No Place to Hide: War Criminals and Terrorists Among Refugees

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Angelos Tzortinis / Getty Images - CC BY-NC

Angelos Tzortinis / Getty Images – CC BY-NC


By Kari van der Ploeg -

This summer the world was shocked when a photo of a little Syrian boy went viral. He was pictured face down in the sand, drowned before the coast of Greece. In no time, the public opinion regarding the European refugee crisis turned emotional. A consensus was reached among the European population that a more empathetic approach to the problem was needed. However, as people started arriving in Europe and the local population saw the practical consequences of the crisis, public opinion soon shifted to anger.

As you can read in Marieke’s article, locals are mostly concerned about the large amount of new refugee shelters that are being set up and the presumed problems that come along with them. How is our government going to find money to feed these people, are the means present to give them social benefits, what if they ‘take our jobs’? Concerns about welfare are supressing the empathy some people once felt. The consequence is that the debate is polarizing and people are becoming increasingly scared. Moderation in the debate is being shunned as everyone needs to be pro or against refugees*. Fuelled by right winged politicians and media, many people no longer see refugees as people escaping war but stereotype them as troublemakers, freeloaders and war criminals. A dehumanizing rhetoric is taking over the debate by referring to refugees in terms such as a ‘tsunami of refugees’ (in other words: a deadly force of refugees).

While reading certain social media content such as the Dutch Geen Stijl’ or the Facebook page ‘NK vluchteling vangen met een vangnet’ (National Championship catching refugees with a safety net – recently removed by Facebook) one comes to believe that the majority of refugees are thugs and terrorists who have come to Europe to convert us to the Islam and rape little girls. Under the pretence of humour, people vocalize their frustrations, anger and fears and push each other into a more violent rhetoric against refugees. Some examples of these comments are: “To what extent are refugees armed exactly? I am reading more and more disturbing things about this”, “They work in groups, they don’t need weapons to rape little girls”** The continuous outpouring of venomous thoughts is  shocking to read. A lot of counter arguments are being heard as well but moderation is hard to find in the debate among common men. It made me wonder how it was possible that the debate has shifted to fast from empathy to concern and anger. Is there any truth to these worries, do we really have to be concerned about our own safety and welfare?

In September, the story of a Syrian man and his seven year old son headed the news when they were tripped by a Hungarian camerawomen as they were trying to escape from a collection point in Roszke village, Hungary. Abdul Mohsen’s life was turned upside down when it became public that he used to be a football coach back in Syria, and he was offered a place on a Spanish soccer coach academy. Mohsen and his son were welcomed personally in the Spanish capital by players of Real Madrid, including Cristiano Ronaldo. Soon after however, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) accused him of being a member of Jabhat Al-Nusra, an offshoot of Al-Qaida in Syria. They released a statement holding Mohsen accountable for war crimes against Kurds and other civilian minorities since 2011. The PYD published a photo of Mohsen’s Facebook account where he identifies himself as a member of the Al-Nusra front, adding that he fought Kurds near Amudeh, Serekaniya and Afrin.

The incident of Abdul Mohsen poses an example of what many people in Europe are scared of. With a large amount of people streaming in to Europe it is nearly impossible to research the background of every single one of them. According to newspaper ´de Volkskrant´, the Dutch secret services (AIVD) claim that there is no indication to be scared for large numbers of terrorists among refugees. However, prominent public Dutch figures such as Geert Wilders and Bram Moszcowicz fuel fear with fictional numbers and simplistic statements. Wilders claims that 2% of the  refugees that arrive in Europe are radicalized. Moszcowicz added that he is scared that the people that find it normal to behead others are among refugees.  “They don’t allow us to live” he said at a meeting of the Dutch liberal party, the VVD, in September. The AIVD however does not recognize these numbers or sentiments. It is possible that in individual instances a radicalized person could be among the rest of the refugees, but the numbers are in no way as high as politicians claim, according to the AIVD. There is a sound procedure in place to screen those who are entering our country. Last year only a very small number of Syrians were arrested on the suspicion of being involved in possible war crimes. It is also important to note that ISIS actually warns its men not to travel to the West, away from the caliphate. Leaving the caliphate is considered treason and makes it therefore highly unlikely that there are large amount of ISIS members among refugees.

