“I go to Libya to buy clothes …

… for your business, Mum” said Fatima’s son during Ramadan 2012.

She expected him back home for Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.
The Feast of Breaking the Fast.
An important religious holiday in Islam.
His mum and family were waiting for him to sacrfice the sheep.
He didn’t come.
Not on the first day of Eid al-Fitr.
Not on the second.
She started to get nervous.
She felt there was something wrong.
Friends told her what she didn’t want to believe.
Her son had been recruited by extremists.
Only then did Fatima realise that she had lost her son to the Muslim fundamentalists.
He has become a jihadist.
Yet another young Tunisian man who went to fight the Holy War.
One of so many.
This time in Syria.

fatima_01I’ve met Fatima in Kairouan, a beautiful town in Tunisa 180 km south west of Tunis. It’s an important centre for Islamic and Quranic learning It attracts a large number of Muslims from various parts of the world, second only to Mecca and Medina.

Fatima runs her own business. She is married and has three children, one boy and two daughters. Her son went to school, studied and just recently returned back home from Sousse. He was working there – but he decided that he wanted to live with his family until he gets married. A pretty typical way of living in Tunisia.

What had happened?

Fatima told me that her son had changed a lot in the last two months before he left.
But she only understood this afterwards.
Otherwise she would never have given him the money to buy the clothes he said that he wanted.
She would never have helped him to get a passport to travel to Libya.
He changed the mosque where he went for his prayers.
He went to pray more often.
He started to see “new friends”.
He separated from the old ones.
He changed his way of dressing.
He started to dress all in white.
He grew a beard.

Then he left.

When Fatima realized what had happened she contacted the people in Kairoaun who had recruited him.
She knows them very well.
They told her he will be fine and that he would come home soon.
The recruiters are well-known people in Kairouan.
One of them is the spokesman of Ansar al-Sharia, a hardline Salafist movement which was recently designated a “terrorist group” in Tunisia. This group was blamed for the killing of two secular politicians.
The recruiter is a successful sportsmen, and fellow students say a highly intelligent guy.
He was detained because of the recruiting.
But released shortly afterwards.
One can only speculate.

One explanation could be that Ennahda is backing the Salafits.
With 89 out of 217 seats elected, Ennahda became the strongest power in Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA) after the first free elections in October 2011.
The NCA is the body in charge of devising a new constitution for the post Ben Ali era.
The most crucial question in this process turned out to be, which form of government to implement and and are Islamic principles included or excluded.

Ennahda was considered to be a moderate Muslim party.
It has been around for many years as a well-known opposition force under the regime of Ben Ali.
It started as a charity organization and has deep roots in Tunisia’s society.
That is why people voted for them. And because there was a lack of alternatives.
One can’t blame the Tunisian people for doing so.
Why wouldn’t they vote for an Islamic party?
But as it turned, out Ennahda moved more and more towards Islamic fundamentalism.
They included Islamic principles in the provisional draft of the constitution.
But the Tunisians didn’t like that and went back onto the streets.
And they are still fighting!
People confess that they are Muslims.
But they want to practice Islam as THEY want and not as a political party or a government tells them.
They believe that religion is something personal.
Something which belongs to the individual.
It should be strictly separated from politics.
And it should never ever become part of the constitution.
This is what the people in Tunisia are fighting for.

Fatima went to Libya after she realized what had happened to her son.
The Salafists told her that her son was there.
She was hoping to find him and to bring him home.
She became a Libyan resident in order to stay longer in the country.
She has family there, so this wasn’t hard to achieve.
She made contact with the local jihadists.
But it was too late.
They didn’t let her talk to her son.
But he called her on the phone.
He told her, he couldn’t come to see her – “they” would not let him go, he said.
And Fatima said that he was crying.
So was she.

During our conversation she burst into tears and fell into my arms.
All I could do was to hold her tight.
Tears were rolling down my cheeks – thinking how I would feel if this happened to my son.

Many Tunisian jihadis are trained in Libya, they get arms there, and then enter Syria via the Turkish border. Brainwashed, a new identity and passport. The official number is 4000 – people in Tunisia tell us there are many, many more. They come not only from Tunisia. They come from Chechnya in the North Caucasus region of Eastern Europe; they come from Afghanistan, Libya, Jordan, Iraq … They are supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And by us, the West.

They are all fighting on the rebel side in Syria. Against Assad.
It is not true that there are only Syrians fighting against Syrians in Syria.
The front that Assad is facing is much broader.
It is much more complex.
There are local revolutionaries opposing the regime who are fighting against autocracy.
They are not Islamists, in the sense that their political visions do not depend upon Islamic principles.
They espouse varying degrees of personal religious fervor.
Then there are moderate Islamists within the Syrian opposition.
They comprise rebel groups who are typified by a commitment to political Islam that is compatible with democracy.
And than there are Syria’s homegrown salafi-jihadist group, Jabhat Nusra, closely linked to foreign jihadist groups.
These groups are the ones that recruit the young jihadists.
They are at the extreme end of the spectrum.
And their fight is not at all in the interest of the people!
In this case the Syrian people.
The Syrian people are the victims.
And the mothers and families of the young men who are recruited by the extremists are victims.

Fatima recently came back from Syria.
She went with a Tunisian journalist team to Damascus.
Tunis Vision.
They wanted to find out more about Tunisian jihadists, since the political parties in Tunisia say that this is not an issue.
But the journalists found many of them in prison.
And they filmed it.
Unfortunately Fatima didn’t find her son.
But she knows he is still alive.
Her husband talked to him yesterday (August 31, 2013) on the phone.
He calls them once in a while.
Always from a different number.
They’ve asked again him to come home.
He replied he can’t.
“They” won’t let him go, he says.

All Fatima can do, is to wait for the next phone call.
And hope that he won’t die.
As so many do, in the name of god.

“What kind of god is that?” Fatima keeps asking.

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