Every Western scholar, thinker, analyst, writer, journalist, and policy maker must ask himself/herself this question: How do Muslims become extremists without friction with or membership in al-Qaeda, or without an outright recruitment by states sponsors of terror like Syria and Iran?
If you want to know the answer, look no further than Aleppo in Syria.
Most people believe extremists are recruited and trained to terrorize the west using such umbrella organizations as al-Qaeda, but very few people understand how a Muslim who seemingly had no affiliation with religion yesterday, let alone religious fanatics, and working towards a university degree suddenly calls for Jihad without any influence from or contact with al-Qaeda. What transforms a person other than through the direct and the slow influence of religious peddlers aiming to recruit through deception? We have to ask these questions if we are to defeat Islamic extremism because if we don’t, we would simply be closing our eyes to the realities in that part of the world. If we don’t, we would be deliberately targeting a religion instead of focusing on those who defame it through deliberate acts of violence.
Imagine with me for a moment if your own government bombs your home and you have no weapons to defend yourself with, no National Guard or Red Cross, no hospitals or Walmarts to go to because they all have been bombed, nowhere to hide except for you and your family, which includes older parents and little siblings, to find another empty home or apartment and hope you won’t get bombed again.
But the government finds you again and bombs the whole building where you found a vacated apartment to hide in. This time around, all your siblings are dead with the exception of your 5-year old sister, your father is blind, and your mother is nowhere to be found under the rubble.
You collect whatever belongings you have between teary eyes and take your father and 5-year old sister by the arm and head out to find another empty home you can hide in. Hopefully, you will also find food because your sister is weak and has to be carried. On the way, a government sniper finds you. He kills your sister in your arms with one bullet to the head. You have no time but to hide into an entry way leaving your father to scramble to find you. You scream for him to head your way but the sniper is faster than his legs. The bullet enters his right side and explodes instantly. You sit in the entry way of this commercial building, with your little dead sister still tucked to your chest, watching with daze the last two people in your life lying dead before you. You are only 21 years old.
Not far away, you hear tanks rolling looking for young men just like you accompanied by a militia trained to hunt you. The same militia that occasionally used to drive in your neighborhood in pick-up trucks with theirÂ KalashnikovsÂ armed and ready to fire. Once, they stopped you because you looked too happy and beat you around just for the heck of it. Now, you are trapped in this building and you already know what will happen to you if you get caught. Quickly, you climb the stairs to the roof keeping your head low to avoid the sniper. You lay low until the militia combs the area looking for young men like yourself to kill. Many guns are fired throughout the night one bullet at a time indicating the militia is executing people. The next day, you escape to another part of the town by crawling, running low, watching roofs, and tripping over dead bodies. In that new district you finally reach, a self-made militia has formed to defend the people from its own government.
You join them because you have to survive. You join them because you need to stop this government from more killings. You join them because you have nothing else to do but fight. You join them because you have no hope for a life, any life.
For the first time in your life, you feel alone. You feel you have no one but G*d to rely upon. You kneel, you pray, and you cry some more in a place no one can see you.
You were a student at Aleppo University some months ago living comfortably in a middle class neighborhood. Now, you are a fighter praying to G*d and soon the line between praying to G*d and fighting for Him becomes so inconsequential, it matters little which is which. Your story is repeated hundreds of times a week for the last 18 months.
With no help from the outside and with no hope left but to fight for Allah, you have become what Assad wants you to become: An al-Qaeda fighter.
Go ahead Mr. Obama, make a Jihadist.