Cases such as the one of Abdul Mohsen focusses a large part of the discussion on the dangers of war criminals among refugees. What people do not realize is that this focus brings dangers of its own. Genuine refugees are being stigmatized and threatened by the local population, whereas the presence of war criminals among them is most dangerous for them. Rena Netjes, Arabic scholar and Middle-East expert spoke with Radio 1 on Tuesday and vocalized the sentiments among refugees. According to Netjes, refugees are scared for Assad’s power, even here. Most of them still have family back in Syria and fear that their family members will be hurt if the Mukhabarat (Syrian Military Intelligence Dictatorate) discovers their identity. Netjes confirms that members of the Mukhabarat are among those who are entering Europe right now. I have spoken with a Syrian refugee myself who told me about similar sentiments. She escaped Syria and the threat of being arrested by the government in 2011, leaving her family behind in Damascus. Knowing that the people she tried to get away from are still among her, makes her feel trapped, she tells me. She is not necessarily scared for herself, but more for what they might do to her family if they find out who she is and why she left Syria.

The debate in Europe has been consumed lately with the fear of the loss of welfare to the influx of refugees. Stereotyping them as war criminals seems like an easy way of channelling these fears, which are sparked by extremely right-winged politicians. It has to be taken into consideration though that the numbers are in fact much lower than for instance the 2% of war criminals among refugees that Geert Wilders claims. Since the 1990s a lot of procedures have been created to screen these criminals and even bring them to trial. This is not only important for our own safety but also for the safety of genuine refugees themselves. I believe it is important that the public debate incorporates a more moderate discourse in which questions will be answered to the European population based on facts instead of fears. It needs to become clear who we are giving refuge to and why we do not need to be scared of them.

 * In this article I define refugees as people that escape war, not to be confused with people that migrate due to economic reasons.

**“In hoeverre zijn asielzoeker/vluchtelingen/immigranten eingelijk bewapend? Lees en hoor hier steeds meer zeer verontrustende berichten over, ook bij mij in de buurt…..” en “Ze opereren vaak in groepjes. Dan heb je geen wapens nodig om dat jonge meisje je wil op te leggen.”









The Rise of ISIS: Its Power Explained Through the Political Dynamics in the Middle-East

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Anticapitalistes/Google Images (CC BY-SA)

Anticapitalistes/Google Images (CC BY-SA)

By Kari van der Ploeg –  

ISIS’ rapid rise of power was accompanied by a severe social media campaign. They confronted the world with gruesome videos of executions of not only westerners, but also Arabs and Muslims. Many people have started wondering why ISIS is killing its fellow Muslims. ISIS emerged as a result of a vacuum of desperation amongst Sunni Muslims. Since the US-led occupation of Iraq in 2003, Sunni Muslims have started to feel insecure, paranoid and under siege. After the Arab Spring, events have made these feelings escalate and lead to violent revolt. Sunnis have felt powerless after losing control in Iraq and are now suffering atrocities at the hands of the government in Syria. The rise of ISIS functions as a clear reaction to these events.

The capitalization of ISIS is directly linked to recent events in Iraq and Syria. The revolution in Syria has nurtured hope for a political comeback among Sunnis in Iraq. Hope was however crushed when, in December 2012, bodyguards of the moderate Sunni Minister of Finance Rafi al-Issawi were arrested by Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government. Feeling excluded and persecuted, peaceful protests emerged in Baghdad and Sunni provinces in northern and central Iraq. Protesters demanded an end to political, civil and economic discrimination against the Sunni community, which had started after the invasion of Iraq by the United States. Soon, protesters realized that Maliki was only offering cosmetic changes, shunning direct negotiations and failing to provide safety measures in Sunni dominated areas. Distrust against the government empowered radical factions. When the Iraqi government attacked a Sunni peace camp at Hawijah, killing fifty people and injuring 110, relations escalated and factions polarized along sectarian lines.

