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Opinion: The Zombies of ISIS - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A Canadian national named Michael Zahaf-Bibeau, aged 32, made the headlines this week when he carried out a terrorist attack in Ottawa, killing one soldier standing guard at a war memorial before storming the nearby parliament. He was killed in the subsequent firefight with security officers.

Is there more to this story?

According to local media, Michael Zahaf-Bibeau’s mother is Canadian while his father is Libyan. He did not speak Arabic. In his youth, he had wanted to travel to Libya to learn the language and study Islam. He had a criminal record. His parents are separated. He has been seeking to travel to Syria to join the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

What else?

At the time of writing this article, everything else regarding Zahaf-Bibeau’s motive and intentions is mere speculation.

The media reports delving into Michael Zahaf-Bibeau’s past paint a picture of a confused and angry young man. A man who wanted to express the anger and uncertainty that was boiling inside of himself; a man who wanted to prove something to the world.

Ultimately, Zahaf-Bibeau appears to be completely ignorant of true Islam, just like the two Austrian teenage girls who traveled to join ISIS, and the two British Somali schoolgirls who ran away to join this terrorist organization, as well as countless others. These people have no concept of religion, history or politics; if they did they would never join ISIS in the first place.

To these ignorant people, joining ISIS has become like a dream to quench their thirst for excitement and danger, as if life was a video game. They are unaware of the real repercussions of their actions. This is something that ISIS is trying to encourage and exploit, as can be seen by the publication of their English language magazine Dabiq.

This is a very dangerous phenomenon that needs to be addressed quickly. Why do these confused young people, from different countries and with different backgrounds, seek to join ISIS and its ilk? What of the Australian teenage runaway Abdullah Elmir (who has taken the name Abu Khaled), who is surrounded by ISIS zombies, issuing threats to the West, from Australia to the US and UK?

The ISIS phenomenon goes beyond religion. This is an international phenomenon and an international conflict, precisely like the war against drugs. Just like drug gangs, ISIS is able to recruit people from different countries and different backgrounds.

Although there are clear ties between this phenomenon and Islam, there are other factors as well, and the world must pay attention to these other factors in order to truly address this global phenomenon. The ISIS crisis is an international one that concerns all countries of the world; we must deal with this from all angles and on all levels, not just through the prism of religion.

In a recent interview with CNN, a former Taliban jihadist Mubin Shaikh, who has since turned his back on the movement, said that there is no single pathway or profile for radicalization, but added that a “love of adventure” represents an important factor, as do questions over identity. He said that these young people are also looking to “impress” others.

People from every country of the world are embroiled in this new form of globalized terrorism. Indeed, there are even reports of Japanese nationals either joining or seeking to join this jihadist terrorist organization!

So, how can we understand these young men and women, who don’t speak Arabic and who know little about true Islam or Islamic history outside of empty slogans about the return of the caliphate, who travel thousands of miles to join ISIS to fight and kill?

Eliminating ISIS will depend on understanding how this terrorist group is radicalizing and recruiting the youth of the world and consequently putting a stop to this dangerous phenomenon. This is something that concerns the entire world, not just Muslims.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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