Thursday, September 24, 2015

Jihad Reality: Why Disillusioned ISIS Defectors are Dropping Out

by Nomad

Syria ISIS Jihadist Defectors Disillusioned by what they witnessed, some former ISIS members have defected. Their testimony reveals the truth about the organization and the nature of the caliphate they have set up.

In Western society, we are pretty regularly taught not to dwell too deeply on mistakes we make in life. Move on and not look back in regret is the message.
However, in some instances, the mistakes we make can destroy our lives, the lives of people we care about and can affect in a direct and often damaging way, innocent victims. 

Shouldn't we as individuals take the time to stop and reflect on our bad decisions? And when mistakes happen on a grand scale, shouldn't society also sit back and make use of this bad example? 

I bring this point up after reading an article about former ISIS members who are now defecting from the organization and returning back to their homes. They are now testifying to the painful disillusionment they experienced and how their fantasy of jihad and a new world order were destroyed by the harsh barbarous reality on the ground.

According to research by International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR)  at least 58 people have left the terror organization ISIS since January last year. That may not seem like a mass exodus but the true figure is likely to be far higher. From the looks of things, their defections are coming not a moment too soon. 
Obviously the defectors have every reason not to admit they've been a member of one of the world's most vicious terrorist organization. and more reason to lay low now that they've left. 
The defectors’ experiences are diverse. Not everyone has become a fervent supporter of liberal democracy. Some may, in fact, have committed crimes. They were all, at some point, enthusiastic supporters of the most violent and viciously totalitarian organization of our age. Yet they are now its worst enemies.
From these people, many things can be learned about what's going on inside the organization and why some of the members are walking away.

Radicalization as a Process
To more fully answer why some members are defecting, it's probably best to ask why they joined in the first place. What could be the attraction that would drive people to quit their lives, families and jobs to go off to trust people they do not really know, to a land that is in chaos, to fight in an unwinnable war. What could transform such people- who have been until that time, law abiding and non-violent- into barbaric cut-throats of a type not seen since for 1000 years.  

By studying individual cases, some generalizations are being drawn about how people become radicalized, we might also understand why people can also drop out of a jihadist movement.

Researchers have found that this  radicalization is a complicated process, taking place in a person's life over the daily course of one's life.  
It doesn't happen overnight but it can happen without being noticed. This completed process  becomes an acceptance and adoption of  increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations. This is a abject rejection of the routine or "normal life" that had once formed the core of their existence. With that, out goes all of the ideas, goals and set of beliefs had come with it.  
Radicalization may not necessarily make a person a terrorist but it is the ultimate goal. There are differences between radical thinking, violent thoughts and violent acts. 
Everybody can have an axe to grind, but putting that axe to use in the name of some crusade is quite a major leap for most of us.

Clearly a sense of disillusionment and disenfranchisement can play a key role in the initial susceptibility of an individual.  A loss of identity with a sense of higher purpose has become an epidemic throughout societies around the world.
Unfortunately, in the West, there are a lot of people out there who, with a job, without any connection and without any vision for the future, feel a completely-understandable sense of desperation and hopeless.
That doesn't make them terrorists.
It does makes them potential victims for recruiters. It is no accident that the countries with the worst economies, with the least justice and socio-economic mobility are fertile ground for radical recruitment.
For the recruiters, that disenchantment with the status quo is the Achilles' heel, or the backdoor to gain entry into the minds of their targets.

Climbing inside Hearts and Minds
Authors Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko in their book, Frıction: How Radicalizatıon Happens To Them And Us, explores how the different mechanisms of radicalization work in concert. One of the key points of the book is that these radicalize people are not abnormal. Their behavior after radicalization and in its extreme form is so abhorrent to most of us to make them seem psychopathic and hardly human at all. 

Terrorism executions ISIS How could a human being ever take joy in destroying the historical heritage of all humanity?
How could a human being ever celebrate the burning alive of another human being?
How could  religion be an excuse for wholesale slaughter of the innocent and unarmed? Of women and children?  

Yet the psychology behind the radicalization process is not at all incomprensible. As one Journal of Strategic Security book review notes:
The main argument of Friction is that radicalized individuals are not abnormal. They are normal people who lead normal lives who have strong beliefs and passions and at a certain point in their lives (possibly in response to a trigger event) begin to act on those strong beliefs in response to any number of internal and external influences.
They may not start out abnormal but the monsters that some become once the radicalization process is over is a very different matter. 

