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Utopia Talk / Politics / Did we adopt a jihadist? Article)
jergul
large member
Fri Dec 01 08:20:45
Did We Adopt A Jihadist?
Culture (GC)
Illustration by Tomer Hanuka
Photo of Scott Sayare
By Scott Sayare
October 25, 2017

When one family took in a Syrian refugee, they did it out of compassion, to help a kid who said he’d escaped an ISIS prison. But then the boy got caught up in lies about his terrifying past, and they realized they no longer knew who was living in their home.

One boy, seated toward the rear of the boat, was singing over the thrum of the motor, perhaps out of exhilaration, perhaps out of boredom, or perhaps out of fear, though four years of war in Syria had dulled his sensitivity to risk and it had not been strong to start. The others were praying. O sea, be kind! the boy sang. “Shut up!” the others pleaded. Near the end of the crossing, with Turkey well behind them, the boat's motor gave out. The boy threw himself over the side of the rubber dinghy and began to flail his way toward the Greek shore, several hundred yards off; this was another mark of his heedlessness, as the water was cold and dangerously choppy. The others stayed in the boat.

A rescuer swam to the boy and dragged him to the beach, on the island of Lesbos. A nurse brought him to a nearby tent. “Okay, talk,” she said.

“What do you want to hear?” the boy asked. He was warm and dry now but not entirely certain who the woman was.

“I want to hear everything,” the nurse replied. His name was Paul, he said, and he was 16 years old. He was angular and trim, with ropy limbs and thick hands and a brow that ran across his face in a brooding crease. His eyes were black and deep-set, and there was something distant and inscrutable but immediately attractive about him, an air of slight deviousness. His speech was somewhat wooden, as if he had recently memorized certain details of his life, but the nurse found his story to be broadly credible. As a Christian in wartime Syria, he said, he had been repeatedly imprisoned by jihadists. He glanced at the nurse's hijab. “Maybe you're one of them?” he asked. The question was playful, but the boy had not expected that his first encounter in Europe would be with a Muslim speaking Syrian Arabic, and he was wary. “Are you crazy?” she said.

Padnos asked him what he believed to be the goal of the jihad in which he was fighting. “To take over the world,” the boy replied, matter-of-fact. Padnos must have given him an incredulous look, because the boy went on, smiling, “You think it's a little unrealistic, don't you?”

She was Syrian-Swedish, from Stockholm, and had come to assist the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants arriving on Lesbos that year. She would be returning home soon and offered to help Paul re-settle there. He made it to Stockholm ten days later, on October 9, 2015. The boy was very young, and going to Europe was mostly an adventure for him, with no pre-determined end point. He had been told of Sweden's reputation for generosity toward refugees, though.

One of the nurse's friends, a physician named Lina, took to the boy, and often invited him to visit her, her husband, Otto, and their three teenage daughters. (The names of Lina, Otto, and the boy have been changed.) Paul seemed to her “a very vulnerable, charming young man, somehow,” Lina said recently. “He has a way to know how to—how do you say?—push on the right buttons, from the beginning. To get you affected.”

Others found him unmanageable. The nurse had arranged for Paul to live with another friend, but the woman asked to have him moved elsewhere: His sleep habits, and his moods, were erratic. The social authorities assigned him to the home of an elderly woman, but he fled after just a few days. At a small center for refugee minors, Paul declined to consume anything but candy and cigarettes and began punching walls and fighting. Later, he broke open the head of a safety razor and slashed his wrist.

Lina had once been a psychiatric nurse. Paul's episodes were to her less daunting than they were painful to observe from afar. She and Otto discussed taking the boy in. In addition to their growing affection for him, and their sense of responsibility to the refugees arriving in their country, their marriage had been strained for several years and they wondered if such a project—in its simple urgency, in what they felt to be its purity—might be what Otto called a “platform” for a new start. In early December, once they had obtained the necessary approvals, Paul moved into the family's duplex.

They knew almost nothing of his past. He spoke too little Swedish to describe it in detail, but early on he and Lina began a habit of walking after dinner, wandering for hours beneath the streetlights, and over time she was able to make out the contours of his life. Paul came from Shadadi, a small city in the eastern desert that had been occupied by jihadists for nearly three years. He was the youngest of ten brothers, the rest of whom—with his parents and three sisters—remained in Syria. He had been imprisoned, it seemed, by both ISIS and Al Qaeda, as the rival groups fought for control of eastern Syria.

He'd arrived in Sweden with almost no possessions. He had been careful, however, to preserve a small sheet of paper he'd carried out of Syria, folded into a square and hidden away. After a time, when he had grown comfortable with Lina, he showed the note to her. He seemed penitent and ashamed, she recalled. The message had been given to him in a prison many months before, but he had failed to deliver it, and he feared that, as a consequence, its author, an American journalist, was dead. It began:
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I am OK but I badly need your help. I need someone to impress upon my government how very very important it is that they act quickly. I won't go into details but I’ll just say this. They can negotiate a solution now or they can wait, deliberate, delay. If they choose latter course I won't be around as something to be negotiated for. It is simply too dangerous here. Captors too mercurial. They must act today, this instant, and must continue acting until they get the job done. OK?

