What is the anatomy of an Islamic State Jihadist?
I don’t mean physically – they come in all shapes and sizes just like the rest of us – male and female.
I mean, what emotional and psychological state turns people, often with a mild, quiet background, into fanatical, ruthless, cold-blooded killers?
After almost 35 years working as a counsellor and psychotherapist I guess I know a little about why people behave the way they do, though I have worked mainly with the victims of extreme behaviour, rather than the extremists themselves.
What I am certain of though is that no baby is born as an extremist, a torturer or a murderer with no regard for the value of their own life or anyone else’s.
All of that is learnt behaviour and the big questions are how, why and where?
It is not straightforward, there are at least 6 different types of Jihadists.
1. First there are the religious fanatics. These must be distinguished from the genuine religiously pious who can be found in all faiths, not just Islam.
It’s one thing to be believe deeply in your God, your faith and its religious practices and try to live a good and honest life even if others do not share or understand the depth of your commitment.
It’s very much another, when you start to believe that anyone who does not share your God, your beliefs and your commitment is an “infidel”, opposed to you and your faith and “God” or “your prophet” commands that they be converted to your faith or destroyed.
There are plenty of examples of cults in the West that have almost gone that far, regarding “outsiders”, non-believers as less worthy human beings and a threat to the core structure of the “faith” or organisation.
2. Secondly there is a large body of people who feel disregarded, rejected by their family and those around them and the society in which they live, and for whom feeling lost and of little value is a prospect that is likely to haunt them for the rest of their lives.
People like this can be found in all cultures, within all religions or with none and in all countries. It comes mainly from poor child rearing, the breakdown of family support and structures and a lack of love, attention genuine support and guidance.
Children who are loved, respected, nurtured and encouraged to be themselves and to find and explore their abilities, do not become mass murderers.
Mass murderers are made from people with a grudge, a giant flaw in their being left after years of unloving or neglect, humiliation or suppression and a feeling of powerlessness.
It has nothing to do with intelligence. In fact, the more intelligent a mass murderer is, the more dangerous he is.
Many of these may have similar backgrounds to Group 2, but they also may be have been emotionally and psychological damaged while growing up (or even physically damaged at birth), resulting in an immaturity, a lack of awareness and/or an inability to think for themselves, and difficulty in independently distinguishing right from wrong and make balanced value judgements.
Normally such people would be cared for, shielded and guarded by family members or by professionals who will look out for their needs.
However, in the hands of manipulative fanatics who quickly recognise their vulnerability and know how to use this and “befriend” them, they quickly become cannon fodder.
A recent example was seen in a video a few months back of an Islamic State suicide bomber, probably 17 or less, who was persuaded to drive his vehicle bomb into the opposition lines.
Despite “encouragement” and promises of some mysterious and unprovable heavenly reward to come, he was in tears and clearly afraid and unsure.
But there was no way out and he carried out the task anyway.
4. The fourth group is perhaps in many ways the most dangerous.
It consists of the disillusioned and the morally lost, who can both be well integrated into society seemingly leading useful lives or at the other end of the spectrum are jobless, hopeless and turning to drugs, alcohol and petty crime to get by.
Either way, they are deeply disappointed with the society/world they see around them and with their role in it. They do not see that they have the power to change it and are drawn to a religious philosophy that says they can live in a different world and raise their families and children in it.
For the jobless and those who have turned to crime, or alcohol or drugs as a way of coping and feeling a smattering of control and “power”, the Islamic State’s strict philosophy of living offers a path to redemption and forgiveness tied to their childhood religious roots.
The wealthy, more middle-class recruits perhaps are disappointed with extreme materialism and the corruption it often engenders. IS offers another solution.
“Follow the rules and we will give you authority, respect and rewards both in this life and the afterlife to come”.
Many foreigners and converts to Islam coming from outside Syria and Iraq will fall into this category. They are given free housing and money when they arrive in the Middle East and as we have seen in Paris, the UK, the USA and elsewhere they wreck murderous havoc on a large scale.
This group may well include intelligent foreign women who are attracted by the “glamour” of following a cause, marrying Jihadists and escaping perhaps the “restrictions” of their own family life back home. They are undoubtedly in for a rude awakening.
5. The fifth group are the politically and tribally motivated, especially Sunnis who see the Sunni aligned Islamic State (IS) as some sort of bulwark against the Shiite dominated government in Iraq and the Shiite associated Alawite sect of President Assad in Syria.
One of the reasons the Islamic State was able to spread across Syria and Iraq so quickly was because of these tribal alliances – IS knew how to tap into resentments and perceived injustices inflicted, as the locals saw it, by Iran sponsored Shia policies.
Indeed, the very core of the Islamic State when it started in Iraq was probably created by ex-Saddam Hussein military officers, Sunnis, who had lost their status, power and jobs after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Some tribes are now regretting their allegiance to the Islamic State – but backing out has turned out to be a bloody and vengeful business both for the tribes and individuals who have changed their minds.
