Yogi Mahajan & Pragya Pradhan
Rita lives two lives as she battles between her restless mind and her inner search for answers. Her voracious appetite for adventure, leads her to join a terrorist training camp. Her life takes a critical turn after some sudden unexpected changes. Does Rita belong there anymore? Where does she go from here and what lies ahead of her as she comes to terms with her decisions?
As they approached the passport check post, the agent advised them to lie flat on the seats. He exchanged a few words with the controller and thumped a wad of notes in his palm. Once in Syria, she toyed with the idea of being involved in some type of public service, a police force, humanitarian work or perhaps even a combat role! It was a long journey, gradually her eyelids grew heavy and she fell asleep.
The driver woke her up, “We are in Raqqa.” The van stopped outside a training camp, where a welcome committee awaited them. A girl about her age escorted them around the camp. Rita watched in awe the full-blown jihadis perform combat exercises in the distance. Martha mused, “They must be forced or brainwashed.”
The escort overheard the remark, “It is a mistake to think that they are forced or brain washed. They agreed to become suicide bombers of their own choice – they are drawn by the desire to die as martyrs and would enjoy a sumptuous afterlife if they die fighting the ‘infidel’ enemy.”
A speakerphone instructed the new arrivals to report to the commander. The commander stood by a bonfire and greeted them warmly in a British accent, “Congratulations! You have become citizens of the Islamic state – the mighty Caliphate. You won’t need your passports or identity documents anymore. Just throw them into the bonfire.”
A video team recorded the merry event to showcase to the world, ‘foreign jihadis have no interest in returning home.’
As Rita pulled out her passport, she shuddered- a pang of fear seized her, ‘should I or should I not.’ The mutant inside her head resumed an active mode ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’.
She threw away the British tag but nothing changed. She felt no different. Perhaps switching into the new ISIS military outfit would make the difference. Whenever she yearned for new toys, her mother would chide, “But the new is new only for a day.” She realized it doesn’t change anything within.
Contact with the outside world was banned, and as she surrendered her cell phone, she felt another pang – a pang of regret, but it was temporarily eclipsed by the greeting of enthusiastic roommates who seemed about her age with a similar background.
Along with Martha and Melene, she shared a three-bedroom house with seven other British girls. When the evening meal was over, she indulged in the luxury of a hot water bath. As she blew soap bubbles in the bathtub, the mutant inside her head was pleased to have made the right choice.
Next morning they were assigned to a six-month training program. Their training varied between eight to ten hours a day. It was a mix of military, political and Koranic studies. Military training involved exercises, weapon drills, close range shooting, crawling under barbed wire, assembling and dissembling pistols, cleaning weapons, disposal of killer fighters bodies and cooking.
Koranic lessons were taught by a young cleric who had recently joined. He impressed upon the recruits that the mainstream Islam practiced by Muslims today was invented over the recent decades. To unravel the invented Islam, ISIS had researched and unearthed the arcane teachings. In its light, he drew a distinction between the true Jihad of pure Islam, which was not about mercy but about extreme retaliatory violence to deter enemies. Rita left the class inspired she had stumbled on the true message of Islam.
A few days later, he introduced the concept of ‘Hijra,’ an Arabic word meaning emigration, evoking the Prophet Muhammad’s historic escape from Mecca, where assassins were plotting to kill him. The cleric amplified that the performance of Hijra and jihad were intimately linked as it included the act of leaving one’s land and family to take up jihad in the name of establishing an Islamic state.
When the training period ended, some of the female recruits were dispatched to new check posts at a recently won territory that had fallen under ISIS control. They were designed to solve a specific problem of detecting male anti-ISIS fighters disguising themselves as females in an all-concealing feminine garb. As male ISIS members were unable to inspect the under garments to verify the womanhood of the wearers, women recruits were used for this sensitive task.
The remaining trainees were recruited into an all-female moral police designated to raise the awareness of Sharia law among the women in the new territories and to punish those who did not abide by it. They were also to act as a secret police, with members covertly spying on men suspected of wrongdoings.
British women were held back as trophy brides for super jihadis. Thus, Javed was compensated with Rita. Javed was from Lebanon where he worked as a cab driver. Although he didn’t have any sense of belonging to his family or country, he was opposed to western politics in the Middle East, especially their support of Israel. His hardliner friends joined ISIS and before long their stuff caught up with him.
