“Roses are red, violets are blue, IS is coming to a town near you.”
So read a recent post by jihadist Abu Turaab, who uses his social media savvy and excellent English as international propaganda and recruitment tools for the Sunni terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, ISIL or IS).
ISIS was responsible for the videotaped beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff (Sotloff was also an Israeli citizen) and British aid worker David Haines. It’s also claimed responsibility for barbaric terror attacks and mass executions that have killed thousands of civilians in Syria and Iraq.
It has indeed come to a town near us. Abu Turaab is the nom de guerre of Canadian citizen Mohammed Ali, 23, who left Toronto in April to join ISIS in Syria. He is but one of an estimated 12,000 young men from 74 countries who have flocked to the Middle East to wage global jihad.
His Twitter page and other online postings cheer ISIS atrocities, eulogize dead terrorists and try to coax others to join him in Syria.
“You’ll never kill the desire, nor the love the believers have for jihad and fighting to raise the word of Allah the highest,” he posted in August.
ISIS recruit Moner Mohammed Abu-Salha of Vero Beach, Florida, was believed to have been the first American suicide bomber in Syria.
“We are coming for you, mark my words,” he said in a farewell video recorded before his May suicide mission. “You think you’ve won? You have never won.”
One slick recruitment video for ISIS features a 20-year-old identified as a British medical student, exhorting the glories of martyrdom. And the executioner of Foley, Sotloff and Haines is a British national nicknamed “Jihadi John.”
ISIS is not just planning overseas attacks. At time of writing, the Australian government had just foiled a plot by homegrown terrorists, recruited by ISIS, to snatch an Australian civilian, record the beheading of the victim and drape his or her body with the ISIS flag.
What motivates young Muslim men like Abu Turaab, Abu-Salha and others to want to return to the dark ages?
It’s essential to realize that the beliefs and aims of ISIS are not new. Since 2000, more than 1,250 Israeli civilians have died at the hands of Islamist terrorists and suicide bombers who were convinced by Hamas and Palestinian Authority political and religious leaders that killing infidels – especially Jews – is a fast track to heaven, and that dying as a martyr for Allah nets 72 virgins in paradise.
ISIS is delivering the same messages, albeit with highly sophisticated propaganda tools and expert use of social media – including its own Twitter app that enables its messages to go viral.
ISIS recruitment videos and its online magazine Dabiq – published in several European languages including English – promise disenfranchised young men action, adventure, a sense of belonging and a connection to a higher cause. They emphasize the purity of the ISIS vision of Islam, and the glory of holy war.
“When you fight over there, it’s like being in a trance,” Can, 27, a former ISIS fighter from Turkey, told the New York Times.
“Everyone shouts, ‘God is the greatest,’ which gives you divine strength to kill the enemy without being fazed by blood or splattered guts,” he said.
Amaranth Amarasingam, a post-doctoral fellow at Dalhousie University, is part of a team researching Canadian foreign fighters in Syria.
He has observed that Abu Turaab’s posts target “hypocrites” – what jihadists call fellow Muslims they accuse of compromising their faith to fit into Western society.
“This belief and rhetoric is quite prevalent amongst most of the Canadian youth who have left to fight in Iraq and Syria – the idea that living in Canada forces Muslims to sacrifice a part of themselves,” he told the National Post.
In his 1941 book Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm argued that those who find democratic freedoms frightening and overwhelming are often drawn to authoritarian regimes that promise order, pride and certainty.
Just as Nazi propaganda restored the national pride of Germans in the 1930s and promised a return to world dominance, ISIS presents an apocalyptic vision in which its form of Islam – as barbaric as it seems to outsiders – will rule the world.
“A day will come,” promised an article in the Ramadan edition of Dabiq, “when the Muslim will walk everywhere as a master, having honour, being revered, with his head raised high and his dignity preserved.”
We must not underestimate the seductive appeal of that deadly promise.