Peaceful protest became violent insurgence. As the government consequently performed ill-planned counteroffensives, shelling Sunni areas and forcing half a million people out of the Anbar region where food became more and more scarce, they have made the Sunni population more susceptible for ISIS’ rule. Corruption and patronage based on party, family or community under Maliki’s government, only contributed more to the marginalization of Sunni Arabs.

The hostility of Sunnis against Maliki and his government has enabled ISIS to gain momentum among Iraq’s Sunni population. The power became divided between the formal political power and Sunni insurgents, refusing to be discriminated. ISIS used these divisions in Iraqi society to rise fiercely and with great speed. Taking over Sunni areas, they were careful not to alienate the local population. Fighters were warned to behave moderately towards the Sunni population. As ISIS spokesperson Abu Mohammed al-Adnani said:

“Accept repentance [to those who have fought alongside the government army] and recantations from those who are sincere, and do not bother those who do not bother you, and forgive your Sunni folk and be gentle with your tribes”

Notwithstanding ISIS brutalities, the Iraqi population currently favors ISIS over its own government. Feeling belittled, demonized and increasingly subject to a central government crackdown, many Sunni Arabs have concluded that their only realistic option is to fight the Shia hegemony, according to the International Crisis Group.

Knowing how things escalated in Iraq explains a tendency among Sunnis to turn to extreme measures. However, it does not explain why Sunni Muslims are so afraid of Shiites and why fighting Shia Muslims specifically is the only way to win back their rights. To find an answer to this question, we have to look at the power dynamics in the region which are inextricably linked to the apocalyptic prophecies of both Shia and Sunni Islam.

According to the prophecies as mentioned in the hadith, Judgement Day will come when the final battle has taken place in Dabiq between the Muslims and the Roman Empire  (i.e. the West). The members of the Islamic State believes they are fulfilling this prophecy. According to the, ‘the Mahdi’ will return when the battle in Dabiq has taken place. Sunni and Shia prophecies differ in their perception of ‘the Mahdi’. Sunnis believe him to be the prophet Muhammed’s successor, who is yet to come into existence. For Shia Muslims, the Mahdi has been born as Muhammed al-Mahdi, also known as the Twelfth Imam or the Hidden Imam, but disappeared. At the end of days he will come out of hiding and bring justice and victory over those who oppose the sharia. Iran uses the prophecy of al-Mahdi as a legitimization for their expansionist behavior. Iran’s rulers are still communicating a dream of reinstating the old Persian Kingdom, also known as the Achaemenid Empire, which stretched from the Balkan in the west to the Indus Valley in the east. By claiming that they have to control this area in order for al-Mahdi to return, they legitimize their actions.

The conflict about dominance over the area between Sunni and Shia groups is used by ISIS to motivate their fighters. The backing of Alawi President Bashar al-Assad in Syria by Iran and Hezbollah confirm ISIS’ anti-Shia conspiracy. ISIS claims that Shia Muslims want to control the whole area and want to convert everyone to Shia Islam. Close relations between Syria and Iran have led to a spur of Shiism in Syria, which makes Syrian Sunnis believe that the government is promoting conversion of Syrians to Shi’ism and shift the country’s demographic balance. This believe is fueled by a growing number of Shia Hawzas and Husseiniyats, which are seminaries where Shia clerics are trained. The establishment of a lot of Shia oriented cultural and financial institutions confirm Sunni fears of the take-over of Shi’ism. The true extent of these allegations is still unclear, but what is certain is that Al Assad’s government is continuously endorsing both the Lebanese and Iranian Shia parties.

Counterbalancing and deterring Shia domination is used as a justification by ISIS for its brutal violence. Its recruits, which are not seldom highly educated, join for this reason. They see it as the only group that is effectively fighting anti-Sunni groups and governments. Frustrations and insecurities have led to the scapegoating and blaming of other groups for their hardship.  Nouri al-Maliki’s system of patronage refusal for compromise has showed that an autocratic, sectarian government only fuels a jihadi problem, rather than diminishing it by repression. Should the Assad regime continue to behave in a similar manner, and should credible Sunni alternatives fail to establish themselves, ISIS will have an opening to maintain their stronghold and become more difficult to defeat.