6. And lastly, the sixth group is perhaps the most disturbing – the large number of children that the Islamic State is “educating” and indoctrinating in their awful world view.
Children who will grow up believing that executing people for having the “wrong” faith, world view or sexual preference, or who have transgressed IS rules in some way, is normal.
According to a recent video, IS children were engaged in a gruesome hide and seek game in a castle in Deir Ez-Zour province, hunting for shackled prisoners. Those children who did best were given, literally, “execution privileges”.
One of the young boys involved was a Yezidi, a “slave” taken prisoner when IS invaded northern Iraq, killing thousands of his Yezidi brethren and imprisoning thousands more women as sexual concubines. It shows how quickly young minds can be turned and warped. You can read more about the so-called “Caliphate Cubs”, HERE:
There may well be other groups of potential Islamic State Jihadists that we can describe, but what these individuals all have in common is that they are in need of “new family”.
When your own family, for whatever reason in your view, has “let you down” in childhood then psychologically and emotionally you are programmed to search for another one to which you can belong and become part of. (The only exception to this are those that successfully work through that hurt therapeutically.)
Cults – and IS is nothing more than a cult, if a deadly one – work on that basis. There is usually a charismatic paternal leader and provided you as an individual “follow the rules”, accept and promote the mantra or philosophy and wear the uniform where there is one, then you will be “loved” and accepted.
The Islamic State craftily justifies its actions with the authority of the Koran, Prophet Mohammed and the promise of entry into Paradise if you die fighting for the “cause”.
For many that will be a no-lose situation which makes the Islamic State, along with its stated ambition to conquer most of the developed and developing world, the largest threat to civilisation since World War ll.
That the Islamic State is medieval – as well as just plain evil – is without doubt. They would love to get thousands of US and other western troops to fight them on the ground to recreate another “Crusade” in which they can finally “defeat the infidel invaders” (which is why President Obama is wisely resisting that move).
But this is not 1098 when starving “Christian” Crusaders slaughtered 8,000 inhabitants in Ma’arat Al Numan (currently an Opposition-held town in Syria’s Idlib province) and ate them after pot-boiling the adults and spit-roasting the children – Islamic fighters would have some justification in wanting revenge for that.
This is the 21st Century, when the rights of all individuals and religions that reciprocally respect others must also be respected.
The Islamic State, and the individual Jihadists that choose to make it their home, ignorantly fail to do that, leaving us no choice but to fight them to destruction.
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TIMELINE – 11th FEBRUARY 2015 14.03 GMT:
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In an interview with BBC TV News, President Bashar Assad, completely contradicting all available evidence, has said that his army “does not use barrel-bombs”.
Sickeningly, despite some tough questioning from the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, he also tried to turn the accusation into a joke.
“We don’t have barrels. Again, it’s like talking about cooking pots. So, we don’t have cooking pots.
We only have, like any regular army, we have bombs, we have missiles, we have bullets, and etc”.
He also dismissed a reports by Human Rights Watch about the regime’s repeated use of barrel-bombs as “a childish story”.
This Syrian helicopter aircrew is using one of the first crude #NotBarrelBombs, back in 2012 and thousands have been dropped since, here:
On a similar line of questioning on the use of chlorine gas, when asked to confirm his army was not using it, he said, “No, definitely not”.
Assad also claims that, while there is no direct co-ordination, his military get information about attacks on the Islamic State through “a third party”, presumed to be Iraq.
Bowen: “And is that a continuing dialogue that you have through third parties?”
President Assad: “There’s no dialogue. There’s, let’s say, information. But not dialogue”.
Bowen: “They tell you things?” President Assad: “Something like this”. Bowen: “Do you tell them things?” President Assad: “No”.
Despite thorough and persistent questioning in the interview, Assad is tricky, manipulative and evasive. As one Twitter user asked, “Is there a more coldly mendacious ruler in the world than Bashar?”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has documented 1009 air raids carried out by Assad’s helicopters and jets since the beginning of February in 12 out of Syria’s 14 provinces.
Not only has Assad upped the number of attacks in recent months, but cynically taken advantage of the world’s attention on the historic battle by the Kurds to defend Kobane.
According to SOHR the helicopters have dropped 537 barrel-bombs in February, killing 270 civilians including 48 women and 49 children. Another 1200 have been injured, some of them critically.
Or, if you can stomach it (“We are defending civilians and making dialogue”), the full transcript is on the Syrian state media site, SANA, HERE:
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Two days before the opening of the Geneva 2 “peace conference”, which in theory is supposed to agree a transitional government for Syria without President Assad, a devastating report has been published giving evidence of Assad’s war crimes with the systematic killing of 11,000 detainees by the his regime.
