Dear friends, we are slowly recovering from the stress the journey into the “Islamic State” has induced on us. Frederic, my son, has lost several pounds. Of course, I have been aware that both, meeting with ISIS and American and Syrian bomb attacks, could put me into high risk.
In Mosul, low-flying US aircraft circled over us numerous times. And our “apartment” in the Syrian town Raqqa was largely destroyed by a Syrian bomb while we were staying in Mosul, Iraq. Hence, our last night in Raqqa had to be spent in a bombed-out and glass-splittered apartment.
It’s difficult to uncover the truth without taking a risk, and I had needed authentic footage for a planned book about the ISIS. That’s something you only get by going there. In fact, I have done so for each of my books and thus traveled to areas of conflict many times. Moreover, I had received a security guarantee from the “caliphate”. There just was no way to know if it was genuine! Hence, all of my friends and family smelled a rat and tried to discourage me from taking the journey. But I always follow my gut feeling.
The guarantee turned out to be genuine, and the ISIS stuck to their agreement during our visits to Mosul and Raqqa. Though, we were under surveillance by the secret service for most of the time and had to hand over our mobile phones and laptops. Also, all of our pictures and photos were inspected at the end of the journey. ISIS deleted 9 out of approximately 800 photos to protect relatives of foreign fighters. That’s what censorship is.
On several occasions, ISIS and I ran into heated disagreements about details of the journey. Let me tell you that arguing with heavily armed ISIS fighters isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. I was close to abandoning the journey twice during that time. In view of the acute danger that all of the involved were dealing with daily, they often were short tempered. Yet, overall, I was treated correctly.
Here is a summary of my 7 strongest impressions of ISIS:
1.) THE WEST IS DRAMATICALLY UNDERESTIMATING THE THREAT EMANATING FROM ISIS, and ISIS’ fighters are much more intelligent and dangerous than our politicians realize. The Islamic State is drenched in almost infectious enthusiasm and confident of victory – something I have never before experienced in a warzone. More importantly, the ISIS fighters are convinced that their totalitarian faith and demonstrative brutality will help them move mountains. In Mosul, less than 400 ISIS fighters routed many as 25,000 Iraqi soldiers and militias despite their ultra-modern equipment. Within months, the ISIS has conquered a territory larger than Great Britain and dwarfed Al Qaeda.
Occasional losses or changes of terrain don’t seem to concern ISIS in any way. While some media outlets tend to exaggerate those events, ISIS considers them as normal in guerilla warfare.
2.) THE INFLUX OF NEW FIGHTERS JOINING ISIS IS GROWING DAILY. I spent two days in an ISIS reception camp close to the Turkish border. On both days, more than 50 fighters from all over the world arrived. In fact, not all of them were young men who had failed in their home countries. Contrary to common belief, there were many successful and enthusiastic young people from countries like the USA, England, Sweden, Russia, France and Germany. One of them had recently passed his state examination in law and been admitted to the court as a lawyer. Yet, he preferred to fight for the “Islamic State”.
3.) AS FAR AS I CAN TELL FROM 10 DAYS OF OBSERVATION, THE “ISLAMIC STATE” SEEMS TO FUNCTION AS WELL AS ANY OTHER TOTALITARIAN COUNTRY IN THIS REGION. This is particularly true in terms of internal security and social welfare; while many things differ greatly from our – or particularly my – ideas on how such institutions should be run, they do exist. The Sunni population living in the Iraqi part of the Islamic State seems to now have accepted the new state without further resistance, preferring it to the discrimination and oppression they had previously suffered from the Maliki regime in Bagdad. However, after all of the Christians, Shiites and Yazidis have fled the city, and after countless executions, they are now the only religious group inhabiting Mosul.