Cultural Resistance: How Artistic Expression can Hold a People Together

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Photo: Year Zero/Wikipedia (CC-BY-NC)

Photo: Year Zero/Wikipedia (CC-BY-NC)

By: Kari van der Ploeg -

Estonia is a small country bordering the Baltic sea in Eastern Europe that has known waves of occupiers. German, Danish and Swedish occupations preceded the occupation by the Soviets that started in the Second World War. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact divided Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union. In one night, the Soviets deported 10.000 Estonians to slave labour camps in Siberia. In 1941 the Germans broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and took over Estonia. Only four years later, the Soviets won it back and started a period of Russification; nothing could remember Estonians of their pre-Soviet lives. The Estonian identity had to be destroyed. Intelligentsia and politicians were arrested, deported and executed.  Soldiers had quota’s, which meant that arrests were made randomly. Fear ruled the country.

To hold on to their past, culture and identity, the Estonians turned to one of their oldest traditions. Music had been a vital part in Estonia for thousands of years. The country has one of the largest collection of folk songs in the world. The oldest of Estonia’s folk songs, called ‘regilaulud’ (runic songs) evolved during 700 years of German rule, starting in 1208. As they were working the fields in slave labour, Estonians started singing. It was during the German repression that a song festival emerged in 1869. The festivals were as much about nationality as about music. During Soviet rule, the song festivals continued as a means of propaganda. However, it also became an opportunity for protest. The festival was one of the only remaining traditions in Estonia. Conductor Gustav Ernesaks composed a new piece of music that somehow slipped past the Soviet censorship and became part of the national song festival. The song, Mu isamaa on minu arm (“Land of my father, land that I love”), became Estonia’s unofficial national anthem. Soon, the song was forbidden as the Soviets noticed that it enflamed a national spirit among Estonians. In 1969, as the 100th anniversary of the song festival reached its end, an spontaneous protest arose. The national song festival came to its end, but people refused to leave the stage. They started singing their anthem, Mu isamaa on minu arm, showing the Soviets, that they might have tried to destroy their culture and identity, but that the Estonian spirit was still alive.

Regardless of the events of 1969, the 1970s continued with little hope for freedom. However, when Gorbatsjov came to power in 1985, introducing the Glasnost and Perestrojka, he gave the Estonians an opportunity for change. In 1987, youngsters in Tartuu began to protest political issues for the first time. They addressed the legality of the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact, requesting an honest look at their history and putting ‘Stalin’s butchers’ to trial. No one got arrested; it was the first successful political protest, fuelling activist spirit. Two months after the protest in Tartuu, a summer celebration evolved into a patriotic song festival. Crowds moved towards the grounds of the national song festival and sang. As one man passed by on a motorcycle, waving an Estonian flag (the Estonian flag was forbidden), more flags came out. The continuing days, more and more people came to the grounds, singing and carrying their flags. A revolution had started and singing was its fuel. The songs ignited the passions in people and bound the Estonians as a people.

The singing revolution in Estonia is one example of how artistic expression can bind a people as they are faced with repression and annihilation. The role that singing played in their revolution is mirrored in many other uprisings. One example is the Syrian Uprising, which has been influenced by the creative expressions of its partakers. Free expression had been controlled in Syria for nearly 40 years by its government. The Arab Spring had however created a crack in the ruling powers of the Middle East, which posed the Syrians with an opportunity to mobilize and create their revolutionary identity. Rebels connected through posters, performances, songs, comics, theatre, literature, photography, video and social media. One example is shown below. The finger puppet series ‘Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator’ by Masasit Mati, show president Bashar Al-Assad as ‘Beeshu’, a lisping and beak-nosed man terrorized by nightmares about the uprisings in his country. The humorous series gives harsh critique against the regime in a light-hearted way, taking the edge of the subject and taking the fear away from its viewers. It currently has 1 million viewers on Facebook and 180.000 on YouTube. It has created a safe haven during a storm which had created a lot of fear among Syrians. 

