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ISIS: Why It's Closer Than You Think

Warning: This article contains detailed description of distressing images and describes upsetting scenes and circumstances

ISIS. You hear the name and it is almost uncomfortable; immediately the mind goes to graphic images of beheadings and a recollection of shocking and devastating attacks that the international terrorist organisation has taken responsibility for. For us in the UK sometimes the organisation can seem a world away, we hear about them on the news, our cities and people have been victims of their atrocities; but we can't physically see them in our society, so different to theirs, it doesn’t impact us vividly, or so we think. Globally it is said that over 40,000 jihadists have left to join ISIS from their countries, the UK making up for 900 of those people, and the number is said to be increasing. The truth is, aside from the attacks and the forceful pledges to install the Caliphate upon the western world, ISIS is very much present in day to day lives.

It was 2015 when 15 year old Shamima Begum left her home in East London’s Bethnal Green in order to join the Islamic State. 4 years on, after having been married and birthed three children, all of who tragically lost their lives at premature ages, Begum made a plea to the Home Office in the UK for citizenship. Now, there is an entirely different debate around that aspect of Shamima Begum’s story, but I want to look at the beginning. How did she get there in the first place?

A case to plead for her citizenship, and to excuse her travel to Syria, was due to the fact that she had been groomed. Her lawyers were quick to argue that Begum had been a target of online grooming by ISIS members, and therefore due to her vulnerability, the UK Government should have an understanding that this was actually not all Begum’s fault. Yes, Begum decided to make the journey, but at the same time she was only 15 years old and had been manipulated to think that she was making the right decisions. In sum, her lawyers utilised the vulnerability of her youth youth as a weapon to argue her case.

She’d been groomed online by purposefully-tasked members of ISIS, in a chatroom that was full of young impressionable adults. ISIS are said to use the same grooming techniques as paedophiles, and provide a romanticised and glorified image of the organisation to those they target. It is made out to be the best thing in the world, and its doors are open to provide better livelihoods for those struggling at the hands of the West.

These groomers aren’t just appearing in abstract forums, they’re all over the most prominent social media platforms, mainly Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, and use messaging platforms such as Kik too. They’re clever, they normalise their places of presence to normalise themselves, but the way in which they attract people is manipulative. Tasked-members will begin to use hate speech, increasing the anger levels towards the West, because they know that the angrier you are, the less clearly you’ll think, and the more they’ll be able to get into your head. Then they initiate contact, this could just be seeing that you’ve liked a tweet and they’ll like one of yours back, or could go so far as sending a private ‘hello’ message over one of these platforms.

But, they invest time into building relationships with their targets, these things cannot be rushed. Some even forge loving relationships with women online in order to convince them to join ISIS. A French journalist forging the identity of a potential 19 year-old jihadi bride revealed that her ‘fiancee’, a boastful ISIS militant, whom she became engaged to three days after first skyping with him, said to her “You should be here with me. I cannot stand to think of you in that corrupt country. I’ll shelter you from the world’s evils, when you come here you will see what paradise me and my men are building.”

Another victim of grooming at the hands of the Organisation: Lloyd Gunton, an autistic teenager, only 17, who left a note declaring himself as a soldier of the Islamic State, was jailed for life in 2017. He intended for the note to be read out after he carried out an attack where he planned to run over welsh victims in Cardiff, the capital. Gunton pledged support to ISIS over Instagram. A groomer from ISIS had told Gunton that he “Needed to commit a terrorist act if he wanted to go to paradise.” It was said that the main source of his influence was through ISIS propaganda that was widely available online.

The twisted machiavellian techniques of these groomers has allowed them to have a huge success in bringing members of Western Civilisation into their cell. The more Westerners they have, the more they gloat, and the more they boast in forceful propaganda videos. We haven’t been spared of seeing these videos, always horrendous to watch but equally horrendous to hear of. In one of the milder videos I watched, Iraqi soldiers, dehydrated and bleeding, are seen being brutally questioned, and are forced to repeat that the “Islamic state is lasting”; when one soldier refuses to do so, the captor tauntingly grips him by the hair and says “The Islamic state will slaughter you. You are an enemy of God” The captor proceeds to press the gun against his neck. The next thing you see is the soldiers strewn across the dessert plain, dead, bloody, and dusty.

