By Mark Ellis
In the New York Times Saturday Profile on March 24th, journalist Patrick Kingsley introduced a subject that rarely appears in the gray pages of the liberal eminence – a profile of a jihadist who had his life transformed by Jesus Christ.
Even as the Times broke ground with such a daring subject, Kingsley could not help but qualify the remarkable conversion with this:
“But these are subjective claims, and many would reject the characterization of Islam as a less benign religion (than Christianity), much as they would reject Nusra’s extremist interpretation of it (Islam).”
It seems Kingsley was shocked when he stumbled upon an Istanbul basement filled with 22 Christian refugees – many of whom were former Muslims.
“It was quickly clear that this was no ordinary prayer meeting. Several of them had Islamic names. There was an Abdelrahman and even a couple of Mohammads. Strangest of all, they jokingly referred to their host — one of the two Mohammads — as an irhabi. A terrorist,” he observed.
Kingsley began to speak with Bashir Mohammad, 25, who had once fought on the front lines of the Syrian civil war for the Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda.
While Kingsley noted that some refugees fake their conversion to Christianity for immigration purposes, “Mr. Mohammad’s particular experience, however, does not fit easily into this narrative. He lives in a majority-Muslim country, has little interest in seeking asylum in the West and treads an unlikely path followed by few former jihadis.”
Mohammad grew up a Muslim family in northern Syria. At 15, he went to hear jihadist preachers and was persuaded by their extreme interpretations of Islam.
When the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Mohammad initially joined the Kurdish forces fighting for autonomy. He was “traumatized by the deaths he witnessed on the front line, which in turn re-energized his interest in the extremist versions of Islam that he had learned about as a teenager.”
Joining the Nusra Front
In 2012, Mohammad joined the Nusra Front, a group that seeks to establish an extremist state. As a Nusra fighter, he witnessed extreme brutality.
“His colleagues executed several captives by crushing them with a bulldozer. Another prisoner was forced to drink several liters of water after his genitals were tied shut with string,” according to the account in The Times.
Mohammad was willing to accept such horrors because “these people were the enemies of God, so I looked on these executions positively.”
When Mohammad went home for New Years in March 2013, apparently his temper frightened his relatives. He became enraged when he witnessed what he believed were blasphemous celebrations — outside the Islamic tradition.