Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the French born organizer behind the Paris terrorist attacks on the fateful November evening, Friday the thirteenth, 2015, was not interested in Islam. He had grown up in a fairly privileged Moroccan Muslim family in Belgium and did not even go to the mosque, according to his sister. His father was a store owner, and Abdelhamid attended Collège Saint-Pierre d’Uccle, an exclusive Catholic school, for one year. The story of Abdelhamid, who has been killed during a Police raid, begs to ask a different set of questions, which seek resolution outside of the reactionary bombing of ISIS.
According to an unusually insightful investigation by the New York Times journalist Andrew Higgins, Abdelhamid had dropped out of the Catholic school. He went on to engage in petty crime with a couple of shady friends. In 2010, at the age of twenty-three, he was imprisoned. He had never shown any religious zeal. Yet, two of his friends are suspected as having been part of the Paris attacks. Many parents can recognize a dangerous pattern: like so many kids, Abdelhamid must have been bored out of his mind in pursuit of instant gratification. A dumb youth that has outgrown his lack of education in search for something more exciting than flipping burgers at McDonald’s for little reward. Yet, even this job opportunity was out of his reach since his town is plagued with 40% youth unemployment. What we have here is not a ‘Muslim’ but a lowly thrill seeker, an adventurist that was attracted by the excitement of off-road pickup trucks thundering through the desert, ridiculous, video-game style masquerade, and gun-slinging in the pursuit of bonus points through body count, shown off on Youtube. Christian and Jewish parents might like to pay close attention that the youths are increasingly marching on both sides of the war game and that the threshold to violence has been lowered dramatically over the last decade. What now fascinates some outcasts may soon turn into a hip way to gain real world experience.
So, just how did Abdelhamid get to become suspected of having made a comet-like career to being the leader of Katibat al-Battar al Libi, a Libyan branch of ISIS? There are three factors that seem to have put the French man onto the wrong trajectory.
One of it are his friends, a collection of low lives more interested in petty crime and drugs than in world politics or religion. The path is always the same: they hang out, and one gets caught for a first crime. At home, the sales pitch comes in tears, but in the gang, it is turned into a matter of pride. How cool is it to spend the night with the bad boys? One dare leads to another until they are fully professionalized in scamming the system and live life in the shadows. This is where their purpose ends.
The Mayor of Melenbeek, Ms. Schepmans, recognized correctly that all these people could just as easily have tumbled into criminality instead of jihadism since social networks are forged on the street (Nytimes January 24, 2015).
The second factor is his unfortunate birth place. The Belgian municipality of Molenbeek is a magnet for migrants from Turkey and Morocco and hosts a very large Muslim community, among them many members of the radical Salafi/Wahhabism movement. Molenbeek is a suspected hotbed of Belgian extremists that left for Syria. The community is linked to at least four terrorist attacks in the last four years, including the shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium and the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine. The terrorist organization Sharia4Belgium is also linked to this place and so are the train bombings in Madrid. Religious terrorism appears to develop a nasty habit to form clusters, which hopefully exposes them to easier detection if only they were not protected by a veil of silence from their less radical peers.
Unfortunately for the Abaaoud family, Abdelhamid also recruited his younger brother to Syria, which indicates that not all was well in their upbringing’s mindset. Sometimes, children stubbornly reject the efforts of critical thinking. Yet, the pull of Molenbeek might have been stronger than moderation at home. The link to the Libyan organization appears to be linguistic and cultural – the path of least resistance for a lazy, good-for-nothing kind of a guy.
Despite his relatively privileged upbringing, here we have this looser that has nowhere to go but engage in a lifestyle that centers on the streets and prison. This is the third factor, the school where they learn new skills and acquire a new set of friends from the most extreme fringes of society. The mayor’s office in Molenbeek says that Abdelhamid was radicalized in the prison at Saint Gilles. Indeed, Arab looking inmates are treated with contempt by their western peers. As they are isolated, they flock together. Our prisons act as breeding grounds for heavy guys and extremists.