The report, based on evidence provided by a former Syrian policeman, has been prepared by three well-known international lawyers, all of whom have acted as prosecutors at previous international criminal tribunals, and contains 55,000 images of dead victims, many of whom have clearly been subjected to torture.
The defector was originally a “scene of crime” investigator who has worked for the Syrian Military Police for 13 years but in 2011 when the conflict started he was redirected to photograph and document the bodies of those brought from prisons and detention centres to a military hospital.
The images the policeman, codenamed “Caesar”, and his colleagues took showed evidence of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture and killing.
Four or five pictures were taken of each body, 55,000 images therefore pertaining to around 11,000 dead detainees.
The were 2 reasons for the photographing. Firstly, to allow the production of a death certificate without family members seeing the body and protecting the authorities from having to explain the death, and secondly to provide “evidence” that an execution order had been carried out.
The three lawyers in the enquiry team were Sir Desmond de Silva QC and Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice QC from the UK and Professor David M. Crane from the USA.
Both De Silva and Crane had previously been Chief Prosecutor in the Special Court on Sierra Leone convened to prosecute the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, on charges of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” (he was sentenced in May 2012 to 50 years imprisonment).
Professor Nice was the lead prosecutor in the trial of the former Yugoslavian and Serbian president Slobodan Milošević, who was also indicted on “crimes against humanity” at the International Criminal Court at the Hague, but who died from heart problems before the end of his 5 year trial.
These 3 reputable and credible investigators spent several days in January 2014 questioning “Caesar” at a location in the Middle East (probably Qatar, whose Government paid for a UK firm of solicitors to co-ordinate the investigation) and found him truthful and not prone to exaggeration.
“Caesar” admitted he had not witnessed a single torture or execution and was only involved afterwards, but sickened by what he saw he copied the images onto a flash memory drive and transmitted the pictures and documents to a family member abroad.
The enquiry team were also backed up by forensic experts Professor Sue Black and Dr. Stuart Hamilton, plus a forensic imaging expert, Stephen Cole.
They examined the images without prior knowledge of their source and deemed the photographs as authentic, unretouched and evidence of beating, binding, restraint or other physical assault but “excluding injuries that could reasonably have occurred as the result of legal combat engagement”.
26,948 images were directly provided by “Caesar” and more than 20,000 via the Opposition Syrian National Movement from “Caesar” and other sources.
“Caesar” also described how he and a doctor were sent to a military hospital to record the deaths of prisoners killed in detention, sometimes recording as many as 50 bodies a day, requiring 15 – 30 minutes of work on each corpse.
After the issue of a death certificate the families were informed that their family member had died “in hospital” from either a “heart attack” or “breathing problems”.
Each body was given two numbers, one referring to the branch of the intelligence service responsible for the detention and death of the detainee, and a second number falsifying that the detainee had died in hospital. The corpses were then taken away for burial in a rural location.
Although in the short time available the enquiry team was not able to examine every single image, they concluded that there is more than sufficient evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Assad regime.
De Silva told the London Guardian, where the report was first published (along with CNN), that the evidence “documented industrial-scale killing”. He added: “This is a smoking gun of a kind we didn’t have before. It makes a very strong case indeed.”
Commenting on the report, a spokesman for the US Government said, “As we have for over two years, and again today, we call on the Syrian government to grant immediate and unfettered access to all their detention facilities by international documentation bodies, including the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria”.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) spokeswomen said, “These photos – if authentic [Having not checked them ourselves] – suggest that we may have only scratched the surface of the horrific extent of torture in Syria’s notorious dungeons. There is only one way to get to the bottom of this and that is for the negotiating parties at Geneva II to grant unhindered access to Syria’s detention facilities to independent monitors.”
At the time of writing, the day after the release of the report, SANA, the Syrian official state media, makes no mention of the accusations at all.
President Bashar Assad, portrays himself as a loving family man, an urbane, gentle, sophisticated leader “loved” by his people.
He is clearly nothing of the kind. The Assad war crimes evidence detailed above can only happen systematically and repeatedly over a long period if authorised from above.
Not withstanding that this report has been commissioned by Qatar (a sworn enemy of Assad and sponsors of the armed Opposition against him) and that it publication has been timed to cause maximum impact at the Geneva conference – the responsibility for everything described above is Assad’s.
He had allowed this to happen and directly or indirectly authorised it.
Assad is in fact a monster, a blood-thirsty killer, just like his father Hafez, who will do anything to preserve his family “dynasty” and the elitist position of the minority Alawite community to which he belongs.
Bashar Assad should be arrested and tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Court in the Hague, in the Netherlands, at the earliest possible opportunity.
You can read the full Guardian report, HERE:
And the enquiry’s report, HERE:
The BBC has a video report, HERE:
CNN has 3 video reports, with 3 of the investigators, (CAUTION – EXTREMELY HARROWING IMAGES) HERE:
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