Theo Padnos arrived at the Syrian border in 2012. Padnos, who was 44, wanted to document the war and what he believed to be the cultural and psychological forces driving it. He shared a room in a house in the hills of a Turkish border city, and he spent much of his time climbing to the ridgeline above, gazing out over Syria, just a few miles away. Soon he met three young men who said they worked with a Syrian opposition group. They offered to take him into the country. The morning after they brought him in, one of the men walked over to him and, without preamble, kicked him in the face.

For two years, the world vanished. Padnos was held by Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda's Syrian branch. The logic according to which they tortured him—with metal cables, with their fists, with notifications of his imminent murder—was not apparent; the violence, one man told him, was meant to train his soul. Padnos was a man of intense, boyish curiosity, and despite the circumstances, his inquisitiveness remained intact. He often attempted to engage the men, asking about their personal histories, their beliefs. They batted most of these questions aside. They were particularly unreflective about the reasons for their jihad, Padnos found, parroting the usual tropes about a besieged Islam that would throw off and vanquish its oppressors.

These were familiar notions. Padnos had recently lived in Damascus, and for several years, at the height of the Iraq war, he had lived in Yemen, studying Arabic and Islam. In 2011, he had published a memoir of his time there, in which he wrote of Western tourists being kidnapped and executed. “Most people there understand that militants kill tourists,” he wrote, “because they—the outsiders—have ventured too far, into territory they do not fathom, which happens to be under the sway of a steadfast, ultra-serious kind of belief.” He was not so naive. “My whole identity as a writer, as a person, was that I understood the territory,” he told me. “I hadn't traveled ‘too far.’ And I was not an enemy, I was not a tourist.” Syria was a betrayal. He had believed that, whatever the circumstances, he could make his goodness understood, and that this goodness would matter.

In June 2014, he was moved to a carpeted cell that held several men and a boy of perhaps 14. They were fighters for Jabhat al-Nusra, they explained, but had been accused—wrongly, they said—of attempting to defect to ISIS. As usual, Padnos asked the men about their lives, and as usual they attempted to ignore him. The men complained of his prattling; the boy, however, listened sympathetically. At one point, Padnos asked him what he believed to be the goal of the jihad in which he was fighting. “To take over the world,” the boy replied, matter-of-fact. Padnos must have given him an incredulous look, because the boy went on, smiling, “You think it's a little unrealistic, don't you?”

For Padnos, this was a moment of near miraculous humanity. “It's the first time in two years that someone acknowledged that it was ‘a little unrealistic,’ ” he said. “He went off script, broke character. And I was like, ‘Thank God, finally!’ ”

After just a few days, the boy was told he would be released. Padnos quickly composed a note, to be given to a friend outside Syria, begging for assistance. The boy took the message with him when he left, hidden away, and promised to help.

Illustration by Tomer Hanuka

In December 2015, Padnos received a message from a Swedish woman, claiming that a boy he knew from Syria was now under her care. The American had been freed many months earlier, shortly after writing his note, but no thanks to it. Rather, the government of Qatar had interceded on his behalf with Jabhat al-Nusra. (The group is said to have received a ransom of several million dollars, though this has never been publicly confirmed.) “I understand you found one of my old jail friends?” he wrote back. “Thank you for reaching out!”

Padnos had signed his note; on the Internet, Lina discovered that he'd been released and found him on Facebook. She sent photographs of the letter and of the boy—chopping vegetables in Stockholm, playing soccer. Padnos immediately recognized the teenager he had met in captivity. That boy had not been a Christian, however, and had not been named Paul, and Padnos was quite certain that he had been a jihadist.

He told the FBI that he believed a member of Jabhat al-Nusra was living in Sweden as a refugee, but he did not share his concerns with Lina. He was of two minds. He believed quite strongly in the boy's potential for violence; in Syria, such children had been merciless with him. But he also suspected that, away from his homeland and the jihad, and the ethical accommodations that any war imposes, a young Syrian killer might be something quite innocuous. The violence in Syria was only the handmaiden to something more powerful, it seemed to him, some raging elemental force that had billowed up over the territory like a storm and seized control of the inhabitants below. “The place is under a spell,” Padnos said. Sweden was not.

The country's liberal asylum policies are premised on a similar vision of war as an alternate reality, and a willingness to exempt its participants from many of the moral judgments that might obtain in peace. Sweden took in 163,000 asylum applicants during the European refugee crisis in 2015; that year, only 461 were referred to the country's security services, which recommended rejecting 29. Even identified security threats are permitted to remain in Sweden if their human rights are judged to be at risk in their country of origin.

This determined benevolence is sometimes viewed, especially outside Sweden, as credulous to the point of folly. (Earlier this year, the Trump administration placed an indefinite ban on the admission of Syrian refugees.) But it has thus far given rise to little political violence. Sweden has experienced only two jihadist attacks: one last April, when an Uzbek man who had been denied asylum killed five people with a truck in central Stockholm, and one in 2010, in which the Iraqi-born attacker was the only casualty.

Paul was “a young man with a lot of trauma,” Lina wrote to Padnos. “I'm so happy that he feel[s] safe with us, but it does not take much to stress him.” She asked that Padnos not contact him until she gave her approval, but he found the boy on Facebook, and the two chatted playfully, each pleased, if a bit apprehensive, to discover that the other had survived. The boy's true name was Ammar. “As for our friend Paul,” Padnos wrote to Lina, “yes, he's a sweetie. I remember him well.”

