The siren call of Daesh

The siren call of Daesh

It would be difficult to forget the face of a man crying for his family. “I love you all very much. I cannot live without you, please come home!” That was the dramatic appeal made by Akhtar Iqbal in tears last week at a news conference in Bradford, England. He is one of three fathers of nine children and their mothers who disappeared after traveling to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah in Makkah.
Instead of returning to England, the three women went to Turkey with their children and then proceeded to Syria to join Daesh.
“I’m not angry. Please come back. It’s all right. Go back to your life, please! They are small boys, 7 and 5 years, and, you know, I love you so much,” said Mohammed Shoaib, another of the fathers.
The three mothers are sisters. Sugra Dawood is 34; Zohra Dawood, 33, and Khadija Dawood, 30. Their nine children range in age from 3 to 14 years. What amazes this writer is the fact that all of them are middle class and, according to their husbands, they had a stable and good family life, with no sign that they were dissatisfied or planning to escape with their children to Daesh. They are certainly not the first nor will they be the last Muslims dissatisfied with their lives in western countries to respond to the siren song of a more Islamic life, that is just and complete that Daesh preaches to attract more Muslims worldwide. It is estimated that Daesh is able to attract 1,000 new recruits — men, women and their children — every month, coming from all corners of the world to join what they think is an Islamic utopia in Iraq and Syria.
In the above-mentioned recent incident, the women were dissatisfied with their lives in a liberal country like England. One of the sisters had told a friend before traveling that she did not want her daughter growing up in a country like England, which every day was looking more like the United States. In the minds of many conservative Muslims, the US is the culmination of everything that is wrong with the West: Too secular, Too violent and above all too liberal, allowing debauchery to dominate the lives of nearly all Americans. For these people, American society has become too corrupt ever since the feminist revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.
But it is precisely this propaganda that is so attractive: That a new society is being established by Daesh, a type of Islamic utopia where Sunni Muslims are going to be able to live happily and at peace, being ruled by leaders who give them security and basic public services like drinking water, electricity, and free education and health care. To do this, Daesh uses all the modern means of communication such as the Internet, social media networks and videos to showcase the supposed good life in their territories.
The group also publishes horrible videos, the latest this week showing 15 alleged traitors being killed by drowning and explosions. These barbaric and sadistic images remind me of those American horror films where a group of young adults is captured by evil criminals who start killing each of one them in a more perverted and horrible way than the other. These videos serve, unfortunately, to attract the most violent and unstable among Muslims.
So what to do to combat this? The Americans have been trying to monitor social networks and block the accounts of Daesh and its most assiduous followers on Twitter and Facebook. This is a good first step, but far from sufficient to stop the ideological advantage that IS still has on the minds of many Muslims. Using comedy against these extremists is a great strategy, as we have seen in Iraq and now in Saudi Arabia, where the famous Saudi comedian Nasser Al-Qassabi debuted in a comedy series called “Selfie” in which he mocks the most egregious excesses of Daesh. What else can we do to counter the violent and prejudiced message from Daesh? American academics Jessica Stern and JM Berger, authors of the book “Islamic State: State of Terror,” in an article in “Time” magazine in March 2015 proposed a six-point plan to counter Daesh advertising:
— Stop exaggerating the invincibility of Daesh;
— Amplify the stories of ex-wives of jihadists who were disillusioned and returned to their countries of origin;
— Challenge erroneous interpretations of Islamic laws by Daesh, using religious counterarguments to reach potential recruits of the group before they switch sides;
— Highlight the hypocrisy of Daesh, who on the one hand stone adulteresses, and on the other rape women captured in battle;
— Document and disseminate the violence of Daesh against other Sunnis who refuse to cooperate with the group. While the group does not have any qualms in showing the horrific violence they employ to kill Shiites and Yazidis, they never show what is done against their Sunni brothers who do not obey them;
— Summarily close their online social networking accounts. American researchers claim that this has effectively limited the projection of Daesh propaganda.
If we do all this in a methodical and consistent way, we will see results soon enough. We cannot just keep bombing Daesh daily and expect this alone to end them. More than anything, this is a psychological war, and a war like this was never won only with violence and brute force.

— The writer is a Saudi journalist based in Brazil
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