More depraved than deprived

The idea that individuals from poor backgrounds marginalized by society and starved of opportunity are the ones dashing off to Daesh just doesn’t stack up. There are millions all over the world living on less than $2 a day, millions more who get their daily bread from scavenging in garbage dumps or spending 12-hours-a-day in the fields for little more than the price of a meal. Their fantasies don’t include chopping off heads or burning people alive; they dream of sending their children to school.

Daesh HQ isn’t interested in down-and-outs. Its recruiters go after educated tech-savvy young men, via the Internet, promising brides, female slaves, cash and a glorious end as martyrs for the “caliphate”—and for each fool that falls into the net they receive a payment of $10,000. Young men brought up on a diet of violent movies and computer games, crave excitement and adventure rather than rescuing from poverty or societal subjugation.

They post slick videos dubbed in multiple languages—part action movies, part cozy domestic scenes—starring charismatic, handsome young “warriors” with Colgate smiles playing with children against a backdrop of an amusement park. Others portray Daesh “cubs,” kids barely more than toddlers, learning how to carve the heads off their Teddy bears. Once a target is on the hook, he is allocated a persuasive contact responsible for making his travel arrangements.

The reality is very different. The few who’ve succeeded in returning complained that life within the de facto capital, Raqqa, was boring and routine. Former supermarket security guard Omar Hussein grumbled on his blog that his Arab comrades used his phone without his permission, stole his shoes, lacked table manners and were undisciplined drivers. “Coming from the West, we have certain rules and regulations, which we abide by while on the road,” he wrote.

Another foreign fighter moaned that he was made to wash dishes and do chores. Those that become disillusioned and want out are held against their will, threatened with death and anyone who dares stray from the path is publicly executed. The lucky ones are either detained in their home countries or subject to surveillance.

Daesh, if a death cult like so many others before it, including the Peoples Temple led by the “Mad Messiah” Jim Jones, who whilst in Guyana morphed from an idealist into a megalomaniac forcing almost 1,000 of his followers to consume cyanide, and Heaven’s Gate, whose members committed suicide in the belief their spirits would depart on an extra-terrestrial space ship. There are many more examples, all with some type of religious component even when almost all religions consider suicide to be a sin.

The difference is that Daesh doesn’t distinguish between its own and the innocents it targets. Newbie Daesh members are stripped of their passports on arrival and asked whether they want to be fighters or suicide bombers. Its leadership, primarily former officers from Saddam’s army, aren’t delusional and aren’t in any hurry to get to Heaven (or wherever else they’re going) themselves. They are callously using their distorted version of the religion of submission, tolerance and peace as a means to keep their underlings motivated and the peoples whose cities they occupy under their boot. If they were, indeed, good Muslims, then why are they killing more Muslims than anyone else?

Their endgame is wealth, territory and power and anyone dumb enough to facilitate those goals is nothing but a disposable Kleenex. It’s the richest terror group in history. Until recently when Russia, the US, France and the UK began bombing its oil-bearing convoys and oil infrastructure, its earnings from stolen Syrian and Iraqi oil amounted to $1.5 million a day according to estimates.

The man who took a video of a crazed individual who attacked travelers at a north London underground station a few days ago was spot on when he called out, “You’re no Muslim, Bro.’”

At this juncture, understanding the underlying causes of the rise of Daesh is little more than an intellectual exercise. It exists. It’s deadly and it’s infecting minds. Even if it is the case that some foreign fighters had troubled childhoods or felt their social security payouts wouldn’t buy them a Mercedes, who cares! Likewise, leaders who place the blame on an ideology that must be fought in mosques and community centers are missing the point. There is only one way to kill it. Victory!

Take back their sequestered cities; get them on the run like rats seeking the nearest hole. Show them up as the scruffy losers they are in handcuffs. Let’s hear those cowards sniveling and crying like those shown on video after being captured by Kurdish forces in Aleppo. An ideology that does not produce rewards will quickly lose its gloss and will soon be lost in the dustbin of time.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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