Ammar is an enthusiastic storyteller, with a fine instinct for tragicomic tension that is presumably the fruit of a childhood spent in war. His theme of choice is the absurd. In recounting his experiences to me, he often seemed to be carried off course by the momentum of his narrative, though these digressions sometimes seemed to serve as entertaining detours around any suggestion of involvement with Al Qaeda. Once, after an evening spent brooding, he turned to me and, with what seemed a mix of anger and disappointment, asked, “Do you think I was a mujahid?” I said that I'd been told that he was but also that he didn't seem to be living as one in Sweden. “If I lie,” he replied cryptically, “it's not to hurt anybody. It's to protect people.”

He was playing games at a computer club, he said, when the fighting reached Shadadi, his home, in the spring of 2011. Military police opened fire on an anti-regime protest, and he ran home. He was 11 years old.

“At the beginning of the revolution, I was with the regime,” he said. “Because I didn't know what the revolution was. I only watched regime TV.” His father worked in the oil industry and was thus intimate with the government of Bashar al-Assad; Ammar was treated with some deference as a result. At the bakery, he was ushered to the front of the line to collect his family's bread. This was once a source of pride. Later, when the regime was faltering, his family lost their home and their standing, and Ammar became aware that his neighbors regarded him differently. “Look what's happened to them,” they said, with a mix of Schadenfreude and horror.

“He can not find a way of living here in Sweden and with me,” Lina once wrote to me in despair. “It is heartbreaking.”

By the early months of 2013, Jabhat al-Nusra was occupying the countryside outside Shadadi, and each day brought rumors that the jihadists would soon move to “free” the city from Assad's control, Ammar said. He was asleep at a brother's house on the morning they came, awakened by the blast of a suicide truck bomb and the shattering of glass. He ran outside, and as he passed the bombed-out shell of what had once been a house, he heard a man moaning in pain. “So I went to see,” he said. “I wasn't afraid of anything.” Inside he came upon a government soldier who had been shot in the chest. The man asked for help escaping, but the boy said it was too dangerous to take him into the street wearing a regime uniform. So, he claimed, he stole some women's clothing from another abandoned house and gave it to the wounded man, who at first refused to wear it but then relented. “It was a funny and sad situation,” Ammar explained, laughing, it seemed, at the preposterousness of his own imagination.

Whatever Ammar's embellishments, it is true that Jabhat al-Nusra moved into Shadadi early in 2013. Assad's forces had done little to endear themselves to the town's inhabitants, who were not much dismayed to see them go. The jihadists “didn't steal anything,” Ammar said, “and we were happy.” The fighters also left the bodies of their enemies to rot in the streets where they fell, he recalled. It was possible for a young man to survive without joining the jihadists, but membership would have conferred at least the benefit of avoiding their violent attentions.

ISIS overran much of eastern Syria that fall, and by year's end it had seized Shadadi from Jabhat al-Nusra. The two armies occupied adjacent territories. Traveling across the borders of these zones of occupation—for trade in nearby towns, say, or to visit family—was hazardous. Both groups were wary of spies. “If you're in a Daesh-controlled area,” Ammar said, using a dismissive name for ISIS, “and you go to a Nusra-controlled area, then they think you're a spy.” One of his brothers was arrested in a nearby town held by Jabhat al-Nusra, accused of working for ISIS. Ammar went looking for him. He, too, was arrested.

He was placed in prison with Padnos. The American was shaggy-haired and gaunt, with a heavy beard and a close-trimmed mustache, in the style favored by Salafis. The guards treated him harshly. “I thought he was ISIS,” Ammar said. Padnos rhapsodized constantly about “how Syria is beautiful,” Ammar said, and attempted to engage the other prisoners. The boy found him tiresome. “In the beginning, I didn't like him,” he said. “But after a while, I said to myself, ‘Wallah, it's not fair. He came as a journalist, and he's coming to report the news, and they tortured him.’ ”

Upon his release, Ammar was taken to meet Jabhat al-Nusra's emir for eastern Syria, an Iraqi known as Abu Mariyah al-Qahtani. The man asked his forgiveness for jailing him and handed him a wad of Syrian pounds; the boy told the emir that, in that case, he would be happy to stay longer. By his recollection, Abu Mariyah laughed.

At Christmas, Stockholm was bitterly cold but festive. Lina bought the boy a nice parka and showed him the sights—the department-store-window displays, the skating rinks. He was wide-eyed, and Lina felt as if she were a young mother again, introducing her toddler to the world's little marvels. At New Year's, they fought over fireworks. He wanted to fire them off as he had in Syria, from his hands. “This is not how we do it in Sweden,” she said, firm but full of patience, and made him plant them in the ground. He was enraged, but Lina did not mind. She, too, could be pigheaded and had no problem screaming back at him. He behaved as if he understood this, and enjoyed it: Her screams, like her forgiveness, were proof of her love.

Lina is a tall and sturdy woman, with blue eyes, flaxen-white hair, and a sharp, slightly upturned nose, which together lend her an air of vigor and temperance. She is generous with her time and energies, and exceptionally patient, but she does not linger. In English, she concludes many pronouncements with a friendly but definitive “Yah?”