Creativity gave Syrians a voice; it was a way of expressing their views that had been silenced for so many years. Creativity was not only a way of mentally surviving the violence, but also of challenging it. With humour, aesthetics and bravery, rebels denounced the Syrian dictatorial government. As Malu Halasa and Zaher Omareen stated in their book ‘Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline’:

Meeting violence with violence is never successful. The artistic response to the Syrian uprising is far more than a litany of turmoil; it illustrates the accelerated experiences of a people, many of whom have been fighting for their survival. It shows their innate ability to overcome, and their dreams for the future of their country. For Syrians and non-Syrians alike, there are many reasons to wake up every morning and reach for the pen, easel, the camcorder or the laptop – instead of a gun.”

The internet played an important role in distributing Syria’s creative dissident expressions. It became a new public space in which dissent was voiced and resistance mobilised. It allowed the protesters to reach a broader public. Videos, music and graphic art bonded the people of Syria in their fight against oppression and sparked a feeling of collective dissent. The creative outpourings demanded the restoration of civil rights and broke the chains that had produced a culture of fear. The revolutionaries were reclaiming their citizenship as, according to Halasa and Omareen, art is in its essence emblematic for a life that is shared, not destroyed.

The Syrian government has tried to break the civil spirit that has been created and has united the Syrians. They tried to divide them by focussing on their diversity through sectarian rhetoric in media outlets. The fact that so many artists have been imprisoned, tortured and executed shows the power of art to unsettle, to speak truth and to question existing norms. According to Stephen Duncombe, professor at NYU and co-director of the Center of Artistic Activism, art and activism have many things in common. Its purposes include to foster dialogue, built community, reveal reality, alter perception, inspire dreaming, invite participation, transform environment and maintain hegemony. This allows activist art to be such a powerful tool to unify resistance. The power of art and culture to connect and change minds explains why it is feared by oppressive regimes, such as the Syrian and Soviet governments. It creates a civil society in which everyone is invited to participate and question existing norms. It gives power to the people and consequently undermines the power of the state and its violence. No matter how hard the Syrian and Soviet governments have tried to destroy civil identity, creative resistance had connected the Syrians, like the Estonians got connected through their songs.


Further reading/listing/watching:



Film Review: Timbuktu – “Where is God in all of this?”

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Photo: Emilio Labrador/Flickr (CC BY)

Photo: Emilio Labrador/Flickr (CC BY)

By Kari van der Ploeg -

A desert in Northern Mali. Shots are fired. Bodies are destroyed. Wooden Malian artifacts are shattered, and with them the culture and identity of Mali’s people. To destroy a culture, is like destroying the identity of its people. The openings scene of Abderrahmane Sissako’s new film ‘Timbuktu’ shows this practice, an important part of the genocidal process in a poetic way. Timbuktu is a subtle and visually beautiful condemnation of the violence and repression brought upon Northern Mali when Jihadists took over in 2012.

The invasion of Northern Mali began in April 2012 and did not end until late 2013, when French and Malian troops recaptured the area. Though a specific time is not given, it is clear that the story is set during the early stages of the invasion, as the inhabitants of the town are struggling with the changes forced upon them. Timbuktu is home to practitioners of a benevolent and tolerant form of Islam. Central to the story are the Touareg herdsman Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki) and their daughter Toya (Layla Wahed Mohamed). Their neighbours have moved to safer areas, but the family has decided to stay. When Jihadists take over Timbuktu, life is turned upside down, as acts of pleasure such as football, music, dancing and smoking, are forbidden. Jihadi fighters are present day and night to enforce these new rules upon Timbuktu’s inhabitants, who can count on harsh reprimands when they transgress the Sharia law.

