My Two Weeks With the Jihadists


They were sitting where they always sit: at the far edge of the makeshift, roadside cafe on the outskirts of of Sidi Bouzid — the small, economically marginalized town in central Tunisia where in December 2010, a young street vendor lit himself on fire and changed the world. There were about 20 of them. Some wore long flowing robes and black skullcaps; some wore jeans, t-shirts, and Yankees hats; nearly all of them had thick beards. My friend had called in advance – they must have known I would be coming. As I took my seat in the circle, they all beamed at me. "Welcome, welcome! We are honored!" said one tall youth with glasses and a jovial smile. Another swiftly handed me the cup of ice cream he had ordered for himself, declaring that it was a gift. 

"From now on, when you sit with us, you will be brother Michael!" added another. We were all in our 20s no longer boys, but still learning how to be men. They accepted me unconditionally. For the next two weeks, they welcomed me into their world. Nevertheless, we are different. I am an American. Their hero is Osama Bin Laden.

"The brothers," as they like to call themselves, are zealous followers of the jihadist Salafist movement – an ultra-fundamentalist religio-political current that combines scriptural purism with a rhetorical embrace of Al-Qaeda's vision. In Tunisia, Salafists have unabashedly rejected democracy and participation in elections as corrupt, un-Islamic practices. Although the Tunisian state aggressively suppressed jihadist Salafists during the 1990's and 2000's, in the climate of greater political openness that has prevailed since the country's 2011 revolution, the movement has become increasingly visible and increasingly brazen. At Salafist demonstrations, speakers call unabashedly for the imposition of Islamic Sharia law as the only source of legislation as crowds chant slogans like "Obama! Obama! We are all Osama!" or "Patiently oh Jews, the army of Muhammad will return!" In governorates like Sidi Bouzid that have long resisted the hegemony of the central state, Salafists often patrol markets, believing themselves to represent a type of grassroots police force. Although most Salafists I spoke to insisted that the movement's activities in Tunisia were limited to preaching and social welfare, a number of Tunisian Salafists have traveled to Syria to fight with the Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra militia. Some have started to return.

Written By: Michael Marcusa
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  1. In reply to #1 by Fouad Boussetta:

    Very interesting. Remarkably similar to neonazi groups, I think.

    With the benefit of hindsite, what would have been the best way to deal with Hitler when he had just started the Nazi party?

  2. In reply to #2 by old-toy-boy:

    In reply to #1 by Fouad Boussetta:
    With the benefit of hindsight, what would have been the best way to deal with Hitler when he had just started the Nazi party?

    There is a controversy in Germany about an “advertisement” that some film students made. They borrowed a slogan from a Mercedes commercial which translated to English means roughly, “We take care of problems before they become problems.” In the real Mercedes commercial the slogan refers to an early warning system that causes the car to stop automatically if it detects any obstacle in the road. In the film students’ version the Mercedes proceeds through a late 1800s European town. The early warning system works effectively to stop the vehicle when two girls are playing in the road. The next “obstacle” the car encounters is a boy running into the street, trying to get a kite aloft. The screen goes dark and we hear a distinct thud which signals the car ran the boy over without braking. The screen lights up again to show a very concerned mother running out of a house, screaming “Adolph! Adolph!” The scene switches to the Mercedes racing out of town past a sign indicating the town’s name is Braunau. The screen goes dark again but this time the advertising slogan appears in writing: “Mercedes: We take care of problems before they become problems”

    The fake commercial is all over Youtube if you want to see it. Try:

  3. Those kind of groups are Wolves in sheeps clothing……any decent person/young man would walk away from the so called friendship if they asked you to murder people…?? while other nations try to help make peace in Syria these idiots are there causing trouble and for what ? the name of Islam ? cant be that – as both sides are their brothers in Syria….so they really just want to be violent murderers for the sake of it….

  4. Don’t these evil bastards have anything constructive to do like working for a living or just being constructive responsible citizens? I think Hitchens said in his anti god book that the pious act like children and smash everything up when they cannot get their own way. How true.

  5. “The brothers,” as they like to call themselves, are zealous followers of the jihadist Salafist movement….

    Brothers indeed. The only faces you’ll see in that crowd are bearded ones.

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