By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
More and more ISIS supporters from places like Holland, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, the UK and elsewhere are appearing in Syria. After more than four years of brutal war they seem to have emerged unscathed from a war that cost the lives of tens of thousands and in which more than 3,000 Yazidi victims of ISIS are still missing. In short, the western supporters of ISIS seems to have done quite well, having higher survival rates than the local supporters of ISIS.
This appears to be due to the fact that not only did they come from mostly privileged, middle class, backgrounds in their home countries, but even when they got to Syria ISIS allowed them a kind of privilege to enter at the top rung of the ISIS caste system. We have learned a lot over the years about ISIS abuse of locals. It began with massacres directed against poor people, such as the Shaitat tribe and against Shi’ites. It then grew to include the ethnic-cleansing of Christians from Nineveh plains and then the systematic attempt to genocide and enslave Yazidis. These were unprecedented types of crimes, recalling memories of the Nazis or KKK. And yet we hear that these ISIS members were raised with “normal values” in places like Australia. Yet they engaged so quickly in enslavement and genocide without any remorse. It came almost naturally to them. Mark Taylor was quoted saying his “biggest regret was not being able to afford a slave.”
It is thus no surprise that some of the westerners were converts and came from places where many had previously joined the SS in the 1940s. They were reliving an experience of colonialism and genocide that would not have been entirely foreign to them. Lost in stories about ISIS and the kind of exoticism with which it is portrayed, is some discussion of the tendency for so many people from Europe to join this organization and seek to travel to far to harm the most poor and vulnerable people in Syria and Iraq.
I wrote a few notes about this on Twitter: The more reports we see on the foreign and mostly western ISIS members the more we realize that ISIS was partly a product of western countries and the genocidal hatred that percolated up and that these countries didn’t do enough to stop this or de-radicalize. Now today after exporting thousands of these people to one of the poorest and vulnerable states in the Middle East, much like in the colonial era, the western countries are saying they don’t want their citizens back and won’t pay to put them on tries in the region.
It’s too late now for some victims…but we need a resolution in the Middle East: Never Again will this be allowed to happen. Never again will this region be the dumping ground for foreign extremists, never again will they be permitted to cross borders or harm minorities.
From now on regional states must work to not allow extremists from Europe and other countries to come to the region and inflame hatred. The region paid such a high price to fight ISIS; now everyone can learn from this horror. It starts with education. These foreign ISIS members were educated in places like Austria, Holland, NZ, the UK, some are converts, they were mostly middle class; so why did they find genocide so acceptable? And slavery? We need to see why and what went wrong in education.
Asked why ISIS propaganda was effective, I responded;
I have heard the usual excuses that it was about poverty or discrimination. But many people who suffer poverty and discrimination don’t travel 2,000+ km to commit genocide and own slaves. The converts didn’t suffer any discrimination, they had supremacist privilege. I think it has to do with people who had latent colonialist and genocidal impulses, like those who supported Hitler, and they saw ISIS as a vehicle to enjoy their worst impulses of abuse and harm of vulnerable poor people in the Middle East. Western countries didn’t stop it.
Western countries, such as Belgium and Holland have never confronted their history of why tens of thousands of their citizens joined the SS. Just like in 1945, in 2019 they want to shirk responsibility and just pretend like nothing happened and “oh, it’s over now, back 2 normal.”
Also, there’s no simple answer, right? I mean 50,000 people joined ISIS or maybe more, so many of them have different reasons. I’m sure it’s not simple and that is why we need education and work to prevent extremism etc. And address all the causes. Wealthy countries must do more.
Can religious scholars do more to confront this and spread the right message? My experience has been that in the Middle East there are a lot of scholars who want to confront this ideology and are doing so effectively. I think in Europe there was not enough done, and governments knew about this phenomenon and didn’t stop it. Exported it in fact.
I have other questions too. Do you think one reason they don’t want the ISIS members to come back is because some trials might show that intelligence services knew about and tracked where these folk were…and didn’t do much to stop them. I mean they received wire transfers even for years.
Why isn’t there more support for universal jurisdiction to put them on trial?