The true horror of the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, a.k.a. ISIL) may be only now beginning to seep into the national consciousness. In a shocking New York Times’ exposé last week, the details of the sex slavery that is not only condoned but encouraged by the terrorist group were revealed. The Times’ reporter, Rukmini Callimachi, met with very young women (as young as 12 years old) who had recently escaped from captivity in Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic State has control over large areas of land and the people who live there.
“Every time he came to rape me, he would pray,” a 15-year-old girl told the reporter (one of several to provide the same kind of report). That particular girl had been captured on Mount Sinjar in Iraq. She was then sold, as a slave, to a fighter in his 20s.
“He said that raping me is his prayer to God,” the girl told Callimachi. The prayers are offered before and after the rapes, the rapists believing, apparently, that they are following the will of God (Allah) as dictated in the Quran under the interpretation of that holy book that these assailants accept. Another rapist told his victim that having sex with her “pleases God.”
The girls interviewed were mostly Yazidis, a small religious minority that the hierarchy of the Islamic State considers a heathen religion pursuant to this particular interpretation of the Quran. Captured Yazidi men were executed, according to the Times’ report.
We’re dealing with the most extreme form of Shariah law in these acts, and they may be limited to the Yazidis, who, unlike Christians and Jews (who suffer less severe punishment when captured because they are “People of the Book”), are the most despised unbelievers in the eyes of the Islamic State followers. But even Muslims can be subjected to punishment if they deviate from the version of Shariah law that the leadership of Isis is promulgating.
Another girl in the Times’ report gained her freedom after her “master” told her that he had completed his training as a suicide bomber and was now ready to blow himself up. Hence, he told the girl, he was setting her free.
So, who are these people? And how is the Islamic State gaining ever more adherents and soldiers in its war?
Many of them are misguided idealists like Jaelyn Young and Muhammad Dakhlalla, students at Mississippi State University who were arrested last week and charged with planning to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State. She was a cheerleader, an honor student, and the daughter of a police officer, who wanted to be a doctor. He was her fiancé, an easy-going psychology student whose father is a Muslim patriarch who is described as “a walking advertisement for Islam as a religion of tolerance and peace.”
If the charges against these two young people (she is 19; he’s 22) are true, they represent the youthful idealism that can be attracted to an organization that appeals to their simplistic view of their religion. In that regard, they are not unlike followers of any cult or sect that plays on emotions and idealistic aspirations. The Jim Jones followers who died in the Jonestown massacre in 1978 come to mind. They literally “drank the Kool-Aid.” Young people like Ms. Young and Mr. Dakhlalla are figuratively drinking it as well, as are the suicide bombers and the rapists, presumably.
Roger Cohen, in a recent Times’ OpEd, posits that it is the order and lack of freedom that the Islamic State provides that is attractive to the young people who, in droves, are seeking to join the cause. “The Islamic State,” Cohen says, “is tapping into a yearning to be released from the burden of freedom.” He suggests that in our liberalization of just about everything (religion, marriage, divorce, sex, drugs, even the right to die) there may appear to be, to these particular young idealists, few, if any, moral boundaries left.
So we may have a rejection of moral ambiguity in the minds of these young people. Or they may all just be dupes of a propaganda operation that is far more sophisticated than the archaic fundamentalism of the ideology that spawns it. Whatever the attraction, it is becoming abundantly clear that this movement cannot be defeated solely with military weaponry.
In this regard, the recent claim by Jeb Bush that President Obama and Hillary Clinton are to blame for the rise of ISIS is laughable, albeit it’s a clever political move. Bush has stumbled repeatedly over the question of whether his brother’s decision to invade Iraq was a mistake. Most recently he again said that the U.S. is clearly better off without Saddam Hussein in power. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Saddam Hussein, for all the crimes he may have perpetrated on his own people, was an absolute enemy of any fundamentalist terror organization because of the threat it would have presented to his own rule.
He was, in essence, the classic example of the dictator who furthered U.S. interests to the detriment of his own people. In most instances in the Cold War era, those dictators were right-wing military leaders who kept communist uprisings in check. Saddam served the same purpose, and would have so continued to do so, with respect to groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.
But Jeb is using the claim that Obama is the culprit to take the focus away from his brother’s act of international lawlessness (which is what the invasion of Iraq was, let there be no doubt). And that act, not Obama’s commitment to end the Bush war in Iraq (a commitment that Bush himself made), is what allowed ISIS to become the threat it is today.
Where Obama and most probably Hillary are wrong is in believing that the Islamic State can be defeated on the military battlefield. ISIS is a form of perverse zealotry. It attracts the naïve and the idealistic young people who want to believe in their religion in its purest form. They are Islam’s born-agains, if you will, and they will not be dissuaded by massive military might.