Jihadi John and G.I. Jane

Islamic State has eclipsed Al Qaeda in the Western Consciousness of Evil-Doers.

No one imagined how big this thing would become, but back when the Arab Spring began, I criticized the stance taken by the US administration.

Here at last the wicked dictators, usually procured from the ranks of the military, were being removed. It was a ‘We the People’ moment, where the populations of Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, or Egypt, would finally shed their yoke—in the minds of the blissfully naive, Western-style democracy would ensue.

But for me, the spring was more of the coiled metal variety—the dog’s breakfast of post-war Iraq should have provided ample warning.

Just as the West is governed by large corporations and the military-industrial complex, so the East is governed by Strong Men. Not women. When I was in the Gulf a year ago I was told about a woman who applied for a job in Saudi Arabia—the company hired the husband instead.

“Of course,” I said. “In Saudi, women are a problem.”

“No,” came the smiling reply. “In Saudi, women are no problem.

Islamic State is embarrassing Western governments—when British or Canadian nationals leave home to fight for IS, it’s an indictment of the Western way of life. In the eyes of the media, these children have been radicalized.

The powerful, almost arterial image of the exodus to Syria shows how IS has been able to capture hearts and minds, in the promise of a new caliphate. Parts of Libya have already signed up to the model, and the Sunni extremism of these would-be caliphs has led to some unexpected bedfellows, as the United States secretly works more closely with the other IS (Iran-Syria).

World flow of foreign fighters joining the ranks of Islamic State.

World flow of foreign fighters joining the ranks of Islamic State. Image published in the Washington Post.

The numbers flowing to join IS are unremarkable: at a glance, twenty thousand seems an overestimate—in military terms, that’s one division only. By comparison, Syria has eighteen firqa, or divisions, with strengths ranging between 5,000-15,000 men. And of course the US has well over one hundred divisions.

But the origin of the radicals is remarkable. Not the flow from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, or Morocco, but the fact that the flow from the UK and Germany is the same as that from Libya. And France doubles it.

I can understand a Shia or Hazara national of Canada or Spain deciding to fight because people of his religion are being persecuted by IS, or a Coptic Christian taking the same view given recent executions in Libya. I can see how a young man might get on a plane and pick up a gun.

On the other hand, if a youth leaves the West lured by the appeal of Islamic State, he or she is joining an organization devoted to eradicating Western society—and much else, as witnessed by the recent destruction of ancient Assyrian statues in Mosul.

The young people who leave are complicit in the barbarism of IS, in the decapitation of hostages—often the murder of the very best of us, such as Alan Henning, a cab driver from Manchester, England, who was both selfless and brave.

By going, they reject their own country. So go if you must. And don’t come back, since you are now by definition an enemy of the West. Let’s not confuse things—this is not a religious matter, it’s a question of moral and social values.

In 1505, Afonso de Albuquerque, viceroy of India, chastised a soldier called Fernão Lopes because he took the side of Rasul Khan in a rebellion in Goa against the Portuguese empire. His life was spared, but Albuquerque’s men cut off his ears and nose, his right arm and left thumb, and used oyster shells to scrape off his hair and beard. Lopes was the first permanent exile on the island of St. Helena, later home to a more illustrious prisoner, Napoleon Bonaparte.

When Jihadi John was outed this week, several family-members of his victims spoke up, as did Western politicians. All asked he should be returned to the UK or the US to face justice. None asked he should be captured, clad in an orange gitmo suit and decapitated.

That is how much Western society has changed for the better in five hundred years.

The assault on Fortress Europe. The captions are in Spanish, the issue is self-evident.

The assault on Fortress Europe. The captions are in Spanish, the issue is self-evident. Image published in El Pais.

You can practice your Spanish on this second image, which shows the tragedy of the Syrian war, associated to the twin curses of hunger and hopelessness in Africa and elsewhere.

Here, the numbers are remarkable: over two hundred eighty thousand migrants fleeing to Europe in 2014. More than two hundred thousand into Italy alone. The Mediterranean crossing is Europe’s Rio Grande.

But unlike the Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona borders, Europe’s southern frontier brings many Muslims into the Union. These people come in search of a better life, to a continent that is still seen as a beacon of hope despite austerity and unemployment.

Perhaps the children of some of these men and women will hear the call of radicalization, and they too will decapitate some unfortunate soul dressed in an orange suit.

I share the perplexity of the parents, migrants who suffered terrible hardship to reach the promised land.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.


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