A number of naive Muslim teenagers and young men (and it is mostly men) have been lured into going to fight for the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS). They do so partly because it seems exciting, adventurous and rebellious. It also promises to give them the clear self-identity that many want and otherwise lack. And of course they naively swallow the extremist propaganda and end up mistaking it for Islamic teaching.
But we can well imagine that for many this all changes soon after they arrive in Syria or Iraq and experience first hand the reality of the IS, with its mass murders, its rapes and enslavements, its crucifixions and beheadings, its soulless, pathological and puritanical culture. Such kids, having grown up in (say) 21st century Paris or London or New York, are suddenly plunged into a world of medieval attitudes and brutality, where even music and dancing is forbidden and the slightest hint of opposition will likely get you killed real quick and maybe real painfully.
But by then it’s too late and there is no escape, no way out of the hell they’ve arrived in. For where else can they now go? They can hardly just walk towards the front lines of Iraqi or Syrian soldiers (or those of the Kurdish peshmerga), where being shot (or worse) would be the likely outcome. And they can’t renounce their commitment to the IS for fear of being executed as an ‘apostate’ or traitor.
Even if they managed to escape, a long prison sentence for terrorism offences is likely all that awaits them in their home country.
We can say that “they themselves made this bed and now they must sleep in it” … and of course this has a degree of truth. But we can also doubt that most of them truly knew beforehand what they were getting themselves into … before the ‘adventure’ and apparent glamour gave way to a nightmarish hell.