By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
In early October the group Campus Reform released a video of Harvard students being asked, “What is a greater threat to world peace, America or Islamic State?” Predictably, the students said that Western civilization and US oil interests are the real problems. A commentator at the online program The Young Turks noted, “We opened up a pandora’s box out of which arose IS, our actions created outcomes, one of which is IS.”
At Secular Talk, Kyle Kulinski mocked Campus Reform, noting the disparities between US influence and “a ragtag group like IS… we did create IS… when we de-ba’athified Iraq, and those Sunnis joined IS… if Saddam had stayed in power then IS would not have risen to power, because Saddam had more Sunni inclusion.”
Then in mid-November Ami Horowitz went to UC Berkeley and waved around an IS flag to see how student would react. “We’re forced to harm people by American imperialism and laws,” he shouted – and one student gives him a thumbs up. When Horowitz waves an Israeli flag, however, he is subjected to a litany of abuse. And America isn’t the only place where IS seems to go over with a shrug. In Denmark several hundred men and women marched in late October in an Islamist rally where flags of Hizb ut-Tahrir and IS were flown. A fascist speech was delivered in which the leader claimed the West “mocks the prophet” and when “we respond by denying the Holocaust we are thrown in jail.” He spoke proudly of being against democracy and freedom of expression. “We must fight for Islam… for an Islamic state where it is forbidden to mock the prophet.” The activists enjoyed police protection and had a march after the speech, shouting “Obama, Obama, we love Osama.”
It is surreal to see hundreds of people marching down a main street in a European capital shouting “jihad” while holding posters depicting nooses for their “enemies” or showing a boot on the head of a “westerner.” The thuggish chauvinism, the symbols and the speeches about the hatred of democracy are all clearly reminiscent of an earlier era of fascism, but as in the US, such things do not strike a cord among the “liberal” voices in society. No one protests these manifestations of hate, no one condemns them. They are normal. And because of the strange way that Islamism has been passed off as “anti-Western imperialism,” these displays of contempt and hatred for democracy and support for violent “jihad” are not seen as part of the radical Right, but are coddled by the Left.
While IS has found fertile ground in Europe and a shrugging of the shoulders at US college campuses, its ranks are filling up with volunteers from abroad. In fact the entire organization should be understood as being underpinned by a foreign jihadist cadre. First it was revealed that “Jihad John,” a failed UK rapper, had joined IS and was accused of executing James Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines, and now two French nationals, Maxime Hauchard and Mickael Dos Santos, have been accused of involvement in murdering 18 Syrian soldiers as well as US humanitarian worker Peter Kassig.
Some of this complicity of European-born and educated jihadists seems almost ridiculous; with Dos Santos for example posting on Twitter, “J’annonce clairement que ce n’est pas moi present dans la video [it wasn’t me].” Syria has become a magnet for anyone in the world who wants to pour their anger, hope and hate into a lawless place. From the “fat jihadists” from Australia who were “not fit to fight” to the “love jihadists” like a Dutch teenage convert named Aicha who had traveled there to marry fellow Dutchman Omar Yilmaz, a former Dutch soldier who traded in his beret for a beard.
There are a variety of theories behind what is happening.
In a Spectator article, British author Julie Burchill argues that IS appeals to the “Left’s secret love affair with misogyny.” James Delingpole went on a BBC program on free speech and was confronted by a wall of denial and excuses about IS: “A bearded Islamist in a Sharia sweatshirt was reverentially applauded as he spoke up about how his fellow British Muslims were moved to fight because they all were part of the ‘ummah,’” he recalled. The imam claimed they went to “defend” their “brothers and sisters.”
BUT IT is more than misogyny and passion for the “brothers” that is galvanizing IS. The legions of Europeans, many of them converts, some of them technically born Muslims but who have converted to IS ideology, go to Syria and Iraq because it presents a modern day Disneyland of hedonistic murder. The intellectual elites like to create complex excuses for people joining IS, as if the former gardener from Flanders, the frustrated “rapper” from Brixton or the former street performer from Normandy are “angry about US imperialism” and care for their “sisters” in Syria. No, they don’t. Evidence shows many extremists were formerly involved in some other devotion, whether it was rap or being a football hooligan or driving fast cars and selling drugs. The chance to kill people without threat of prosecution is just too good to pass up, especially when paired with the idea of getting to have sex slaves. It is the ultimate male fantasy, at least if you’re a psychopath.
These are murder-tourists. Some Westerners go on sex tours in Thailand, some go on safari, but for Jihadi John or his friends it is a murder tour. And why not? The prospects of a French or Danish convert to Islam who fell through the cracks, can’t find work and doesn’t get “respect” aren’t much – but in Syria he can “get respect.” He can channel all his aggression, anger, hate and love into “jihad,” which conveniently offers absolution for any crimes he may commit – in fact, the worse the crime, the closer to God he thinks he is getting.
Why are the “love jihadis” judged any worse than the women who, at the age of 15, want to be strippers or exhibitionists, or who become drug addicts? Why should it be more “logical” for them to want to dance nude in a Paris nightclub than to marry a jihadi they met online? It’s just as valid an expression of extremism and self-hate. The murder-tourism of European converts and others drawn to Syria is especially inviting for the prospective jihadist. He doesn’t have to pay for his crimes. He doesn’t have to take responsibility for his actions. There are no repercussions. His amoral universe there allows him to justify bullying, abuse, sociopathy and sado-masochism, without answering for any of it. It is a post-modern moral-relativist Hobbessian fantasy land.
MAJOR DAVID S. Pierson, a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) and executive officer of a military intelligence battalion wrote a brilliant analysis of this phenomenon in 1999 while at CGSC. “A natural killer is a person who has a predisposition to kill – he enjoys combat and feels little or no remorse about killing… these men have existed throughout history… they constitute less than four percent of the [military] force, yet some studies show that they do almost half the killing.”
Pierson noted that these psychopaths are “both a vital asset and potential liability.” His profile of them noted that they lack social emotions, are not firstborn sons, get into fights as children, enjoy contact sports, are from middle- or upper-class backgrounds, are extroverts and have above-average intelligence and a “caustic sense of humor.” A perfect match for, say, Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old Frenchman who gunned down four Jews and three French soldiers in Toulouse, and seriously wounded two other people.
Pierson’s extraordinary article was about how to best use natural killers, who he said will inevitably be present in all army units – not how to let them run wild. But jihadism in Syria has simply provided them with a playground, and if even a fraction of the “natural” killers in Europe go to Syria, that is a pool of 10 million potential jihadist converts. Where else will they go? Is it a surprise Omar Yilmaz was initially a soldier in the Dutch army and then became a jihadist? No. Secret tapes of German Second World War POWs published in 2012 showed that some boasted of a love of killing, and it is widely known that SS officers like Oberfuhrer Oskar Dirlewanger were thought by their own men to be sadists and sociopaths. The only difference today is that the Dirlewangers among us are being greeted by a shrug of the shoulders and complacency, as if they have a legitimate reason to want to murder in the name of religion.
Follow the author on Twitter @Sfrantzman.