Sissako does not shy away from showing violence. His inspiration for the film came from an online video he once saw. A couple was buried to their heads in sand and then stoned to death. They were involved in a romantic relationship, without being married. Sissako includes this event in his movie, yet displays the violence discretely and with respect for the victims. We see the first two stones thrown, the rest is left up to imagination. His distant take on violence forms a contrast with the more dramatic approach in Hollywood films such as Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” (2013). In another scene we see singer Fatou (Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara), being subjected to 40 lashes for making music. She sings while tears sting her face as her punishment is executed. The scene mirrors the lashing of Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) in 12 Years a Slave. The difference between the scenes is the distance the directors take. In Timbuktu, we do not see any flayed flesh and do not hear the loud outcries. Sissako rather focusses on the emotional effect the punishment has on its victim, making its effect more profoundly felt.

Sissako “takes a deadly aim at Muslim fundamentalism by playing its own game of deft ridicule”, Joe Morgernstern of the Wall Street Journal observes sharply. Instead of telling the story in terms of good versus evil, Sissako shows a vulnerable side of the perpetrators, including their desires and insecurities. He delivers harsh criticism on religious fundamentalism by mockingly showing how its agents are merely protecting themselves instead of a greater good. In the end, they are human beings who crave the pleasures they forbid. Their prohibition of football gives center stage to a beautiful scene of two teams playing an imaginary game of football. Everything makes it look like a regular game, only the ball is missing. The Jihadists are at the same time getting into headed discussions about rivalling football clubs themselves. Even though adultery is one of the greatest sins under Sharia law, it doesn’t stop Jihadist Abdelkrim (Abel Jafri) from making a move on Kidane’s beautiful wife Satima (or smoking a cigarette out of frustration for his failed attempts). One of the most gripping scenes of the movie is when one of the fighters is performing an emotional modern dance on a rooftop, when he thinks no one is looking, guided by the excellent soundtrack of Fatoumata Diawara. Sissako makes his audience understand that these vulnerable men need their violence to protect themselves from an internal evil. By showing their human sides, he delivers a very accurate critique on the overarching concept of religious fundamentalism itself, rather than on its agents. In the end, they are victim of their own times.

A young man sits in front of a flag with Islamic verses. Another man stands behind the camera. The youngster tries to put his religious journey into words. He used to be a rapper he says, now he has found God. Yet, when trying to describe the dogmatic views he is fighting for, he blacks out. He runs off, upset and ashamed. Another scene. At night time, four people are making music in the privacy of their home. Jihadists are looking for the source. When they find it, they hear the people are playing religious songs. Still, they storm in to arrest them, music is forbidden after all. Even traditional ways of worship are not safe anymore for the religious warriors. Neither is the mosque, which they enter with guns in their hands. The Imam sits them down and asks: “Where’s leniency? Where’s forgiveness? Where’s piety? Where is God in all this?” It becomes clear, it is not God they are fighting for. What factors have sparked their motivations remains unknown in Timbuktu, but it seems as if they have been drawn into a spiral of violent behaviour, losing sight of the purpose they are supposed to be fighting for. Sissaso hereby gives an insightful analysis on the nature of violence. He shows his audience that violence is fuelled by internal motivations of its perpetrators, rather than religion or politics.

Unholy Alliances: Radicalisation in US Detention Facilities

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Photo: Wisconsin National Guard/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND)

Photo: Wisconsin National Guard/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND)

By Kari van der Ploeg -

The Islamic State (IS) is known for its religious fundamentalism. Remarkably, its leadership consists of many men with moderate religious backgrounds. Several of its highest deputies served as officials for Saddam Hussein’s army. As Hussein’s Ba’ath Party was secular by background, this raises questions on how these men evolved from moderate military leaders to religious fundamentalists. It is said that IS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi met most of his deputies during his imprisonment at Camp Bucca. Camp Bucca was a detention facility maintained by the United States military since April 2003. In total, 80.000 detainees passed through these centres. Backgrounds included both Sunni and Shia extremists, as well as ordinary criminals. Al-Baghdadi was held in this US maintained detention facility in Southern Iraq since 2004. Testimonies claim that both al-Baghdadi as well as his deputies were known as moderate Muslims before their detention, but radicalised during their time in prison.