She sought little explanation when the boy admitted that his name was not Paul. She had never entirely believed his initial story, she told me. She seemed untroubled by the deception, or at least determined not to dwell upon it. His name was Ammar; he was a Muslim. Lina stopped feeding him pork.

She enrolled him in kung fu classes and found him a job in a local church kitchen, baking and serving coffee to the elderly Swedes who came for lunch. She spoke to him about social democracy and gender equality, to which he was immediately receptive, and same-sex marriage, which required more time. Once, in Stockholm, he and a policeman collided accidentally on a sidewalk. To his astonishment and delight, the officer wheeled about to say, “Oh! I'm sorry!” It had not been this way in Syria.

Sometimes he would sit on her knees, and she would scratch his back, as his mother had before. The two would often walk arm in arm and, as they stood about the same height, could appear to be friends as much as mother and son. Discreetly, she shared her cigarettes with him. Lina's daughters kissed their mother hello and good-bye on the lips; it startled her, but in a pleasant way, when Ammar began to do the same.

All asylum seekers under the age of 18 are legally entitled to attend school in Sweden. Ammar began in February. His class of 14 was composed mostly of Afghans, all boys, all dressed in seeming imitation of the European soccer stars they idolized, in skinny jeans and hair gel. Swedish schoolchildren call their teachers by their first names, but this felt inappropriate to the boys, and they insisted on calling theirs lärare, or “teacher.” Ammar was often giggly and loud, but he evidently possessed a gift for language. His Swedish was soon fluent.

He did sometimes sulk in silence, however. Once, a teacher recalled, he began to sob uncontrollably and had to leave class. Some at the school believed he was depressed. Given his impulsiveness and emotional extremes, Lina thought he might have a personality disorder. He had frequent nightmares. When he could not sleep, she climbed the stairs to his bedroom, beneath the eaves of the building, and crawled into bed beside him.

He often skipped homework, school, his job at the church, kung fu. Lina said this was largely the result of his “grandiose thinking”: If he felt he'd already mastered some aspect of Swedish, or some fighting technique, he saw no use in attending a class where it would be reviewed. He struggled to befriend Swedes; sometimes he accused them of racism, though more often than not he said this with a grin, as if to proudly show Lina he had mastered the tropes of Swedish progressivism.

His most difficult moods often seemed to take their source in news from Syria. He was overcome by sudden upwellings of shame, both for having fled, it seemed, and for having survived. He spoke only rarely with his parents. Lina wrote a long letter to Ammar's mother, promising to care for him as her own son. There was no response. Perhaps this apparent indifference was some Syrian norm, or perhaps Ammar's parents were ashamed, Lina reasoned. Yet she learned that one of Ammar's friends, another Syrian, was receiving daily calls from his father. In a careless moment, she reported this to Ammar, and it seemed to wound him.

“I don’t like causing real damage,” said Ammar.

He was extremely sensitive to any perceived slight from her. In a rage, again and again, he accused her of withholding from him the same love she showed her daughters. Then he would lock himself in his room, or refuse to speak, sometimes for days. Lina's daughters, meanwhile, sometimes felt this new son had displaced them from their mother's heart, to say nothing of their daily routines. To make room for Ammar, the 14-year-old's bed was moved to a common area.

Lina bought him shoes, clothes, a phone, a laptop, and yet he complained of being treated as no more than a guest. On the other hand, he often felt it shameful to take from her. He skipped meals, so as not to spend her money. He spoke of returning to Syria. Often this seemed a provocation, but at other times he seemed sincere. “He can not find a way of living here in Sweden and with me,” Lina once wrote to me in despair. “It is heartbreaking.” He had arrived in Sweden less by design than by providence, and his life there sometimes seemed to him unreal, novel and thrilling like a game, but futile like one, too. Never had he considered the prospect of a life in Europe, even as he fled there. “Impossible,” he said. “One-in-14,000 impossible.”

The laptop—a gaming computer on which Ammar could play Counter-Strike and Clash of Clans—became a crisis in the spring. Lina, who lives well but frugally, had found it lightly used and on sale for a fraction of its usual price. Ammar came from a wealthy family and was unaccustomed to secondhand goods. He took Lina's gift as a mark of disdain and stormed out.

He had evidently hoped to be pursued. Sometime later, he sent Lina photographs of a razor blade and his wrist, bloody again. She found him not far away and led him home to the apartment. Soon, though, he was standing on the railing of the sixth-floor balcony, threatening to jump. Otto pulled him inside. For an hour, Lina sat beside Ammar on his bed, in silence. He seemed to have calmed, and she left him alone.

She returned to find that he had climbed out his window and onto the roof. She pleaded with him but then turned away, not wanting to be left with the image of an empty room and his falling body, and began to sob. “Oh,” said Ammar as he came to her, “now I know you love me.”
340196012

A refugee receives medical care on Lesbos, Greece, six miles from the Turkish mainland. Malcolm Chapman

Ammar's release from prison was the auspicious start to a terrible year. Upon returning home from captivity with Jabhat al-Nusra, he was arrested by ISIS, once again accused of spying for the other side. He was released, only to be re-arrested several times over. (At some point, Ammar claims, he sent messages to the intended recipient of Padnos's note. The man told me he'd never received any such messages.) Once, Ammar said, he was accused of stealing from an ISIS intelligence officer. They held him for three months, and beat him for hours, until he had screamed himself into silence. On a different occasion, he claimed, he was arrested for assaulting one of the group's tax collectors.

