Last Friday a _Washington Post_ contributor penned an op-ed with the provocative title, “ISIS kidnapped my best friend. But when I met its fighters, I couldn’t hate them.” The op-ed seems intended to convey a poignant, emotional insight about the tragic human cost to everyone trapped in the hell that is ISIS-controlled territory. But the end result is moral equivalence.
Photojournalist Sebastian Meyer relates that his best friend was kidnapped in 2014 by ISIS militants. Meyer can’t say much more than that, he claims, without further endangering his friend, who presumably then is still being held captive somewhere even after all this time. Given the opportunity months later to question an ISIS captive, Meyer – eager to get some answers and some catharsis – was surprised to find himself becoming sympathetic to the fighter for having been recruited into service with the Islamic terror group at what we in the West would consider the tender age of 13.
Meyer detailed the captive fighter’s background:
Ali was born in 1995 and joined the Islamic State in 2008, at the age of 13, he told me. He was trained as an assassin and given his first mission two years later. He and three friends were sent to kill four Iraqi police officers in Mosul. The group tracked the men down, executed them with shots to the back of their heads and buried them where they fell. Ali said he had killed eight or nine men in battle, not including the five he’d beheaded.
I asked him to tell me about the peshmerga soldier whose head he cut off. In a soft, compliant voice, he told me he had pushed the Kurdish soldier belly-first onto the ground in front of him. He placed his knee in the man’s back and then severed the neck with a bayonet.
“If all of that is true,” Meyer continued, “then Ali had indeed been a dangerous terrorist, and the world is safer with him behind bars.” Actually, if all of that is true, the world is safer with Ali dead. Putting him behind bars in an Islamic country is no guarantee that he will not be released to kill again by authorities or cohorts who are sympathetic not just to Ali personally, but to the ISIS cause itself.
But when Meyer asked if the butcher had a message for the Kurdish victim’s family, the terrorist who was so brave as he executed many helpless captives broke down tearfully. This softened Meyer:
But he had also been a child soldier, a vulnerable boy coerced into becoming a terrorist. I interviewed many other fighters like him, some just 14 years old when the Islamic State came to their villages and compelled them at gunpoint to join.
Meyer does not elaborate as to how he knows that such teenage fighters were coerced at gunpoint, other than their word. Some very possibly were; it is true that a Muslim who refuses to fall in line with his fundamentalist co-religionists is likely to face threatening accusations of apostasy. But there is abundant evidence that ISIS has a flood of more-than-willing recruits from all over the world, even from the West. These recruits were not coerced at gunpoint or even necessarily indoctrinated as youths. Call me cynical – I prefer “realistic” – but what is more likely here is not that Ali feels remorse for the murders Meyer is suggesting he committed against his will, but that he regrets being captured and called on his crimes. Were he still free, it is more than likely that he would be racking up more victims rather than wracked with guilt.
Meyer concedes that “[t]he Islamic State commits despicable acts of cruelty,” but notes that “the men who carry out these crimes are not the two-dimensional caricatures they’re painted to be.” Painted by whom? Certainly not the leftist media, who reserve their caricaturizing for white males, Christians, and law-abiding gun owners. “They are human beings,” Meyer insists, “many indoctrinated at the most impressionable age and coerced into service.”
Meyer went on to say that after this revelation he felt only heartbreak, not retaliatory satisfaction, over a later photo of a dead 16-year-old terrorist.
First of all: yes, it’s heartbreaking and tragic that Islamic fundamentalists worldwide warp their children to hate Jews, nonbelievers, and apostates with a murderous intensity, and train them to act on that hatred. But let’s keep things in perspective: the real victims are the innocents who are butchered or enslaved by those youth who may be indoctrinated or who may just enjoy having their depravity legitimized by a hateful ideology. And the perpetrators may, technically speaking, be human beings, but their actions are inhuman, and that is what matters. It is perfectly just, not hateful, to feel “retaliatory satisfaction” at the death of a 16-year-old guilty of unconscionable acts of cruelty and violence. Save your heartbreak for his victims.
Second, when Meyer confesses that he cannot bring himself to hate the terrorists he met, he is missing the point. “Hate” is not the issue. Since the relativistic left has no moral center, it is incapable of making the distinction between “moral condemnation of” or “moral opposition to” and “hate.” When the right condemns Islam on moral grounds, the left calls it “hate.” When the right expresses moral opposition to, well, anything, the left calls that “hate” too. They are not the same thing. Conservatives don’t want to eradicate ISIS because they “hate” the terror group’s members or Muslims or Arabs, but because ISIS commits horrifically evil acts and must be stopped. By calling a sense of moral standards “hate,” the left is attempting to de-legitimize the right’s moral arguments and spin their objects of moral condemnation, like jihadists, into victims of the right’s “intolerance.”
Meanwhile the left never, ever labels acts of actual hatred as “hate,” which is a term the radical left has weaponized against the right. Palestinian Jew-hatred is never described as such by the left, only as, say, “resistance to occupation.” The left never calls LGBT militants’ lawfare against Christian mom-and-pop bakers as “hate.” The left created the category of “hate speech” but never finds itself guilty of it.
Sebastian Meyer does not have to hate the ISIS fighters who have held his best friend in captivity since 2014. He is even allowed to recognize the tragedy that ISIS’ indoctrination wreaks on the souls of its own. But none of this abrogates the necessity for clear-eyed perspective and moral judgment.
Mark Tapson is the editor of TruthRevolt.org and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.