Hasna Aitboulahcen, the French born woman that seems to have sheltered the Paris terrorist team, has a similar background as Abdelhamid, removed from what would be expected from a goody-goody Muslim daughter. What unites the two cousins is a drift into drugs, sex, and small crime that got them to acquire dangerous friends, here strengthened through family ties. Given that her upbringing appears to have been troubled, according to the investigation of the New York Times, she must have been a particularly easy target. The journalist Katrin Bennhold wrote that her ‘parents split up early, and all four siblings are believed to have spent some time in foster care. In 2006, the family moved into a social housing project.’ Yet, the girl showed little interest in Islam – until she started to veil herself last year. Like her, countless boys and girls of any color and ethnicity go down the same, self-defeating path to oblivion.
To make it absolutely clear, here at Hastings Street in Vancouver, I would have no problems to recruit 50 white Christian soldiers within less than 48 hours for any holy war, even jihad, at the low-low discount price of an airline ticket. They would not even have to have looked at a Bible – ever. Most of them do anything for the next rush.
In other words, Abdelhamid, Hasna, and the thousands of others would have never made it to Syria without a silent, helping hand that offered them exactly the product that they have been waiting for: a cause.
And there is the fourth and critical factor. Somehow, he has been recruited to Syria in 2014, a call he followed with hundreds of others. Obviously, this is a large scale effort that is well organized, but the opportunity for this guy was unimaginable. Until this point, Abdelhamid could not care less about the blood of the Muslims that had flown all his life. But in a video, he all of a sudden surfaced as an avenger of Islam. Since the doctrines of Salafi/Wahhabism require very little intellectual effort, they come in handy for a total makeover and are easy to learn: Jihad against a clearly defined enemy at home. The enemy was now victimized for the irresponsible choices of his past.
Sharia4Belgium appears to be the number one recruiting agency for youths heading for Syria. How exactly Abdelhamid had been drafted is still unknown, but with the sheer army of jihadists from Molenbeek alone, the smoke is clearly coming out of the mosques (even though extremists tend to meet in private homes). Jihadists appear to prefer the closed communities of smaller mosques while the more moderate flavors of Islam seem to flock to the large ones.
After countless opportunities to engineer a lasting peace for the Middle East, the options to contain ISIS have long narrowed to one of violent annihilation. There is no choice today but to utterly destroy this evil disease with force. However, we must weed out the problem at its root. Kids and youths cannot be prevented from choosing criminal careers. However, while religious freedom of the individual must be upheld, a global effort is needed to limit and regulate religious organizations in order to disrupt their recruitment channels. The core of the matter is that the mosques, synagogues, and churches of those that are linked to terrorist attacks, to terrorism in general, to other criminal behavior (such as shielding pedophiles), or to fundamental ideologies need to be closed and their organizations must be prohibited for endangering mankind, starting with all mosques that are linked to Salafi/Wahhabism movements. Any preacher who uses inflammatory doctrines directly or indirectly through scriptural symbolism or who advocates the implementation of religious law must be expulsed by the more moderate congregations of believers in order not to face closure and prohibition. Individuals that are being part of a radical religious organization and those that protect them need to be criminalized. Places of worship with any number of radical members must be closed, perhaps even torn down in order to make the consequences of such intolerable behavior absolutely clear. Any direct or indirect theocracy must be politically and economically isolated and banned. These kinds of scripturally inspired nations have nothing other in mind than to rule the world with their pathetic ideologies.
A look into the last two thousand five hundred years makes it abundantly clear that the menace returns perpetually with the same destructive ideas of Antiquity. Judaism has brought forth an almost uninterrupted string of new messiahs to reconquer the Promised Land with the common end (and even the goal) of mutual self-destruction; the church has been the world’s deadliest persecutor for over 1000 years of its history, culminating in a century of wars between Protestants and Catholics, leading to the very foundation of the United States of America with its religious freedoms; Islam never stopped being suicidal since Muhammad had set foot unto this planet. Because they all work toward an apocalypse that terminates the unbelievers – Judgement Day – these stubborn truths endanger all of mankind. They constitute the single biggest threat to humanity and prevent us from solving the real problems of our planet. Their grand speeches of ‘peace’ include the like-minded only. All others can go to (their) hell. The failure of past generations to regulate and contain religion is haunting the world today.