He had been high at the time, he explained. Ammar had begun taking pills—Zolam, an alternate brand of Xanax, and Baltan, an opioid—because of Noor. Noor had been his girlfriend. They had been classmates for several years before the war. “Then I became a young man,” Ammar said. “I knew how to love and be loved.” Noor was an Alawi, a member of the sect to which the Assad family belongs, and, in the eyes of the Islamic State, an apostate. On his computer, Ammar has kept several photos of a girl he says is Noor. She is pretty, with dark eyes and long, dense lashes. Some of the photos are selfies, shot from above to accentuate the bulge of her breasts beneath a tight top. She purses her lips just so. It is adolescent vanity, both banal and charming.

One day in Shadadi, in the street near a souk and a taxi stand, Ammar happened upon a public gathering and watched as Noor was decapitated. With his sword, the executioner speared the severed head and held it aloft before the crowd, Ammar said. He fainted. “Some things you don't understand because you've never seen them,” he told me in Stockholm, in a café. He pushed aside the slice of chocolate cake he'd been eating and put his face to the table. “What made me come here?” he sobbed. A film of dark frosting coated his lips.

Early in 2015 he was arrested for the last time. In northwestern Iraq, ISIS had captured thousands of women and girls of the Yezidi ethno-religious minority and begun selling them to its fighters as sex slaves. Ammar was accused of buying Yezidis and selling them back to their families—and he claims that this was in fact what he had done, though he did not admit it to ISIS. He had bought and sold nine Yezidis, he said, including one girl who went for $11,000. He had little to say about his reasons for doing this, and no proof to offer, but said that after Noor's death he was afraid of nothing and angry.

ISIS took him to the Iraqi city of Mosul, where he dug trenches and welded containers for bombs, he said. The fighters played soccer with him. There was constant encouragement to join ISIS. He considered it but disapproved of the group's violence. “I like causing trouble, I admit that without any problem, but I don't like causing real damage,” Ammar said.

He was transferred back to Syria, to the city of Raqqa, ISIS's capital. On most days, the guards brought a man into the yard—a regime soldier, a Hezbollah fighter, a Kurd—to be executed before his fellow prisoners. “It was not funny,” Ammar said. Generally it was a beheading, with either a sword or a knife, but sometimes the men were drowned, or shot, or hanged, or doused with acid.

He was transferred, for the last time, back to Shadadi. They beat him there a great deal, demanding that he confess to selling the Yezidis. (He believed that if he confessed they would kill him.) Once, when he was strung up from the ceiling, a torturer poured gasoline on his feet and set them alight. Ammar's plastic sandals melted into his skin, which remains heavily scarred. “The pain of a burn is worse than any other pain,” he said.

The men with whom he was held were considered particularly dangerous, so it was Ammar who was chosen to be the prison cook, and this was how he would escape. He was being held alone in a small cell adjacent to the kitchen when a guard told him, quietly, that he had been sentenced to death, and encouraged him to flee. Ammar didn't trust him initially, but the man returned later that day. “I believed him when he gave me his knife,” Ammar said.

There were two guards that night. The first was on watch while the second prayed. Ammar was in the kitchen, cooking soup, and called to the first guard to come taste it. The man bent over the pot. “I was going to stab him with the knife, but I was afraid of killing him, so I hit him with the thing I was cooking with,” Ammar said. He ran to the room where the other guard, a boy his age, was kneeling in prayer. He took his gun. Two hundred men were freed, or perhaps 280, and perhaps there were female prisoners who were released as well, depending upon the expansiveness of Ammar's mood. The escapees walked north through the desert for a day, or maybe two, before coming to the Kurdish line.

“Maybe he can put some of his past behind him?” Padnos wrote.

The Kurds arranged for a group of escapees to be taken in a convoy west to Aleppo. From there they left for the Turkish border and sneaked across at night, on foot. In Turkey, they piled into a covered truck. They were 25 men, Ammar said, and two sheep. It was August 2015. Soon he would set out for Europe. He wore a jacket his family had sent to him in prison; in the pocket he found Padnos's letter, undelivered and forgotten.

Long before Ammar's arrival in Sweden, many years ago, Lina and Otto had a son. He died the day he was born. Lina gave birth to a second child soon thereafter, a son again. The new boy's diaphragm was malformed, leaving his lungs unable to expand. They took him home after about two months, when his condition seemed to stabilize, but it never fully did. He died at 6 months. “Yah, well,” Lina said, “things happen, and you have to...” She trailed off. “But twice!” Otto, who was just starting as a doctor, swore never to work with children, in those terrible hospital wings where parents close their eyes and pray, as he had, that the alarms are ringing to announce the death of someone else's son or daughter.

The decision to take in Ammar was in some respects a projection into the past. The boy could be a son. Otto had hoped, too, that Ammar's arrival might cast him and Lina back into an earlier, happier stage of marriage. But Lina's energies and affections were now directed exclusively toward the boy, it seemed to him. “He's taken my place, in a sense,” Otto said. He and Lina have separated, and will divorce. “It's not Ammar,” he said, “but he has made things clear.”

