Yesterday, as I skimmed through my Facebook news feed, I came across an article in the Financial Times about the death, in Iraq, of an Egyptian ISIS fighter named Ahmed Al-Darawy.
I knew Ahmed. I worked with him when I was working for a telecom company in Egypt. We weren’t close but I knew him. The news that he had joined ISIS shocked me.
As a Middle Eastern Christian I am a target for ISIS. A target for conversion, exploitation and extermination. I am hardly the only person that worked with Ahmed that would have been a target for ISIS. Women worked in the office, many of them unveiled and married. Christians worked in the office. Liberals and secularists worked in the office. None of my co-workers would have fit the anachronistic vision of the world that ISIS seeks to enforce.
Ahmed was cool. He had a lighthearted nature to his step and always had a joke to crack or a cigarette to share. He never shied away from helping me out around the office even without me asking.
Ahmed wasn’t impoverished; he was well paid and working for a successful company. He wasn’t naïve; he had worked in the police force and he had run for parliament. He wasn’t alienated; he had a family with kids and plenty of friends.
Ahmed just does not fit the bill of an ISIS fighter. The ISIS fighter that I have learned to loathe. The one who lines up blind folded civilians, separates them by religion and political affiliation and proceeds to execute them. But ISIS fighter he was.
Yet, when I read the news, I didn’t feel hatred. I felt shock. I felt confusion. Perhaps because the Arab Spring had turned out so wrong, perhaps because it was so close, perhaps because it was so real.
Instead of hatred I felt anger. Anger that someone I worked with went off to fight a genocidal Jihad. Anger that he should have known better than to get sucked into that kind of violent ideology. Anger that all the Arab Spring had been able to accomplish was another generation of violent fundamentalists.
Instead of hatred I felt envy. Envy for those who look at the world and force it into simple models and get to live their lives in ignorant bliss. Ahmed’s story won’t bother them; it will only affirm their bigoted beliefs that Muslims are Terrorists and that Islam fuels Terror. For them even hatred is an emotion that requires too much involvement. They don’t need to understand why Ahmed became a terrorist.
I just couldn’t find it in myself to hate Ahmed. I didn’t sympathize with him. I didn’t pity him. He wasn’t fooled into doing it. He left his country by his own volition to kill people who didn’t adhere to his vision of Islam. Had his unit captured my Christian relatives in Syria, he would have killed them. So then why didn’t I hate him? Why wasn’t I relieved that he was dead?
One would think with all the violence and heartbreak Terror causes we would have a better understanding of what causes and drives it. There are a plethora of theories that try to explain the phenomenon, but every once in a while someone like Ahmed comes and upends it all. Perhaps that explains the emotional response I had when I read the news. Suddenly my own theory for how the world works, how the Middle East functions didn’t make sense anymore. I got trapped in the multiple layers of Middle East politics and narratives and for one afternoon, I saw no way out… and it was terrifying.