State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf was widely ridiculed in February for saying of the Islamic State (ISIS): “We cannot win this war by killing them, we cannot kill our way out of this war. We need, in the longer term, medium and longer term, to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs.” Harf’s statement looks even more ridiculous now that it has come to light that the Islamic State’s parent group and semi-rival, al-Qaeda, treats potential recruits very much like job applicants.
The al-Qaeda application, released this week along with a large amount of other material found in Osama bin Laden’s compound, is an interesting transposition of contemporary Western workplace culture to the age of savagery: as matter-of-fact and routine as asking for references or people to contact in an emergency, it asks, “Who should we contact in case you became a martyr?”
The entire application is a similar blend of jihadist piety and bureaucratic officiousness. “In the name of Allah the compassionate and merciful,” it begins, “Important remarks before you fill in the application: 1. Please answer the required information accurately and truthfully. 2. Please write clearly and legibly.” It contains a uniquely Islamic confidentiality clause: “Please refrain from sharing the information you provide on the application with each other because it is a trust to Almighty Allah.” Any questions? “If you would like to discuss any further issue, please tell your direct brother supervisor.”
The form then asks for the applicant’s name, the date according to both the Gregorian and Hijri calendars, “Nickname/Alias,” “Father’s Occupation,” and other personal information, before getting down to brass tacks:
Date of your arrival in the land of Jihad:....................
How long do you plan to stay in the (jihadi) theater?.........
After asking about the applicant’s education level, the form asks: “When did Almighty Allah bless you with this gift?”
Then come questions about the level of the applicant’s knowledge of Islam – questions that John Kerry and Joe Biden and David Cameron and the others who insist that jihad terror groups have nothing to do with Islam must assume the applicants answered with “None,” “No,” and “No one”: “How much of the holy Qur’an have you memorized? Did you study Shari’a? Who was your instructor?” It also asks, “Which shaykhs do you listen to or read often?” and “Which shaykhs or Muslim dignitaries do you know?”
Clearly al-Qaeda was not looking for the poor, uneducated, misled, manipulated youths that fill jihad groups according to media myth. It asks: “Have you invented or researched anything in any domain?” Sounding like an application for summer camp but probably looking for young men who spent their summer days building homemade bombs, it asks, “Any hobbies or pastimes?” Other superficially innocuous questions have a clearly ominous edge, given the context: “Do you know anyone who travels to Western countries?” “Do you know any workers or experts in chemistry, communications, or any other field?” And above all: “Do any of your family or friends work with the government? If so, would he/she be willing to cooperate with or help us?”
“List the types of passports you possess,” the application directs. “Did you use a real or forged passport for your current travel? Provide details on how you arrived here. Did you encounter any difficulties on the road to this place?” Now that you’re here, when will you be going?: “Do you wish to execute a suicide operation? What objectives would you would like to accomplish on your jihad path? What ideas and views do you, your family, and your other acquaintances have about jihad in Allah’s sake here?”
And finally, after getting the name, address and phone numbers of those to be contacted after the applicant’s Islamic martyrdom, the application concludes: “Praise Allah, Lord of all worlds.” Not that this has anything to do with Islam, of course.
The application places the global jihad in a whole new light. It’s not just a vocation, it’s a job. Marie Harf and John Kerry are placing their hopes on the idea that those in the employ of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State will be willing to switch careers: from warrior for Allah to, say, Wal-Mart greeter. It is, unfortunately, unlikely that al-Qaeda’s pious applicants will find that a good career move.
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