In terms of the radicalization process alone, these mechanisms support (or enhance) the dissatisfaction ("You have a right to be angry. It's normal.") and at the same time, offer a means of resolving it, through a sense of belonging ("You are not alone. There are others like you.") and expression of their violent impulse ("Come join us in shaping a new world. We have the power to ")

The writers, both psychologists and consultants to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have drawn out six mechanisms at work:
  • Personal grievance, in which one seeks revenge for harm done to self or to loved ones;
  • Group grievance, in which one seeks revenge for harm done to a group or cause that the individual cares about;
  • Slippery slope, in which an individual is radicalized through increasing political involvement;
  • Love, in which one becomes radicalized through attraction to someone already radicalized;
  • Risk and status, which can move individuals (especially young men) toward violence regardless of ideology; and
  • Unfreezing, in which an individual becomes open to new ideas and identity after losing long-standing social reference points.
These are not stages but mechanisms which work together on an individual's will. Each of the mechanism is tailored to fit their particular circumstance of the targeted individual. 
Using its sophisticated online and social media recruitment strategies, along with one on one contact, such techniques provide ISIS and groups like it with a seemingly endless supply of young foreign fighters. 

What McCauley and Moskalenko want their readers to understand that a mind shift is required to properly understand radicalization and that: 
"…those who enter must leave behind the orderly and comfortable world in which normal people do not do terrible things."
Once they have left that world- our world- then anything is possible. 

With this in mind, we come to the bitter and most frightening truth of all: All of us under the right pressures could be potential victims of radicalizing influences. 

Jihad Recruitment and The Bigger Picture
While the majority of terrorist groups are Islamic-based, (albeit a warped interpretation of Scripture), this radicalization effect is certainly not limited to Islam. It's not about the evils of Islam, or conversely the decadence of the West. This kind of polarized debate is really missing the point.

The pattern of radicalization and recruitment for religious terror groups can apply to other non-religious terror organizations too, such as the KKK, Black Liberation Army, Irish National Liberation Army or the PKK.
That's why we should all be paying close attention. Ignoring the lessons learned here may invite a repeat of radicalization schemes for other terrorist movements.
Every time somebody with a grievance talks about taking things into his own hands, using violence to impose their ideal on the rest of society, you are listening to a terrorist in the making.

Under the right circumstances extreme radicalization can spread inside any society, no matter how sophisticated it thinks itself. Take Germany in the 1930s, for example. The Nazis didn't start out as national movement, but as a small group of radicals who did not hesitate to use violence to achieve their political aims. After the First World War, Munich, where the Nazis first attempted to seize power, was the hotbed of radical groups, estimated at around 50. 
Even though the German public thought the group was little more than a joke, it would prove to be 
This political group was every bit as racist, blood-thirsty dangerous as ISIS. The vision of the Third Reich lasting a thousand years isn't different from ISIS' utopian caliphate only in the details. 
In the end the death toll from that Munich group was far more than ISIS had- as yet- achieved.

Barbarians in the Age of Internet
In this day and age, however, the techno-savvy jihadists of ISIS are the most effective in the art of political seductive among susceptible individuals. They are extremely successful in working through social media to "jimmy" each person's lock on their conscience. 

ISIS Jihadists have become "self-style moral and political entrepreneurs of the contemporary global age, proselytizing a new "mindset " as part their attempt to construct a imaginary new world order. In some ways the jihadists are missionaries (or even crusaders) in the Internet age. 

Estimated by the Central Intelligence Agency, the organization is said to have a size of 31,000 fighters but these numbers are naturally not reliable.
The area they control in Syria and Iraq is mostly desert and yet, as of March 2015, ISIS has maintains control over territory occupied by ten million people. There they have set up an independent state run by a self-proclaimed caliphate, a political and religious leader.
Born near Samarra, Iraq, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was, in fact, captured by US forces in February 2004 and a few months later, released as a "low level prisoner." 
A few days ago, it was reported that an American air strike took out another senior leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Turkmani, “administrative emir” of the Islamic State and an Iraqi Army Colonel under Saddam Hussein.   

In addition, the group reportedly has nominal control over small areas of Libya, Nigeria and Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan. As Sunnis, ISIS targets Shias first, Yazidis, Kurds (despite belonging to the same sect   Christians, journalists and charity volunteers in that order. (While the exact number of civilian deaths is difficult to estimate, it is still far less than the number killed by Syrian government forces.)

Eventually revolutions, religious or not, tend to lose their idealized luster. For some, when faced with the horrific reality, the taste of jihad quickly turns to dust in their mouths.

