Should our attitude towards ISIS fighters change?
Should we be punishing people who defect from ISIS or should we be encouraging them? The answer is the difference between stupidity and intelligence, between bigotry and open-mindedness.
On March 16th, news emerged that an American ISIS fighter was captured by Kurdish forces in Iraq. He turned out to be an American youth who went to join ISIS last December but was disillusioned and was trying to return home to America.
Judging from the comments that usually follow any news about Muslims or Islam, far too many Americans cannot wait to have themselves a lynching party if he should actually return. The law is also on their side, anyone who fights the US or any of our glorified allies (even the ones who are extremely tyrannical), anyone who supports fight against the US or any of our allies, anyone who sympathizes with fighters against the US or any of our allies, is subject to prosecution and imprisonment…for a very long time.
If we punish people who realize their mistakes and want to return home then we make certain they are unable to return. Such people are then forced to stay where they are and participate in further battles against our allies and in the case of ISIS and al-Qaeda, such people are forced to continue with atrocities that those organizations are committing. On the other hand, if we take them back, not only will that be demoralizing for the rest of the organization back at the battle grounds, it will also help publicize how wrong it is to join the fight on the side of ISIS and Al-Q.
The young men and women who go to join ISIS and Al-Q are misguided idealists who think they are following the best directions of Islam by joining those groups. These young folk believe there is such a thing as a unified Islam called a Caliphate under one ruler called the Caliph and that the rule of Islam will be nirvana on Earth. The only problem with such thinking is that the leaders they go to join are not following the directions of the Quran, but are following the directions of greed and power under the guise of Islam and their followers are unthinking dupes who know even less about Islam but want to believe they are following the new messiah. Most of these eager but naïve volunteers realize their mistake almost immediately upon their joining the group, but most do not get an opportunity to escape. Today, even those who wish to escape, have nowhere to escape to because their home countries have made sure they get heavy punishments if they do return.
How should these potential returnees be treated?
Those who return without having committed murders should be allowed to be rehabilitated. They should form a part of the national message to others who may be thinking of going to join the “Jihad” (which it is not). Returning volunteers should be treated as great P-R coups and a validation of the society (the US) to which they are returning.
Those who have willingly committed murders should be prosecuted and should serve time for their crimes. There can be room for making some concessions for defectors who are at very high levels of leadership or, who bring valuable intelligence with them.
Such treatment has been routine in the past. We have openly welcomed people who defect from our enemy countries and have even offered them large amounts of money to defect. We have taken high-value defectors and have given them a good life here as a reward for their defections. This is how countries (including the US) have conducted the business of war throughout history. We have even taken back people who went to the other side although we have interrogated (not tortured) them extensively to make sure their return is not a ploy to undermine our country. Of course, there have been a few cases where the defections were not genuine but that too, is part of the cost of doing business.
We have welcomed defectors from the other side during wars dating all the way back to the war of independence. During the Korean War, we offered a million dollars to anyone who flew over to South Korea with his plane. We have welcomed defectors from a host of countries including China and the Soviet Union.
The only time we have taken a bloody-minded approach to defectors has been during our recent wars against Muslim-majority countries. This is largely due to the unfortunate fact that we have become prisoners of our own rhetoric. We have demonized Islam and Muslims to such an extent that we have made America internalize the false message that Islam and the so-called “Western Civilization” are enemies to death; that Islam and Muslims cannot rest until they have destroyed America and the entire West. Even opposing political parties dared not oppose this now-deeply imbedded rhetoric.
Hate has been equated with Patriotism.
Our politicians have been so successful at sending this message out to Americans that it is now almost impossible to retract without a sea-change in political leadership and that is not likely to happen soon. Instead of fighting a rational, ideological battle with extremist organizations such as ISIS and Al-Q, we are fighting a no-win military battle that only results in creating more enemies as we indiscriminately destroy “suspects” and targets. Our attitude and actions are great for the economy as we create and send out more weapons across the world, but they do nothing to halt the increase in the numbers of people willing to fight the US and its Western allies.
Our “War!” has become a pursuit of jobs and the growth of the economy and the War Machine demands Muslims must remain “The Enemy”.