Globe, Human Rights, Politics

ISIS: the gates of no return

Peoples in western Asia struggle for self-determination in the face of dictatorships supported by the West, and their recourse is to radical Islam, along with its repressive policies against women and freedom of thought. The moribund policies of the West remain transparently clear to young Muslims. Breaking the Geneva Convention to make young ISIS volunteers stateless will bring a bitter harvest.


Graham Douglas


Many doors are closing: the doors for young ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) recruits to return to their home countries or even to face a court; the doors of ‘normality’ in the West, and the doors to peace, especially in Western Asia.

The Arab Spring died as brutal governments in the region were supported by the West, and we can now include Israel in that poisonous partnership where the holocaust unleashed on Gaza is recruiting a new generation of Islamic and Palestinian militants. Initiatives like the confederalist Autonomous Administration in Syria exist on a razor’s edge between Erdogan’s repression of the Kurds and the policies of Western countries in the region.

While some Western governments are slowly thinking of apologies for the years of slavery, or returning looted treasures to Greece or Egypt, the cauldron boiling across the Mediterranean is ignored.

And the rule of law is gradually being flouted by the countries who imagine themselves as the peak of civilisation: it is illegal under the Geneva Convention to make a person stateless, and war crimes are committed with impunity in Gaza.

Journalist and filmmaker Benedetta Argentieri.

As Benedetta Argentier commented to The Prisma: “I was lucky to have a happy childhood and youth and I don’t think it will ever come back; we live in a perennial crisis”.

You said that 10 yrs ago social media was used in more personal ways than now.

We were more spontaneous; your employer couldn’t sack you for something you wrote on Twitter. During the Arab Spring in 2011, social media were really important in Tahrir Square. You could watch hours of ISIS propaganda that is not available now, and make connections to new people, and it changed the way journalists work.

Some women decided to return after their first look at ISIS – what percentage?

The CIA estimate that 100,000 known people joined ISIS between 2013 and 2017 globally, but there are many reasons to think that the number was far higher. Maybe 20% were women. We don’t know how many returned as soon as they arrived. Some ISIS recruits managed to escape and no-one knows where they are, some went home to Europe, some formed sleeper cells.

Many foreign women were captured by the SDF the armed wing of the Autonomous Administration in Syria.

At the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the Kurds decided to form a separate administration not allied to the Syrian opposition, who didn’t have a coherent political plan, and they were afraid of the Islamist influence.

Assad released thousands of prisoners from jail in 2012 who joined various Islamic factions.

The Kurds wanted a confederalist democracy and decided to do it in their own territory, Rojava. But then ISIS attacked them, and many people believe that Erdogan ordered ISIS to go to Kobana although they were marching to Damascus. Several ISIS commanders told me that they should have gone to Damascus.

When ISIS started taking more Kurdish territory, they allied with local Arab tribes to fight them. The autonomous Administration grew to one third of Syria with 5 million people, half the population, Kurds, Arabs, other minorities, living in relative peace in a confederalist administration.

Tunisia was the only country that maintained the Arab Spring at least for a time.

Other countries were meddling in Syria and Libya. The pentagon spent $500,000 arming radical groups in Syria during the early days of the civil war, but they escaped to ISIS with the weapons or else were killed. The regime’s response was so violent that those who wanted democratic reform either left or were imprisoned and killed.

Tooba Gondal, the ISIS matchmaker.

Someone in your film The matchmakersaid: “We don’t want communism or democracy, only Islam”. Is this in reaction to decadent European politics?

I think so, and many women told me that they are more free than western women, because with the Niqab they are not constantly harassed like they were wearing western clothes, at risk of rape, afraid to walk alone at night. So, they would only show themselves to God and their husbands. Many of these 100,000 people were well-educated, not ignorant as the press have claimed.

Seeing the weak points of western democracy, they were very open TO ISIS transmitting the same message. They saw the racism, and the western response to the Twin Towers attacks made them very angry. A Belgian woman who joined aged 45 said she suddenly felt an outsider in her own country.

In Italy you cannot have Italian nationality without heritage through parents or grandparents, yet you have children of foreign parents who must take an Italian exam at age 18, even though they speak it better than me. In France you have ghettos of North Africans, even though Algeria was once a French Département and Morocco was a colony. Another woman convert, blonde with blue eyes, brought up in the banlieus around Paris, converted to Islam at 14 rebelling against her racist parents, and got married at 16. I didn’t believe she’d renounced radicalism; she saw nothing wrong with Yazidi women being kept in chains, “because Europe had slaves too in the 14th Century”!

It was OK to abuse the Yazidis because they were not Muslims?

It was worse than for Christians, because they were Zoroastrians, and they are supposed to be devil-worshippers according to Islam. This was the 74th genocide in their history.

A tribunal in Syria to try ISIS volunteers, was suggested but not implemented.

It was a missed opportunity, and there were 2 reasons for this proposal. The first was that these people are being left to rot in prison in juridical limbo, like Guantanamo, and the autonomous administration in Syria does not have the detention facilities to guarantee safety for people either inside or outside the camp. Two years ago, there was a huge uprising in the prison in Hasakeh which mostly has foreign prisoners. Many escaped, and they killed hundreds of people in the city. They have people with 48 different nationalities and cannot try them there although they have a restorative justice system for Syrians. I witnessed how it works it’s quite beautiful.

They suggested that the international coalition could hold a Nuremburg style trial as all the victims were there, or they can give them a prison sentence and either way they know what to expect. Things are completely out of control in the camps, especially for women. But the Coalition refused in order not to upset Turkey. And many European countries are not willing to bring these people back, which is very dangerous because today it’s ISIS, tomorrow it might be another group. And the Geneva Convention does not allow a person to be left without citizenship.

ISIS is growing in central Africa, after the western invasion of Libya. It is very strong in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. Violence breeds violence, you cannot fight an ideology in this way.

Will Gaza cause more anti-Israeli terrorist attacks in Europe?

Israel and especially Netanyahu don’t understand what they are doing. They are de-legitimizing the UN and Western diplomacy, and there is no way back from this. The Hamas attacks must be condemned but the Palestinian people are not Hamas, and this changes everything. The UN has said that Gaza was the biggest open-air prison in the world, and their calls for a cease-fire are being constantly ignored – how is this different from Russia? The world and the geo-political powers are changing before our eyes.

The US does not have the policing role that they took during the cold war, everything is out of control. The capitalist system is failing, there is climate change, we need a new outlook. The nature of war has changed, and the UN said that last year 47 countries had some kind of social conflict going on, due to inequality.

And the internet keeps people in their bubbles. If you google “the earth is flat” you will find plenty of believers.

Anything more?

Just that the word ‘peace’ has disappeared from our vocabulary. There are no global actors looking for peace.


(Photos: All images related to the film “The matchmaker” were supplied with permission by Benedetta Argentieri. Copyright held by Fandango films.)

*First part of the interview: Tooba Gondal: the British woman who recruited women for Isis.


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