It’s hard not to give in to laughter sometimes:
Letters from disillusioned French fighters in Syria published by a French newspaper this week have revived a contentious debate in Europe about what to do with radicalized recruits to foreign wars who wish to lay down their arms and return home.
In the excerpts, published by Le Figaro on Monday, several of the estimated 376 French fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) reveal that they were bored, terrified, or otherwise “fed up” with the grueling reality of their “jihad” in Syria.
Fighters complain of difficult conditions, especially as the winter cold sets in. Their concerns range from the practical, including a couple worried that their child, born in Syria, would not enjoy French citizenship, to the trivial. “I’m sick and tired. My iPod doesn’t work anymore,” one writes. “I have to return.”
OH MAN YOUR IPOD????? HOW THE F ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO JIHAD WITHOUT YOUR TUNES, BRO? God, I mean, it’s like bad things are always happening to you, right? Sure, the gang you’re running with has killed a few thousand people in its time, but at least they died with working iPods, probably, you know? It’s just not fair.
It’s not just the loss of creature comforts that’s harshing these jihadi bros’ buzzes, though:
Others are unhappy with the duties they have been given to carry out.
“I’ve basically done nothing except hand out clothes and food,” wrote one, who wants to return from Aleppo, according to Le Figaro. “I also help clean weapons and transport dead bodies from the front. Winter’s arrived here. It’s begun to get really hard.”
Another wrote: “I’m fed up. They make me do the washing up.”
Well, guys, war isn’t all shooting and explosions all the time; somebody has to do the cleaning, dispose of the dead bodies, win hearts and minds, etc. Then again, even the ones who are in line to do some fighting aren’t happy:
And another letter revealed how one man is being sent to the frontline, despite his apparent objection.
“They want to send me to the front, but I don’t know how to fight.”
There’s just no pleasing these bros.
As satisfying as it would be to see France let all these bros come home and then toss them all in the deepest pit in Paris, and they have imprisoned three-quarters of returning jihadi fighters thus far, that’s probably not the right way to go. These are, for the most part, children, expressing the usual adolescent struggles but doing so in an incredibly destructive way, exacerbated by a feeling of disconnect from the European society in which they’ve been growing up. As with most children, they have no concept of consequence. Bringing them home to a life in prison, or denying them a return home at all, is overkill. Many/most of them can probably still be salvaged as human beings. Better to let them know that they can return home, perhaps to some moderate penalty, than to force them to stay on the battlefield where they might be killed (likely) or, eventually, be hardened into real jihadi threats.
On top of that, these kids are potential sources of intel and the single best argument you could show to any other French kids who are thinking about sneaking off to Raqqa to join the fight. Screen them, sure, but for most of them, let them come home.