National Security & Defense

Welcome Home, ISIS Fighters, All Is Forgiven

ISIS fighter in Raqqa, Syria, June 2014 (Stringer/Reuters)
European security services are disturbingly unconcerned with the threat posed by thousands of returning Islamist fighters.

Ah, the folly of youth. Some drive too fast in their parents cars. Some fall in love with the wrong person. And some leave their hometown to fly the black flag of ISIS in Syria, perhaps beheading a few apostates or raping and enslaving some Yazidis. Young people are so idealistic and headstrong, aren’t they?

So conclude British authorities, as more ISIS fighters return to the U.K. after the caliphate was routed in Raqqa. No need to prosecute all of them, or even prevent them from entering the country. They were just kids being kids.

“We are told we do have a significant number already back in this country who have previously gone to Iraq and Syria,” said Max Hill QC, who acts as an independent reviewer of terrorism laws in the United Kingdom. “That means that the authorities have looked at them and looked at them hard and have decided that they do not justify prosecution and really we should be looking at reintegration and moving away from any notion that we are going to lose a generation from this travel.” The theory is that these ISIS boys were just going to Syria to kill and die “out of a sense of naivety, possibly with some brainwashing along the way.”

Poor kids. I hope they weren’t scarred by the hard looks on the way back into Blighty.

Part of me thinks what’s a few hundred more? British security officials routinely point out that there are 23,000 jihadists living in the country. Or 25,000 Islamic extremists who pose a threat. Or “35,000 Islamist fanatics.” Adding a few hundred veterans from battles around the Idlib province certainly couldn’t do any harm, right? Technically you can just log on to a message board and find out how to build a decent IED. Can it really be that dangerous to have battle-hardened experts in the practice?

I think you know the answer.

The U.K. isn’t alone in its, ahem, curious approach to ISIS fighters. Sweden made headlines this summer with its offer of housing grants and free drivers’ licenses to encourage reintegration into Swedish society. The vision is bold: From lackey of the caliphate to productive member of Western society. Inspiring stuff.

Who is kidding themselves here? I’m sure it is theoretically possible that some number of ISIS fighters were scandalized by conditions in the emergent caliphate and want to get back to their lives. But readmitting ISIS fighters is a decision to take their calls for “all-out-war” on the West quite a bit less seriously than they themselves do.

The Islamic State produced so many grisly Internet videos not just to inspire terror, but to motivate recruits. ISIS propaganda made the mass extermination of Yazidi men and the sexual enslavement of Yazidi women into selling points. It appealed to a certain type of young man because rape and pillage done in God’s name fits the disgusting appetites and capacity for self-approval of a certain kind of young man.

Let’s speak plainly: ISIS was a genocidal outfit. Many of its fighters participated in and witnessed unimaginable horrors. Seven decades later, Germany still prosecutes guards who participated in the Holocaust when they can find them. What kind of justice do the victims of ISIS deserve?

There really is something in the liberal democratic mind that finds it impossible to believe that ISIS fighters are fully conscious of their motives and desires, that they are really guilty. Instead, they’re said to be merely naive. They need not repent. They just need a good-will gesture of reintegration on our part, our leaders think.

“There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious,” Ayatollah Khomeini once said. I’m sure he meant it. There is something enchanting in a vision of life so austere. But I have to think that the veterans of the Islamic State, when they overhear Western security officials assuring the public that they were merely “naive,” have to stifle an irrepressible urge to let out a gale of laughter.


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