Al-Baghdadi used to be known as a modest and withdrawn man that did not hold any radical views on the Islamic faith before he was detained. Members of his local mosque in Tobchi, Baghdad, remember him as a quiet and polite student that was good at soccer rather than being an extremist jihadi. During his time at Camp Bucca, he was not remembered as one of the radical detainees either. Army Colonel Kenneth King, former commanding officer at Camp Bucca, stated in an interview with the Daily Beast: “I’m not surprised it was someone who spent time at Camp Bucca, but I’m a little surprised it was him. He was a bad dude, but he wasn’t the worst of the worst.” Al-Baghdadi remained on the background until Al-Qaida’s shura council, a religious consultative assembly, elected him as leader of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2010.

The Islamic State of Iraq was a caliphate (a political order in which everyone lives under religious, political and military Muslim rule), proclaimed by Al-Qaida around 2006. Under the leadership of Al-Baghdadi the group grew significantly. The group pursued a borderless worldwide caliphate. So when the conflict in Syria started, Al-Baghdadi moved his group to the border with Syria. Syria’s branch of Al-Qaida, ‘Jabhat Al-Nusra’, pleaded the ISI to stay out of the conflict and leave it to them, which placed the two groups against each other. After its infiltration of Syria, ISI became known as ISIL or ISIS. On 24 June 2014 it took its current name: ‘Islamic State’ (IS).

When Al-Baghdadi became head of ISI he immediately eliminated all disloyal leaders, surrounding himself with men he most knew and trusted. The most notorious of these men are Fadel Ahmad Abdullah al-Hayali, IS deputy to Iraq, and Abu Ali al-Anbari, IS deputy to Syria. Both were high officials in Hussein’s army and used to practice moderate forms of Islam. Both of them, he met at Camp Bucca.

Details about al-Baghdadi’s stay at Camp Bucca remain vague. Sources give contradictory periods of his imprisonment. It is established that his detention started in 2004, but it is not certain when he was released. The US Defense Department claims he was released after ten months, whereas other sources claim he was detained until 2006. It is however confirmed by several sources that his deputies al-Anbari and al-Hayali were in Camp Bucca at the same time, as well as men that now possess high positions within the IS.

According to previously mentioned Col. Kenneth King, the environment among detainees at Camp Bucca was very hostile. Its population was a mixture between Sunni and Shia militants who had to be kept separated at all times. Prisoners were constantly looking for opportunities to start fighting. They looked for routines, patterns and opportunities while fashioning homemade weapons from junk they found on the ground.  The problem of overcrowding fueled the hostile atmosphere as it enhanced the scarcity of recourses, especially after a great number of transfers from Abu Ghraib to Camp Bucca took place. Another factor that contributed to this atmosphere was a sense of uncertainty among prisoners about their status. Prisoners did not have information whether there was a process in place to review their cases. These insecurities gave rise to a sense of unease and a susceptibility to extreme ideals.

Jihadi inmates, who were part of al-Qaida, played into these sentiments by indoctrinating, threatening and intimidating their fellow detainees. Adel Jasim Mohammed, a former inmate, stated in an interview with Al-Jazeera that they gave classes on chalkboard on how to build and use explosives and how to become suicide bombers. Chaos and vulnerability provided extremists with the opportunity to instill their ideologies upon others.

Other reasons for members of the Sunni oriented Ba’ath party to join the IS was their frustration with local politics towards Iraq’s Shia population. Sunni members were angry about loss of land to Shia Iraqi’s. There also was a lot of discontent among Sunni’s about Iraq’s policy in favoring Shia Muslims. After the US invasion in 2003 Sunnis were barred from government positions and Shias were gaining a lot of political dominance. Again, these sentiments of insecurity and vulnerability were used by jihadists to spark ideological motivations among their recruits. The IS for instance propagates their quest for territory as an existential fight for Sunni-Muslims worldwide. They purposely operate close to Shia divisions to maintain the ideological framework of their fighters.

We see that extremist groups were well aware of the insecurities that occupied their recruits. They efficiently played into these sentiments by indoctrinating them with their ideals, providing them with a reason to fight.