The Lost Boys of Syria
Several weeks ago, the world was captivated and heartbroken by the haunting site of a young Syrian boy, no more than five, as he sat utterly bewildered in the back of an ambulance. The video that spread like wildfire over social media shows Omran sitting quietly and patiently waiting for an adult to do something to help him. He touches his forehead and quickly pulls his hand away to observe the newly found substance and wipes it on the seat. This substance was blood and dust after having been recovered from a recently bombed out building.
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the video is that Omran does not cry nor is he yelling or visibly agitated. He sits silently. We would expect outcries of fear and pain from a young boy or even an adult. But not Omran. While I am not a psychologist or an expert on trauma, like many viewers, I came to the conclusion that Omran was experiencing such a deep level of shock that his small innocent mind could not comprehend what had just happened. To me, it looked as if that boy’s very soul was ripped from his body and there existed only a tiny beautiful shell.
Nearly a year ago, VICE News released a piece entitled “Inside the Battle: al Nusra-al Qaeda in Syria.” VICE’s video began by showing a school bus full of young boys aged around five to eleven chanting about the virtues of Jihad. While the wheels on this bus went round and round, these were not normal school boys. They wore fatigues instead of uniforms and were taken by al Nusra fighters to a school where they would be indoctrinated into the extremist ideology that fuels the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Many of these students have fathers or brothers fighting for al Nusra and were sent to the school by their families. One teacher referred to them as the “cubs of the lion.” In class, they learned extreme interpretations of Islamic texts, hatred for Jews and Americans, and are imbued with the desire to wage jihad against the infidels. They were given recess time and even a field trip to a bombed out zoo. Many of the boys were happy and excited to see each other and learn about the Quran together. They saw al Nusra as the champion of the Islamic cause and their best chance at defeating the Syrian regime.
The entire video is surreal. Quite literally, you are watching a young child’s innocence being taken away from him. Eventually, these children will no longer be young rambunctious boys, but targetable combatants. The most heartbreaking part at of the video is the passionate and joyful desire of one young boy to become an “inghamasi,” or suicide fighter. At the age of 6, this boy’s dream is to blow himself up and kill as many Infidels as he can in the name of Allah. If the cycle doesn’t stop, at age six, this child’s life will be taken away from him.
These videos and others like it (See ISIS’s ‘Cubs of the Caliphate’) cut through my cynicism and reveal to me the saddening reality of these boys’ lives. These two examples above show that counter-terrorism strategies can now include childcare. Let that sink in for a moment. No longer is counter-terrorism taking teams of Navy Seals to a town in Pakistan to shoot the world’s most wanted terrorist in the face. The most robust counter-terrorism measures will range from global cooperation to destroy terrorist networks and insurgencies to supplying basic needs for children and disrupting the propagation of extremist Islam. If ignored, these boys will perpetuate jihadi ideology and the fight will continue for decades to come. If ignored, these will indeed be the lost boys of Syria.