Everyone knows that what the Islamic State does is egregious and unique and has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, but those who are willing to allow their balloon to land may be interested to know that there is precedent even for this in the history of the caliphate.
The last caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, drew its most formidable warriors against Christianity from among the Christians themselves. Christian fathers were forced to appear in the town squares with their sons, the strongest and brightest of whom would be seized from their parents, converted to Islam, and trained up to be part of the Empire’s crack fighting force, the janissaries. In certain areas this practice, the devshirme, became an annual event.
Three male Yezidi children who had been kidnapped by ISIS have reportedly been killed in battle while fighting for the extremist group, according to a well-placed source.
The alleged deaths underscore an overlooked aspect of ISIS’ capture of over 5,000 Kurdish Yezidi men, women and children since August – a horrific story that has focused mostly on the fate of the women and girls who were taken by ISIS fighters as sex slaves and servants.
The report of the killing of these child soldiers begs the question: what happened to the boys?
The news of the unconfirmed deaths is what many Yezidi women have been dreading. Since the first days of the ISIS onslaught, many mothers, sisters and daughters have not known the fate of their male family members.
Now, a mother who managed to escape the ISIS prison camp where she and her sons were held has told a story that partially answers that question.
As the woman tells it, the first step was for the extremist leaders to separate the women and girls from the boys and men.
The males were forced to convert to Islam and given lessons in the Quran. If the initial brainwashing seemed successful, it was followed by intense physical and military training, usually in special training camps in Syria.
In some cases, boys would go through the indoctrination and boot camp while still living with their mothers. This was the case with the woman who told the story. She said she stayed with her sons because they had been enslaved by ISIS fighters their home town.
The woman had two sons, seven and 14 years old, who were with her when she was taken to Syria. They would visit her each day after their indoctrination sessions. Later, when they were moved to a training camp, they were still able to visit her.
She noticed the changes they went through. Although they did not tell her much, she could see things. The wounds her eldest son’s hands told her he was being trained with rifles and other weapons. Soon after she noticed this, he was sent to fight for the same radical group that captured him.
With the help of her clever eldest son, they were able to escape. He called in sick for duty, waited for all the fighters to leave the Syrian town where they were held, and helped them all slip away.
But the ordeal was far from over. After arriving in the Kurdistan region, the mother began to fully realize the extent her sons had been brainwashed by ISIS. Her youngest still wanted to pray five times a day.
The boys would not listen to anyone. Everybody, it seemed, was their enemy.
Still, she was among the lucky ones. Her boys survived and, given the right treatment, will adapt to normal life. Finding that treatment might take time, however, because it is not available in the Kurdistan region and awareness about mental health issues is still mostly lacking.
Syrian rebel groups that have fought ISIS or captured its fighters, have said ISIS has used child soldiers from the start. It is true that other groups take in boys for combat, but ISIS is actively recruiting them. It even calls them the future of the Islamic State.
In fact, ISIS needs the boys to fight.
The ideology and fear the group implants into its fighters causes a strong longing to die and to reach paradise. This belief eventually costs many ISIS followers their lives.
In this way, ISIS goes through many more fighters in battle than its opponents – most of whom do not believe that dying in the fight will earn them a place in paradise and the virgins that go with it.
Without the indoctrination ISIS uses, boys and men could hardly be convinced to blow themselves up and kill as many of the enemy as possible.
The need for fresh blood is so enormous, ISIS has recently started forcefully recruiting high school students in its captured territories.
The Kurdish Yezidi community has known for months the day would come when they would be told their sons died fighting for ISIS or were used as the detonator of a bomb intended to kill others.
They also fear, after nine months of captivity, that most of their men and boys can no longer be saved. They fear ISIS has changed them into tools, so mind-numbed they will never break the shackles of fear and indoctrination. They know those caught trying to escape are simply executed….