Refugees from Syria. They wouldn't put their own lives and the lives of their children at risk in feeble boats to cross the Mediterranean if they had any other choice. >Ben White/ CAFOD, October 2015/Flickr
ISIS and many Islamophobes have surprisingly found a common ground: they agree that ISIS’ interpretation and practice of Islam represents “true” Islam. Both push this narrative in their literature and other forms of propaganda, and there is evidence this viewpoint has gained some traction in the U.S. According to a study published in February, 27% of Americans believe ISIS represents true Islamic society.
“It would be nice if we heard from more in the Muslim world coming out and condemning what the Islamic State is doing,” Fox and ABC contributor Laura Ingraham said on her show in August. “You’re not hearing enough of those voices, if any. I mean, where are those people?”
Talk show hosts keep asking why moderate Muslims don’t speak out against terrorism, but they seem to ignore the vociferous, unequivocal condemnations of ISIS by Islamic scholars and Muslim activists worldwide. Numerous parodies of ISIS all across the Muslim world show a clear rejection of the brand of Islam practiced by the group, revealing that ISIS and its ilk are a laughing stock to most Muslims.
There is, however, another proof of the overwhelming rejection of ISIS that has not gained much attention from media analysts and pundits: the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. I first saw this suggestion on NPR in September, but I’ve neither seen nor read of it anywhere else.
ISIS claims that their lands are an “oasis” for Muslims; a sort of “Paradise on earth” for the faithful, and it demands all Muslims to migrate to its lands. Yet, thousands upon thousands of Muslims have risked their own lives to try to come to Europe’s shores, not the lands of ISIS.
“The idea that they are not heading to ‘ISIS land’ is a slap in the face,” Alberto Fernandez, former head of the State Department’s counterterrorism communications unit, told NPR. “They are leaving because their relatives were killed by Assad. That’s the ISIS demographic, but the people brutalized by Assad are not turning to ISIS.”
You hear it again and again from the refugees: it’s Europe or bust. “We only have money to reach Greece. Afterwards, we don’t know what we’ll do,” Khaled, a refugee, told Al Jazeera in Turkey. “When I arrive to Europe, I will work it out. … We may die on the way, but we don’t have a choice.” Notice how going to live under ISIS never figures in his calculation. It does not even come up in conversation.
In response to this issue, ISIS has published numerous videos attempting to woo Muslims to “migrate” to their lands, and the titles of some of these videos say it all:
Dear Refugees, Hear It From Us
And He Will Replace You With Other People
Advice To The Refugees Going To The Countries Of Disbelief
Would You Exchange What Is Better For What Is Less?
Warning To The Refugees Of The Deceptions Of The Crusaders
The videos are “very unusual, in terms of so many on one topic in a short time frame,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a Middle East Forum analyst, told NPR. He said it’s clear “they also want to counter the idea that they are responsible for the crisis.”
Since the conflict in Syria began, more than 4 million people have fled the country and likely none ever considered living under ISIS rule. The refugees first began to flee to other Muslim countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Yet, when conditions became intolerable in those countries, none thought of migrating to the lands of ISIS. They put their lives and their children’s lives at risk on dinghies in the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean in a desperate effort to reach Europe. In fact, according to the UNHCR, more than 2,500 people have died this year in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean.
If there is any silver lining to the refugee crisis, which continues to pose a tremendous political and humanitarian problem for Europe and beyond, it is that it unequivocally tells the entire world that ordinary Muslims have rejected ISIS. Not only do Muslims laugh at ISIS, but they would rather face death on the high seas than live under its “caliphate.”