German Journalist on His Ten Days With ISIS

I wrote the other day about German journalist Juergen Todenhoefer, who just returned from spending 10 days with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Here he is on CNN, speaking in English. He says ISIS may represent only 1% of Muslims, but they have the power of a nuclear tsunami. He calls their rise and current status "incredible." CNN in the written text accompanying the video, recounts several of his conversations with ISIS members.

Todenhoefer describes the euphoric atmosphere surrounding the fighters and the "glow" of their new (and plentiful) recruits -- one of whom just passed his bar exam to become a lawyer and another is from New Jersey:[More...]

When we stayed at their recruitment house, there were 50 new fighters who came every day," Todenhoefer said. "And I just could not believe the glow in their eyes. They felt like they were coming to a promised land, like they were fighting for the right thing.

"These are not stupid people. One of the people we met had just finished his law degree, he had great job offers, but he turned them down to go and fight ... We met fighters from Europe and the United States. One of them was from New Jersey. Can you imagine a man from New Jersey traveling to fight for the Islamic State?"

He has also published a brief account on his personal website, and says he has 7 main points to make. With Google Translator, you can mostly make them out.

The three that struck me the most: First, he is absolutely convinced that G.W. Bush created ISIS by going to war against Iraq. Second, ISIS cannot be defeated militarily, and the airstrikes are just creating more recruits. Only the Sunnis can beat ISIS, but right now there is no motivation for them to do that. Even though some are scared of ISIS, ISIS treats them better than they were treated under the Malaki regime. Only if that changes, and Sunnis become treated fairly in Iraq, are they likely to develop the will to fight ISIS.

His third point is the scariest: He says ISIS is intent on conducting the largest religious cleansing in the history of mankind.

Safe will be the 1% of Muslims who accept their view of Islam. Also safe: Jews and Christians, because they are "people of the book." They will just have to pay a tax of several hundred dollars a year. (Muslims also pay a tax but it's a different one, and the poor are exempted.)

Who will be killed? Everyone else: "All Shiites, Yazidi, Hindus, atheists and polytheists." He left out Buddhists, but I suspect they go too. Also on the list: Moderate Muslims who espouse democracy, particularly in the West. Should ISIS conquer a Western country, the moderate Muslims will be killed with the others. (This is because ISIS objects to man-made laws taking precedence over laws that come from Allah.)

Moderate Muslims will be given a chance to repent and embrace ISIS' view of Islam, but it has to be done before their country is conquered. Afterwards, it's too late.

The only chance of this 'infidels', to escape the death, is voluntary repentance and voluntary conversion to 'True Islam'. .... And that only as long as their countries are not captured.

Obviously, at the present time, no Western country is remotely close to being conquered by ISIS. That's an ISIS fantasy.

But France may deserve special mention. It has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations of any European country, and has been experiencing an up-tick in attacks on French citizens. Just this weekend there was a driver who ran over several pedestrians in five separate incidents, shouting "Allahu Akbar", and another incident in which a man walked into a police station brandishing a knife, injuring three officers before being killed. He too allegedly yelled "Allahu Akbar." Still, police say the attacks were not the product of terrorism, and caution against generalizing from the incidents because both perpetrators were mentally disturbed. One had recently been released from a psychiatric hospital.

But French police also say more than 1,000 French citizens have had contacts with ISIS or other extremist jihadist groups.

There has also been a 100% increase in antisemitic attacks in France this year, including an attack this month at a residence. The woman was raped, the man was beaten, and their credit cards were stolen. The attacker told them it was because "Jews have money." The alleged perpetrators were later apprehended and are charged with hate crimes.

Also as I wrote the other day, ISIS released two videos last week featuring fighters speaking in French (in one, the fighter threatened to execute captured Lebanese soldiers and in the other, the fighter gave a recruitment speech, railing against nationalism.It's called "A Message to You, O Believers" or in Frnch, "Recevez Ce Message.") Last month, ISIS released a video with three french fighters burning their passports and advocating the killing of Westerners. This week, ISIS released the first issue of its magazine in French, "Dar al-Islam" (available here.)

Roger Cukierman, the head of CRIF, a French umbrella group for Jewish organizations, for decades has taken the position that Jews have been in France for 2,000 years and would never leave, en masse. Last weekend, at a rally, he struck a different chord when he said (to applause by the crowd):

“Jews will leave in large numbers and France will fall into the hands of either Shari’a Law or the Front National.”

The Front National is a right-wing extremist group. While I hope both Cukierman and Todenhoefer are over-hyping the danger and success potential for ISIS (that France will be ruled by Sharia law or right wing extremists, and that ISIS is powerful enough to embark on the largest religious cleansing known to mankind), it remains that ISIS is a danger.

I think the biggest obstacle to preventing the outcomes they warn of is the approach being taken by the U.S. and other countries. Airstrikes, U.S. military intervention, mass incarceration and executions of captured terrorists (such as Pakistan is now planning) are not going to achieve success at degrading or destroying ISIS. They are just a bump in the road for ISIS and they serve as a rallying cry to others.

In treating ISIS simply as a terror organization, rather than examining its beliefs and goals, capitalizing on cracks in its ability to govern, and figuring out ways to demarginalize the economically and socially disadvantaged youth who are most susceptible to its propaganda, ISIS and other groups, will continue to spread. Hopefully the governments of the world will wake up before the words of Todenhoefer and Cukierman become a reality.

