if you did something considered wrong, fear and hatred has now taken its place. If you’re unlucky these reversed values seeps in to your family, creates enemies between family members because of religion, or closes the door to their own family in need of help. An Iraqi boy I once knew had his parents murdered by the Al Sadr militia and as a response his uncles made him sleep on the street.
“If you come here, they’ll come after us too,” his uncle said to the teenage boy who was left on his own.
But if you’re worse off you’ll have no family at all and you won’t know why, like the child prostitute without a name.
Time passes and you’re a frightened boy growing in to a young, angry man. And you might turn whatever madness that was around you to your defense. You have no education, no background, no family, no attachments. What was once wrong becomes right.
Are my ideas clear, did my message come through? If it was hard to grasp, here’s the short version:
ISIS shouldn’t have taken us by such surprise. We have created this monster ourselves.
Photocredit: Sweden and the Middle East Views Blog