Ammar has been approved for permanent residency. He will stay with Lina. Early on, she'd told him of her boys and of her sadness, as an encouragement during his episodes. It was possible to be very low, she said, but then to make a good and happy life.

The boys were buried in the shaded corner of a nearby church cemetery, and she sometimes brought Ammar to their grave. On an afternoon last year, the cemetery grounds were strewn with fine white petals, a delicate confetti released from the old trees. Ammar sat slouched atop a pink headstone with a cigarette, the ashes floating toward the foot of Lina's boys' grave. He spat unthinkingly. “That's not respectful,” Lina said, and Ammar stood. She explained, to his shock, that her sons had been cremated. When people are cremated, do you watch them burn? he asked. She explained that you do not.

They wandered up through the cemetery to the top of a small rise behind it, a lookout point with a view down to the open water and the pastel facades of Stockholm's Old Town. Lina had taken Ammar to this spot in the winter, on their first walks, and he had been enchanted. Do you remember how beautiful you found it? she asked. “No is beautiful!” he teased, in broken English. They continued down to the city. Lina waited on the sidewalk as he climbed the stone steps to the Royal Palace, where a single soldier was posted. He was a pale young man, with a blond mustache in tidy triangles over his upper lip, a beret, and a bayonetted rifle on his shoulder. “Is the king home?” Ammar asked. “No, the king's not here!” the guard replied, laughing.

Ammar descended again to the street. Stopping at a flower box, he snapped the stem of a daisy and absentmindedly plucked off its head. In English he said, “Sweden is nice,” teasing again but quite right.

In the spring of last year, Padnos flew to Stockholm. He and Ammar met outside a mosque. The boy reached the top steps of a leafy walkway and emerged into a clearing ablaze in white sunlight. “Habibi!” Padnos called, and jogged shufflingly toward him, smiling but reserved, waiting to take his cues from the boy. Ammar stopped and stood, beaming, and threw open his hands. He kissed Padnos's cheeks, brought his forehead in to Padnos's, and told him, laughing, that he'd assumed he was dead. He took one of the American's curls in his fingers and smiled: They had been so much longer in Syria, and so much filthier!

Ammar took Padnos by the forearm and led him down to the street. A young couple were kissing beneath a row of shade trees; Ammar turned to his old cellmate. “Where is Abu Mariyah?” he joked loudly—Abu Mariyah al-Qahtani, their former jailer, would hardly approve. He draped himself over Padnos, easy in his physicality. Ammar wore skintight jeans that bunched modishly above his Nikes, and his black hair was swept up in a lacquered pompadour. He drew now and then from a Marlboro Light. Padnos laughed and joined in the boy's theater, but chastely, with a sort of sad familiarity.

Padnos was curious to observe a young fighter in peacetime, amid the temptations of another, very different life. He asked after Ammar's brother, the one with whom Padnos had also been imprisoned. “He's with Daesh now,” Ammar whispered.

He took Padnos to his favorite kebab restaurant. He introduced him to the men behind the counter, an Iraqi and three Syrians in red company T-shirts, as a “jassus Amriki,” an American spy. They found this to be hysterical, and Ammar explained that the American was a former prisoner in Syria. “We hate the regime!” the men exclaimed. Padnos told them he'd in fact been held by the opposition. “We hate the opposition!” they corrected. He smiled gamely. There was a discussion of the ransom payment that evidently saved him and a joke about the resultant value of each hair on his head. Padnos ordered a falafel plate and took it outside to a sunny table on the sidewalk.

He asked Ammar if he'd heard anything about a Jabhat al-Nusra commander called Abu Hamza al-Homsi. Abu Hamza had treated Padnos with kindness, bringing him writing paper and even offering to negotiate his release; Padnos wanted to thank him. Abu Hamza was dead, Ammar said, killed in fighting near the Iraqi border. How he knew this was not clear; Padnos reasoned that perhaps Ammar had been under Abu Hamza's command. The boy claimed to know the names and roles and fates of many prominent jihadists, and many other distressing things. Ammar leaned across the table and, dropping his voice, said he'd heard talk of plans for an ISIS attack in Sweden, one that would target “homosexuals” and would be carried out by “blond-haired” fighters. Also, he bragged, he was at the top of his class at school, and this without studying. He took some falafel from Padnos's plate and smothered it in hummus, then got up to fill his glass from a pot of black tea inside. He came back with a dozen sugar cubes and proceeded to drop them one by one into his tea, inspecting the concoction like a bored child. In the end it was too sweet to drink, he concluded.

He brought Padnos to the quiet courtyard beneath Lina's apartment. There was a small patio and a wooden table and chairs, and above them a warm breeze filtered through the greenery. Before they could sit, though, Padnos was suddenly saying, no, he should really go, and he left Ammar confused and disappointed. Padnos seemed to have exhausted his will to be a friend to the boy.

He vacillates between an impulse to extraordinary sympathy toward Ammar and an impulse to contempt. “Jabhat al-Nusra put him through the wringer,” Padnos said. Ammar could make a life for himself in Sweden, he believed, and deserved the chance. At other times, this magnanimity dissolved. “Listen, this kid has made his pact with the Devil,” he said. “He has the jihad in his blood.”