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    IMO (none / 0) (#1)
    by Politalkix on Tue Dec 23, 2014 at 07:11:39 AM EST
    "In treating ISIS simply as a terror organization, rather than examining its beliefs and goals, capitalizing on cracks in its ability to govern, and figuring out ways to demarginalize the economically and socially disadvantaged youth who are most susceptible to its propaganda, ISIS and other groups, will continue to spread. Hopefully the governments of the world will wake up before the words of Todenhoefer and Cukierman become a reality."

    J, I agree with almost everything you have written but have come to a different conclusion

    If we examine the beliefs and goals of ISIS (as you correctly say we should), we should treat it as a fascist state instead of just a terror organization.

    When we start treating it as a fascist state, we should
    (1) be at war against it as we were against fascist states in the last century

    (2) fight the war intelligently by building alliances with various Muslim countries (Shia and Sunni).


    My takeaway, from the CNN interview (none / 0) (#2)
    by Mr Natural on Tue Dec 23, 2014 at 09:05:30 AM EST
    "There is an awful sense of normalcy in Mosul," Todenhoefer said in an exclusive interview with CNN.

    Some of you may remember that one of the Nuremberg translators said something analogous, describing the clean hands and ordinary-ness of the Nazis.  This is the deep horror of these situations.  They become normal.

    "As we went through the awful recital of crimes over and over, for each of the 21 inmates, hour after hour, I envisioned anew the stacks of pitiful corpses and gagged once again on the smell of assembly-line extermination these men and their cohorts had unleashed," he wrote in his autobiography. "Their clean hands reached out for the bundles of stapled documents that catalogued their past. Elsewhere they might have easily have been taken for a group of very ordinary men, picked at random from a crowd."

    Expecting honest dialogue with fundamentalists... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Dadler on Tue Dec 23, 2014 at 09:33:09 AM EST
    ...is like expecting Santa Claus to actually come down you chimney. These, again, are folks who believe an OBVIOUS metaphor literally. They have the minds of children. BUT...they are armed to the teeth. Lord of the flies with grenade launchers. That is what you are dealing with. Isolate and humiliate and intellectually challenge every minute of every day. But, you see, half of America are religious literalists, so...you see the problem, right J?

    We. Are. Phucked.

    I'm letting this comment stay (none / 0) (#7)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Dec 23, 2014 at 10:21:56 AM EST
    Your four other comments in this thread were deleted for name calling. (Thanks for acknowledging in advance they would be deleted.) When you're in that mood, as you put it, it's a good idea to comment elsewhere.

    I am an avowed atheist. (none / 0) (#8)
    by Chuck0 on Tue Dec 23, 2014 at 12:42:56 PM EST
    And have spent a good part of my life warning my friends of the dangers of religious zealots and religious extremism. Be they christian fundamentalists in the US, Hindus in India or Muslims anywhere in the world. ISIS is proof of my warnings. I am sick of our involvement in war in the Middle East and it may not be a popular belief here, but these people need to be wiped out. They are a danger worldwide. One big problem is they feed the extremists on the other end of the spectrum. Groups like Front National in France, neo Nazis in Germany (and elsewhere). The crazies here see ISIS and started passing laws against Sharia and see everyone with brown skin as a danger to their world.

    Ideas matter (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Slado on Wed Dec 24, 2014 at 01:16:25 AM EST
    And when you look at the ideas of ISIS and their core beliefs it is just way more scary than anything any other religious fundamentalist is dreaming up at the moment.  

    And even if you think some other religious nuts are just as crazy on paper it doesn't matter because right now ISIS is just better at spreading their ideas and recruiting new members by a Scale of 1000.  

    The only other historical comparisons are the rise of the Nazis and the rise of Communist Russia.   The policy choice is how do we deal with them as they become larger.

    I'm worried when it comes to "stopping" ISIS both Jeralyn and people with the opposite view are both wrong.   We can't stop the rise of ISIS because we can't rewrite the history of this region and how religion has become so totally intertwined with government.  

    Our choice in the west to embrace secular government has enabled us to minimize the religious crazies.     For ISIS to achieve similar success in the west would require  way more violence and social destruction because the natural order of things prevents this type of ideology from spreading so quickly.

    Not so in the Middle East.   Islam and government are one in the same. And when a certain government in the Islamic world fails a ISIS and others like them quickly fill the void.

    What is hard for this former GW voter to swallow is our  actions in Iraq and Afghanistan before helped create the environment for groups like the Taliban and ISIS to flourish.  To be fair Obama's support of Malike also provided the accelerant for the spread in western Iraq but his was the second dumb move.   GW gets credit for the mess.

    We are about to witness 50 years of the Middle East figuring out which way it wants to go as it transitions from strongmen dictators.  

    Islamic goverment or secular government.   What we fail to grasp in my view is how hard this choice is made by Islam.   It is set up in the rules for Islam to win.  

    All that said I am skeptical that ISIS will ultimately prevail for I have faith that humans will eventually figure out there are better ways to do things.   The world eventually figured out that secular democracies were the way to go and only a few countries like North Korea and Cuba were able to hang on.   I can live with a small little nation of ISIS crazies like North Korea if the rest of the Middle East is able to figure it out.

    Our problems as Americans is how to stay involved without being too involved.   On this basic question I'm with Jeralyn.   The last 13 years should've taught us by now that we can't change hundreds of years of histor, and spread our ideas of democracy with bombs and military intervention.