cross-posted from Quilliam Foundation’s blog
Just like roughly 850 British Muslims I left the land of my birth for a country in the Middle East to fight for what I believed in. Perhaps bizarrely the only hatred I felt upon leaving the UK was towards Britain, rather than any of the people I was leaving to fight. In the UK I had spent my entire life feeling marginalised and ignored. I felt that my people weren’t respected, that our needs weren’t taken into account. As a member of a tiny minority I felt like an outcast. I hated the United Kingdom for that. I was sick and tired of feeling like I had to explain all the time why we Jews aren’t all rich and no we Jews don’t control the media and no the Rothschilds don’t control the world financial system. I wanted to get away as soon as I could. In my case that was a day or two after my university graduation.
Whereas in the UK I felt weak, in Israel I felt strong and powerful. In the UK I felt marginalised, in Israel my religion was right there on the national flag. Israel seemed to me to be the light of the world, a Jewtopia worth fighting for and worth dying for. In fact dying in battle while wearing the uniform of the IDF struck me as a particularly noble way to go. I always repeated to myself the words of Martin Luther King; “If you’ve got nothing worth dying for, you’ve got nothing worth living for either.” Israel was worth dying for. Some people don’t understand those who speak wistfully about death on the battlefield as a martyr to the cause but I do.
I’m sure that there are many Muslims who feel a lot of the same anger and frustration towards the UK that I felt. I’m sure they have to deal with accusations of being terrorists, attacks from racist thugs and suspicion from the establishment. The words “angry young man” came about for a reason. It’s hardly surprising that there are some who want to can run away from it all to be with their own people and fight together against a common enemy.
When I left for Israel I was sure of many things and wrong about almost all of them. Israel isn’t a Jewish utopia, it’s a real country with real problems. My comrades in the IDF already knew this but I didn’t have a clue. But I was lucky. My ideology didn’t call for the founding of a Jewish empire or the mass conversion of all to Judaism so that we could all live together in some kind of paradise on earth. Though in truth there are some Jews who do aspire to these things and dream dreams of a new Jewish kingdom and a return to the days written of in the Torah when the Jews ruled. I have no doubt that if one of those Jewish demagogues had gotten hold of me at that sensitive time when I was particularly angry and alone they could have groomed me to do whatever they wanted.
Mix ideology with angry, young men and you have the perfect recipe for killers in the name of that ideology. For Muslims in the world today there are a plethora of organisations most notably Hizb ut Tahrir, talking about Muslim victimhood combined with a forgotten or buried history and a way to claw back self-respect once again. Their language may be couched in Islamic terminology but their solution is the same used by so many other ideologies. Fascists the world over talk about the victimhood of their respective peoples, they refer to a glorious past using questionable history in order to convert newcomers to their cause. Add a few words of Arabic or Hebrew or German, a nice flag and a couple of songs and you’ve got yourself a movement. But it isn’t a recipe for success but disaster.
I’m not going to dwell here on the many differences between ISIS and Israel (or ISIS and the UK for that matter) what I will say is that the Israel I found when I got there wasn’t the Israel of my utopian dreams. And I hate to ruin it for any would be arrivals in the Islamic State but there’s no Muslim utopia there either. Just a lot of Muslims killing other Muslims in the name of Islam.
I know that in discussing young (or old) Muslims running off to the Islamic State many Muslims cite British Jews leaving the UK to serve in the IDF. For me the point isn’t about anyone leaving the UK but about dealing with why so many of us want to leave in the first place. The dreams we have of leaving the UK for some kind of utopia born in fire are nonsense. There’s no utopia on earth just a lot of people with some issues to work out.
I was lucky, when I left the UK for Israel I walked into a very real framework, a disciplined, Western army with clear morality and goals. Those travelling to the Islamic State with naïve dreams of fighting for Muslims are paraded in front of a camera, handed a knife and turned into murderers. Half of those who left for ISIS have returned, they didn’t die on the battlefield they escaped from hell. So the thing is that whatever utopia it is that you think you’re going to find on the other side of the world let me tell you now brother, there’s nothing there. Utopia only exists in the fantasies of demagogues and in the hearts of those who have been hurt too much.