4.) ISIS ISN’T JUST AIMING AT CONQUERING THE MIDDLE EAST AND, EVENTUALLY, THE REST OF THE WORLD. RATHER, THEY WANT THE LARGEST “RELIGOUS CLEANSING” IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND. With the exception of the so-called “religions of the book” – that is, ISIS’ version of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – ISIS wants to kill non-believers and apostates and enslave their women and children. This means that all of the Shiites, Yazidis, Hindus, Atheists and Polytheists are supposed to die, and that hundreds of millions of people would be eliminated in the course of this “ethnic cleansing”.
Additionally, all of the moderate Muslims approving of democracy are supposed to be killed, as they – from ISIS’ point of view – put human laws above God’s laws. Upon successful conquest of the West, this would also apply to democratically-minded Muslims here.
A non-believer’s only chance to escape death are voluntary repentance and voluntary conversion to “true Islam” which, allegedly, is represented by ISIS only. He or she must do so before their country is conquered.
ISIS does tolerate Jews and Christians. Though, they have to pay a fixed protection tax of several hundred dollars per year. Muslims would have to pay the zakat (Islamic tax), which may be higher for wealthy Muslims and lower for poor Muslims.
It needs not be said that ISIS and I disagreed in all of these points, and that I clearly expressed my opposition numerous times.
5.) IN MY OPINION, ISIS IS A 1-PERCENT MOVEMENT WITH THE EFFECT OF A TSUNAMI. The movement preaches a type of Islam that is being rejected by 99 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion-strong Muslim population. Being a Christian who has read the Quran several times, I can’t wrap my head around how anyone could consider ISIS’ doctrine compatible with Islam. In fact, my lecture of the Quran has made me see Islam as a religion of compassion. 113 out of 114 suras start with the following words: “In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.” Yet, I haven’t perceived ISIS as particularly merciful.
6.) ISIS CANNOT BE DEFEATED WITH BOMBS OR MISSILES. The three-million-city Mosul, for instance, is being controlled by 5,000 ISIS fighters. Whoever wants to eliminate them with bombs would have to first turn all of Mosul into rubble and kill thousands of civilians. Bombarding the Middle East has always been and still is a way to breed terrorism. Take ISIS as an example! This organization is a direct result of George W. Bush’s illegal Iraq War.
THE MODERATE SUNNI ARABS ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO CAN STOP ISIS, NOT THE WEST. That’s exactly what the Sunnis did 2007. Back then, they chased away the “Islamic State in Iraq” (ISI) – the predecessor of ISIS, which was much weaker than today’s ISIS.
However, the moderate Iraqi Sunni would only oppose ISIS if they were allowed to completely re-integrate into Iraqi society, from which the Americans and the Iraqi Shiites had excluded them after the US’ 2003 invasion of Iraq. It doesn’t currently look like things are going to change anytime soon. Yet, this is the only conceivable solution to stop ISIS.
There also exist solutions for Syria. Though, the West would need to correct its utterly unrealistic view of the situation. They have truly gotten on the wrong track in Syria.
7.) THERE IS A LOT OF GUESSING ABOUT THE TERRORIST THREAT EMANATING FROM RETURNING ISIS FIGHTERS. I cannot rule out that there may indeed exist a threat. But due to the Islamic State considering those returnees as losers that failed in their life in the Islamic State, they may, in fact, not present a major risk. Although Brussels did suffer an attack from a returnee, sympathizers of ISIS who have not yet left the country might present a larger threat.
Germany, as well as the rest of the world, must neither trivialize nor exaggerate the terrorist threat. In Germany, for instance, no German has ever been killed by an Islamist while, on the other hand, many Muslims were killed by German right wing extremists. Extremist movements like Germany’s PEGIDA are misrepresenting the facts. And in doing so, they are unwittingly playing into the hands of the ISIS. The Islamic movement has stated numerous times that escalations between Muslims and Non-Muslims in Germany and other countries of the West are in its interest.
I firmly believe that ISIS currently is the largest threat to world peace since the Cold War. We are now paying the price for George W. Bush’s act of near-unparalleled folly; the invasion of Iraq. To date, the West remains clueless as to how this threat is to be addressed.