Disembedded from social norms, he found identity within a small group, shaped by black-and-white ideas and values. Driven by a sense that they must act on behalf of all Muslims, and in opposition to all enemies of Islam, it became easier for them to commit acts of horror and to view such acts as part of an existential struggle between Islam and the West. Their reaction triggered a mutation inside their heads– perversion.
Perversion also had the power of outrage that overwhelmed Javed’s senses and wisdom. It made him fearless and restored his self-respect. Impact in the battlefield enhanced his local standing and was suitably compensated in marriage to Rita. Rita was allowed to communicate with her family via social media to announce her marriage.
Though Javed spoke little English, there was an understanding between them. The mutant inside their heads resonated. It wanted the same thing in life. It hungered for the same drug – adventure. Toys – sleek cars, luxuries apartments or paper money, could not appease their appetite. They needed to keep ramping up the dose to sustain the pleasure high. Love could come later.
Within a fortnight of their marriage, Javed was recalled to the war front. In his absence Rita had to face a long period of loneliness. Moreover, she had to observe all the restrictions imposed on Muslim women – to remain hidden and veiled and not permitted to leave the house without a male guardian. Rita wasn’t prepared for this unexpected constrained life- neither emotionally nor psychologically. The transition from rigorous military training to a Muslim woman’s life at home was not what she bargained for. She joined ISIS because the mutation inside her head hungered for adventure, but instead she found herself bored in the domestic drudgery of cooking, washing, cleaning, sewing and housekeeping.
A month later Javed returned jubilant from a victorious battle. They celebrated with a special Lebanese dinner. As they sat on the deck sipping coffee, Rita broached the subject, “You know something, when I first saw those two Norwegian girls wave out on the net, I loved their energy, and I jumped into ISIS. But now I can barely breathe under all these constraints on women.”
Javed’s brow furrowed. “I understand your loneliness.”
“No, Javed, you don’t understand. I am happy to live with you, but I also need to be an active player on my own. I want to taste it all. I want a full serving of it, not just a slice of your cake. I want to zoom into orbit and feel my body tremble.”
Most of the marriages of Javed’ friends with British girls had failed, and he did not want to let go his coveted prize. He thought the safest way was to say the right thing, “In our recent invasion we have gained a lot of territory. There is a school in the captured region that you could help.”
“Oh I love children. It would be such fun rehabilitating them.”
Next morning she eagerly accompanied Javed to the school. As she was distributing soft drinks and candy to the children, she heard Javed issue instructions, “Divide the children age wise, and send for military training those above 13, and those under for religious training.”
She protested, “I thought our task was to rehabilitate them?”
Javed answered curtly, “Yes, that’s what we are doing. We want to rehabilitate them according to the tenants of Islam to make them good jihadis.”
She was shocked. How could she have married a man so heartless! She pleaded, “But they are only children. How do you expect children to handle sophisticated weapons?”
“The human mind is extremely adaptive and learns quickly. They are malleable and we know how to play on this neuroplasticity. With proper training it will not take long before these lion cubs will turn into suicide bombers.”
She was terrified by the thought of militants exploiting the children and sending them on suicide bombing missions. She decided to talk to his superior.
She pleaded with him, “Muslims or Christian children – they are innocent spirits.”
He sneered, “Ha! You talk of innocence! What does your society know of innocence? There is nothing of innocence left in your society. Your society has defiled innocence in every way. It doesn’t even differentiate between male and female marriages. If you want to get back your innocence, take lessons from Islam. Unless innocence is embedded in our faith, it has no meaning. And that is what we are doing – saving their innocence.”
She interrupted, “But how can turning them into suicide bombers save them?
“ISIS is oversubscribed by suicide bombers. Before the Last Judgment every able child must be given a chance to serve the cause so he is blessed by Allah.”
“How can they be judged fairly if you radicalize their vulnerable minds?”
“Radicalized?” Javed’s superior sneered. “You Westerners are the most radicalized race on earth. Your minds are radicalized by grand and compelling theories of crazy psychologists. They have left you mentally ill-equipped to comprehend the Last Judgment. I have urgent matters to attend to and don’t want to waste more time on your wild western ideas. You need to be sent back to receive more training to strengthen your faith.”
She wanted to break away, to leap away from the monster as he glared at her.
“And one thing more,” he pointed his finger. “ISIS has offered you a chance of a lifetime for your redemption – don’t waste it.”
She froze, and stood transfixed like a lifeless tree.
She went home and talked to Javed. He kicked her.
“You can’t do this,” she pleaded.
He spat, “You are possessed by Satan.” He battered her and left never to return.
She lay on the floor bleeding.