In his most desperate hour, he had placed his salvation in Ammar's hands, hoping that the boy's humanity, however deadened or obscured, would compel him to deliver his letter. It did not. “He cared,” Padnos told me bitterly. “But not enough to actually act.”

Shortly after Padnos left Stockholm, Lina wrote to him asking, in a slightly accusatory way, if he thought Ammar had been a member of Jabhat al-Nusra. Padnos did, of course, and though in Sweden he'd found Ammar to be charming, their time together had done nothing to convince him otherwise.

Lina's benevolence toward the boy was “impressive, even moving,” Padnos wrote to her, but also misguided. He seemed to be angered by it, as if it were the expression of a naïveté he feared he, too, possessed. “Maybe you don't know just how many of the people we saw in Lesbos participated on one side or the other in Syria's civil war,” he wrote. “Ok, everyone announced himself to be a civilian at first and many clearly were. But many were not. They're probably all a little screwed up in the head—from Bashar [al-Assad], from the sheiks, from the bombs, from years and years of war. What to do?”

Of Ammar he wrote:

My basic feeling is that it takes years of psychological abuse to get someone to be a soldier in a formation like Jabhat al-Nusra. He would have been under a lot of pressure probably from his brothers and dad and God knows who else long before there ever was a Jabhat al-Nusra. When he was in, they would have made him do things that deepened his commitment to them. Their whole psychology is about bringing you so totally under their control that you're hardly a human being any more. You're something else and your only friends are exactly like you. Violence and prayer and no contact with the outside world. That's Jabhat al-Nusra.

That he eventually had second thoughts about the whole thing is to me a sign of character. Good for him, I say. That he found a welcoming family in Sweden is also a wonderful thing. Maybe he can put some of this past behind him? I hope so.

At best, one may peer into the boy's universe of experience and feeling in the manner of an astronomer, noting its brightest and most definite objects and perhaps making out the contours of its darkest reaches. Padnos detects in these a menace that Lina does not. She refuses Padnos's vision of Ammar, and of herself. “I have spoken to him so many hours,” she told me of Ammar. “I have thought about it. But I have landed in—no, this is not my story of him. I don't know the truth. But I have landed in this. And I have chosen now to trust him.”

Scott Sayare's last article for GQ, “The Untold Story of the Bastille Day Attacker,” appeared in the February issue.

This story originally appeared in the November 2017 issue with the title "Did We Adopt a Jihadist?"


http://www.gq.com/story/did-we-adopt-a-jihadist
Nimatzo
iChihuaha
Sun Dec 03 12:29:02
”Even identified security threats are permitted to remain in Sweden if their human rights are judged to be at risk in their country of origin.”

Peace and stability as we know from history has a long term destabilizing effect on a culture. Sweden is Sweden and she forgot that the rest of the world is not lile her and she could not fathom what that difference contained. Imagine the horror and disbelief when things like ”honor culture” came to the surface?

It is the type of soft life that is possible in a geographic location like this one. Imagine a Swedish culture bordering Turkey? Only we can afford to second guess the basic nature of our own security and safety shielded by a bunch of countries who do not. Thanks Europe for making the pussification of Sweden possible :-)
jergul
large member
Sun Dec 03 13:04:12
”Even identified security threats are permitted to remain in Sweden if their human rights are judged to be at risk in their country of origin.”

You would know.

The Children
Member
Sun Dec 03 13:24:00
wall o text
Nimatzo
iChihuaha
Sun Dec 03 13:39:01
"You would know."

What I know is that you never have had anything but blanks on this topic. I am willing to be the hero you need and not the hero you want. When you behave like a child on this subject I am reminded that the crushing of the socialist dream about open borders has been deal a traumatic institutional blow in the Nordic countries. This paradigm shift is painful. I understand.

"Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance."

-Karl Popper

I am trying to save you from yourselves jergul, truth be told you all deserve to win the cultural darwin award and go extinct, but I think you have noble qualities worth saving.
jergul
large member
Sun Dec 03 14:43:30
Feel free to rant now about how you want to destroy Swedish society.

You always end up there anyway.
Nimatzo
iChihuaha
Mon Dec 04 09:18:13
It is your view that I am here to destroy. Again I will cite your own words about the [destructive] trauma a shift in paradigm can cause.
jergul
large member
Mon Dec 04 10:57:01
Yah, you want to destroy social democracy.

”Even identified security threats are permitted to remain in Sweden if their human rights are judged to be at risk in their country of origin.”

You would know.
Forwyn
Member
Mon Dec 04 11:16:47
Jihadis:

"Swedish society mandates we be accepting"

Individuals who warn about the openness to jihadis:

"security threat"

lulzgul
jergul
large member
Mon Dec 04 14:34:41
Forwyn
Not for whistlecalling (as you are attempting to cloak him with. As if we did not know jihadists are dangerous).

jergul
large member
Mon Dec 04 14:36:06
Oh, and if you want Nimi, you should take him.
Forwyn
Member
Mon Dec 04 14:46:41
"As if we did not know jihadists are dangerous"

And yet warning of the dangers of accepting their entry is "wanting to destroy social democracy".

