It was a Facebook posting that caught my eye – a young Tunisian man sharing his story of searching for a sense of purpose and belonging, and finding it in a mosque. But the vision of Islam he learns there is violent, and soon he is ready to step on a plane to go fight for his brothers and sisters in Iraq.
It is a familiar tale in my home country of Tunisia, which has become a pipeline for Daesh fighters. But this one ended differently. He didn’t board the plane. He became an art teacher instead. I wanted to understand how his transformation took place, in the hope that I could lead other young people down a similar path.
I met Shaheen – whose name I have changed to protect his privacy – in early 2015. Like many Tunisians, I was appalled to learn that 3,000 of my fellow citizens had fled the country to fight for Daesh in Syria and Iraq. Of the foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, most have come from Tunisia. Decades of dictatorship, coupled with tough security policies, have not helped Tunisia address the root causes of radicalization and its broad appeal among disillusioned youth.
I thought it was high time to start listening to those who knew first-hand how young people could be enticed into violence. Maybe, with that knowledge, we could slow the flow of fighters to Daesh.