Regrets of the Defectors
The Telegraph recently reported research from ICSR analyzing remarks made by ISIS defectors. This report concluded that the disillusionment that the newly-recruited jihadists felt back home was soon replaced with a greater disillusionment in ISIS- land.  
Many foreign fighters felt just as excluded as they had at home. On first arriving in Syria they were welcomed, interviews reveal, but soon thereafter were told by locals: “You are here to sabotage my country, you are coming to force something on us.”
Just like the invading US soldiers that invaded Iraq in 2003, the jihadist were not greeted as liberators by the local population. They were seen as an occupying force instead of heroes for Islam. To their dismay, they found themselves
"forcing a brutal interpretation of Sharia on people who didn’t want it. Ultimately, those interviewed said that lack of integration and alienation were key drivers of their defection as IS “citizens”, just as they had previously been drivers of their radicalisation and departure from the West."
Another thing that they soon learned was that ISIS wasn't about defending Islam against evil internal infidels or the Western crusaders.
But the reality, defectors reveal, is that Isil willingly murders pretty much anyone who disagrees with it. According to some Isil defectors, they were even told they would get closer to God by killing other Muslims.
This was not the jihad that had been promised.  
Many complained about atrocities and the killing of innocent civilians. They talked about the random killing of hostages, the systematic mistreatment of villagers, and the execution of fighters by their own commanders.
Actually what was going on ran contrary to everything they had previously been taught. They soon realized that if the ISIS campaign was about oppression and the slaughter of other Muslims, what was the point of replacing one evil with another?

ISIS ISIL exectionsA Hellish Sort of Utopia
The ISIS utopia left a lot to be desired, they revealed. On arrival, they realized that ISIS was in fact,
"inciting chaos (or fitnah) among Muslims. That Isil disproportionately fights other Sunni Muslim groups rather than Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a consistent sore spot for these defectors. That fellow Sunni Muslims who get on the wrong side of the caliphate’s religious police are victim to the same barbaric punishments handed out to Westerners, gay people and Yazidis in Isil propaganda is a key motivating factor for defectors for whom the organisation, its leadership and, on occasion, Isil's cause has become delegitimized.
One of the most persistent criticisms was the extent to which the group is fighting against other Sunni rebels. 
According to Amnesty International, ISIS' program of ethnic cleansing is on "historic scale." The human rights organization claims that thousands of women and children have been kidnapped and while men and boys have been summarily executed. Their aim is to drive non-Muslims out of the area. Children, younger than 12, have been indoctrinated as pre-school jihadists. (Some children have reportedly been taught how to behead victims using dolls.) 

The ICSR report notes: 
Most of the group’s attention, they said, was consumed by quarrels with other rebels and the leadership’s obsession with ‘spies’ and ‘traitors’. This was not the kind of jihad they had come to Syria and Iraq to fight.
Some of the interviewees implied that ISIS recruitment propaganda was a fantasy. Harsh reality was very different than the stories they had been told. Life under a caliphate was in reality marked by the kind of corruption and brutality, the dysfunctionality and the boredom that are fixtures of any tyranny. 
One defector testified that he, like others, found himself wondering "what I had come to do in Syria.” 
While many were willing to tolerate the hardships of war, they found it impossible to accept instances of unfairness, inequality, and racism. “This is not a holy war”, said a defector from India, whom the group had forced to clean toilets because of his color of skin.
Well-crafted propaganda might have lured the unsuspecting to this man-made hellhole, resentment and disillusionment might have made them willing victims, but ultimately nothing could hide the reality of their situation. There was nothing else to do but get out.
How many others are now realizing their mistake and who are unable to leave it is hard to say.

Hard Questions about Ex-Jihadists
The Roman Cicero once said 
"The evil implanted in man by nature spreads so imperceptibly, when the habit of wrong-doing is unchecked, that he himself can set no limit to his shamelessness."
Is there a degree in which evil once implanted can never be removed? Defectors might be useful as a propaganda tool and might provide vital information, but can they should they be allowed to return to the society they carelessly quit and actually betrayed?

The ICSR report makes a case for amnesty. the author of the report says,
"The very existence of defectors shatters the image of unity and determination that the group seeks to convey. Their narratives highlight the group’s contradictions and hypocrisies. Their example may encourage others to follow, and their credibility can help deter wannabes from joining."
The value of the defectors is their message to the world, the truth about ISIS. 
‘The Islamic State is not protecting Muslims. It is killing them’.  
In this way, the group is nearly exactly the opposite than what it paints itself to be.

The question remains: what is to be done with them? Should the defectors be viewed just as brainwashing victims, or as brutal criminals seeking clemency?

Perhaps a more essential question is: Can these people actually be rehabilitated? Some critics think full de-radicalization is not possible. 
In a mirror image of the recruitment process, rehabilitation program, experts say, has to be tailored to the person. As one source points out: 
Even supporters of deradicalization efforts... say claims about their effectiveness may be unreliable. Lack of data and different cultural standards mean it is tough to know which elements of such programs worked—or if they can be credited at all.
So, can these people ever be trusted? Is it fair to the rest of the society to trust people who made a conscious decision to abandon their society, family and friends for the sake of a lawless life? 

Should they really be allowed to return without standing trial for violating terror laws? How much participation can be excused?  Is there no justice for their victims? If they deserve to be punished, what effect will that have on future defections? 

Finally, do they have the right to return to the human race? Or have they forfeited forever their humanity?