Better to let them in and institute a police state to track them. lulzgul
jergul
large member
Mon Dec 04 15:07:21
Forwyn
Warning of the dangers of jihadists is not inherently anti social-democratic.

Better to not support violent insurgencies in the first place.

UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
The Dublin Regulation
Various joint EU-Swedish regulations

"If the investigation into your application reveals that you have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity or other serious crimes, or if you pose a threat to the country’s safety, you cannot be granted asylum in Sweden. You can still get a residence permit for a limited period if you are unable to return to your country of origin on the grounds that you risk being killed or persecuted there"

My personal view is that international agreements already cover this.

Universal jurisdiction in cases where crimes have been committed and a country is unwilling/unable to persecute (or would do so outside of the law).

Internment for the duration of a conflict (until a person can be sent home) if a security risk. As per the Geneva convention.

I have been talking about stuff like that since Serbia.
Aeros
Member
Mon Dec 04 16:08:08
Sweden is going to be 35% Muslim within 25 years according to current demographic trends.
Forwyn
Member
Mon Dec 04 18:14:22
But as long as we can't prove they didn't directly participate in war crimes, no problem.

If they did, they can spend a couple years radicalizing fellow inmates in their Swedish resort prison.
jergul
large member
Mon Dec 04 23:16:25
Aeros
The US is going to be 85% moron within 25 years according to current demographic trends.

But sure, US interventions and promotion of radical insurgencies do have a cost. I have been talking about that since 2003.



Forwyn
In Dutch resort prisons you mean.

Internment would be on Swedish soil. Awaiting extradition when that is possible. So whoever is interned would be sent home and their radicalization would be someone elses problem.
jergul
large member
Mon Dec 04 23:31:49
http://www...pes-growing-muslim-population/

Get your facts right Aeros. The US will be 35% Papist in the same year by the way.

The main underlying fallacy is that it will matter.

20% (medium projection) of people in Sweden will have been born in a Muslim country, or will have at least one parent or grandparent who was born in a muslim country.

It matters in a social-democratic sense as morons like nimi will want to recreate the politics of their homeland in Sweden.

But that to shall pass. Nimis kids should be normalish.
Nimatzo
iChihuaha
Tue Dec 05 09:41:05
"Yah, you want to destroy social democracy."

Ideologies do not have a right to exist and not be questioned and finally destroyed. All your arguments are from emotion and fear of having the order you have invested in destroyed. You belong to the conservative establishment of social democrats that have ruled Sweden for 90% of the last 100 years. I am not destroying you, TIME is. Your Marxist pathos is detrimental to all the goals you have set out to achieve.

It has only become very obvious in Sweden now that Sweden is not longer the homogeneous entity it once was and facing challenges the social democratic system never was designed to deal with. Importing huge numbers of people from some of the shitties hellholes in the world has consequences and challenges that a system designed for 99% ethnic and cultural homogeneity can not handle.

Just last year Sweden had to redesign prison security and invest a bunch of money, because the criminals were escaping. The criminals you are importing lived under Saddam or similar brutal societies,the brutality crosses the border with them and they LULZ right out of the Swedish "prison" system. Interestingly the more brutal and violent the crime the more likely it is someone from MENA, huge over-representation in life sentences (something rare in Sweden until recently).

Now I would give you some space for theatrics, if it was not for the fact that I actually believe you. People who think like this are abundant. Now I respect your rights as a human being, I wish you the best, but your ideas are cancer and cancer must die so the patient can live.

"It matters in a social-democratic sense as morons like nimi will want to recreate the politics of their homeland in Sweden."

This dichotomy is false and classical fear mongering. But at the core is truth, just not the way you think.

You have imported a bunch of people who indeed want to recreate parts of their own culture and politics, namely Islam and Islamism. And despite your dumbest efforts Islam is very different from your own culture on a number of specific and non-trivial issues.

I advocate liberal democracy, a novel concept for someone who is a religious socialist, but I assure it has existed among people in Sweden (and Norway) for some time.
jergul
large member
Tue Dec 05 09:48:21
Nimi
You advocate what screwed up Iran in the first place. Up to and including a pathological fear of social-democracy.

You know. The system that fed, clothed and gave you a pseudo-education.

But at least we know you are a runner. Run rabbit, run.

jergul
large member
Tue Dec 05 10:15:19
Norway and Sweden have been modern liberal democracies since universal sufferage was introduced.

You can find the descriptors you are looking for here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden_Democrats

Nimatzo
iChihuaha
Tue Dec 05 14:25:33
"modern liberal democracies"

Nope you were right the first time, "social democracy", very different.

"You know. The system that fed, clothed and gave you a pseudo-education."

You could be talking about slavery as far as I am concerned or Soviet Russia. I am very thankful massa comrade for this food and housing and edumacation! This is the level of your arguments defending the cancer you call your religion.

gg brö.
jergul
large member
Tue Dec 05 18:10:25
Nimi
Wrong. Social-Democracy is a form of Liberal-Democracy.

The buzzwords that describe your idealogy are found in the wiki link provided (running the gauntlet from fascism to nationalism).

Or for offering your family asylum in the first place. You are muslims, correct?

Yes, you should be grateful, but your not. Because you ultimately do not have a sense of morals.
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