This video was difficult to watch, but what was harder about it was to accept the truth about what it truly meant. I didn’t have to do a lot of digging to find this video; investigative journalism is something I have always enjoyed so I guess I know where to look, but never in my life has it been so easy to get my hands on such defiant material. If I can find this without actively searching for hard-hitting content, then what can someone devoted to this cause, who desperately wants to see this violent glorification of ISIS find themselves?

It raises a huge question; Why are the largest, most profitable and advanced platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, still facilitating this kind of extremism? You may or may not remember the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand, March 2019, where 51 lost their lives whilst attending Mosque. It was Facebook who failed to intercept the live stream of that shooting by the gunman himself, which allowed the video to be reposted and dispersed across thousands of different streams across the world online.

In addition to this, Twitter has long been a hive of extremism, one tweet stating “I cannot be bothered with the hidden messages anymore! So please message me if you want to kill Kafir.. #IS.”

This was tweeted by Neil Prakash, also known as Abu Khaled Al-Cambodi, a well known and highly targeted ISIS recruiter. I think that we can see a fault in the fact that the man was allowed to even have a twitter account, and that this tweet wasn’t intercepted until after it was reported by a well regarded counter extremist project. It’s just clear that these media platforms are not on top of the level of exposure that everyday consumers are subject to.

But, there has been a huge increase in the measures that are being taken against these extremists, predominantly led by New Zealand in what is known as the “Christchurch Call’.

The Christchurch call, a pledge by 18 countries, hugely promoted by New Zealand PM Jacinda Arden and French President Emmanuel Macron, ensures that effective counter terrorism laws are to be implemented across the globe. It is a voluntary commitment, that the US (although saying they supported the initiative) decided not to join. It states that all actions must be "consistent with principles of a free, open, and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.”

Now this is where it gets interesting, and this is a question I want to ask. To what point is freedom of expression condonable? I ask this because in the eyes of a non-violent ISIS supporter, by pledging allegiance that is their own opinion and their own voice, it is no different in their view than saying that they are against ISIS. Who are they hurting? Should Western-world societal norms I.e, not supporting ISIS, interfere with the international law and one’s freedom of speech?

Pledging your allegiance is the start of a long, twisted, and brutal dead end. That dead end is can often be death or capture.

I remember when Begum made her initial plea to come back to the UK. She sat down in an interview and there was next to no remorse on her face for ‘what she had done’. But, thinking about it after, why should she show remorse for something that she had been brainwashed into thinking was truly right?

Another example is of the Yazidi women, captured as Sabayas, or sex slaves for the ISIS militants in 2014. The story of two women liberated is one that I really think about. They had been normal women amongst the Yazidi community before they were persecuted by ISIS, but upon returning after being saved from IS, in the car on the way to a refugee camp, they began to preach about the Islamic State, its greatness, how they were proud of their Isis-militant husbands, and how the caliphate was going to be imposed upon the whole world. The man who had saved them from the hands of the militants had to reveal to them that this was actually not the case and that ISIS were in fact losing territory against the Iraqi’s as they spoke.

The women were in disbelief, so much so that they both slipped into a comatose state of shock. This just shows that even if captured against their will, those who fall to the hands of ISIS are brutally brainwashed to believe that the Western world is a world of hell, and that ISIS members will be the only ones going to paradise when they reach the end of their lives. This could well have been the case with Begum that was necessary to consider in addition during her appeal. Although going out there with an intention, but then realising that her choice had been wrong, she was still manipulated throughout her time amongst the militants to see the benefits of the IS cause. Therefore to expect her to appeal with a hate towards ISIS to the public, if thought about in more depth, would have been unrealistic as she was trying to break out of that mindset but a part of her lay with it. That is what I think at least.

So, I hope this allowed you to see that although fighting their main war within the Middle East, they take pride in sourcing recruits and spreading the word from all around you. ISIS are an extremely advanced group with well-established foundations and developed technologies themselves, and it is worth having a think about how they could have influence in day-to-day life where you live. Although dark I hope you found the article interesting.

Positively Unhelpful.

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