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Extreme bureaucracy? What the ISIS leaks really tell us

ISIS is to terror what the Mafia is to crime – organised. By employing a corporate strategy to their method of terror, ISIS is the first, real terrorist ‘organisation’ in every sense of the term.

They are more than just your average group of terrorists who sporadically bomb mosques and release the odd ‘Death to America!’ video here and there. ISIS has adopted a far more co-ordinated approach. They’ve switched the troglodyte method of their Afghan counterparts with corporate precepts, projecting an exaggerated sense of their own authority through the power of bureaucracy.

If anything, ISIS is the apotheosis of the terrorist formula. It is a unique blend of warped religious ideology, insane violence, and classic corporate branding techniques. It has a sizeable PR team, a transitional middle-management, a twenty-four-page mission statement, a flag, a hashtag regime, and an assortment of printed hats, shirts, magazines, and coffee mugs. They have established a marketing department, an arm for recruitment services, an HR division, and now, even an application process.

Yes, you read it correctly. If you ever wanted to know how to join ISIS, well here is it: you have to fill in a form.

Last week, Sky News UK were handed a USB from a former ISIS recruit who escaped to Turkey. Claiming he had become disillusioned with the ISIS terror mandate, he made away with over 1700 documents that reveal the identities of nearly 22,000 ISIS recruits from across the globe, providing further insight into the ISISrecruitment processes. The names and application forms have been publicly distributed through Sky News, the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung paper, and the pro-opposition Syrian news website, Zaman al-Wasl.

"ISIS has built its corporate banner of terror by exploiting the disenfranchised and the misinformed and inventing a brand of Islam that lacks any real concept of devotion, equality, patience, or spiritual transcendence and that it simply repeats ad nauseum like a TV commercial jingle, and with the same brain-numbing effect."

Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizere, has vouched for the authenticity of the records, although intelligence agencies have expressed concern, claiming that the documents can be easily manipulated. Although some have been verified, many others may not be genuine.

Regardless of these warnings, this is the first real look we’ve had at the bureaucratic rigmarole behind ISIS recruitment. And it’s nothing short of bizarre.

The leaked documents include the ISIS application forms filled out by aspiring terrorists around the world. It consists of 23 fairly standard form-filling questions that we are all familiar with: applicant’s name, date of birth, nationality, residential address, level of education, blood type, even their mother’s maiden name.

But then it goes on and asks the applicant their desired ‘fighter name’, and whether or not they have previous fighting experience (with no clear specification as to what kind of ‘fighting’). It questions the applicants’ ‘level of obedience’, their understanding of sharia Law, whether or not they’d prefer to serve ISIS as either a ‘fighter’ or a ‘suicide bomber’, even their preferred date and place of death.

This all seems a little unreal – almost too obvious and intentional to be genuine. Yet it also seems surreal – like the creation of a video game character, where you can choose an identity, pick your strengths and define your own role in the story, right down to the ending. In many ways, it’s a unique verisimilitude of a pandemic affecting much of today’s youth – the promulgation of online avatars that project an outward display of their choosing. These people are customising their own terrorist avatars. Except this is real life.        

English translation of the fourteen Isis recruitment forms which were passed to the Guardian from German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

But what is most striking are the questions regarding previous employment, sponsorship, and referencing. ISIS seems all too concerned about where its terrorists have worked, and for whom, as if it runs full reference checks on each of their applicants.

Why should it matter? ISIS has built its corporate banner of terror by exploiting the disenfranchised and the misinformed and inventing a brand of Islam that lacks any real concept of devotion, equality, patience, or spiritual transcendence and that it simply repeats ad nauseum like a TV commercial jingle, and with the same brain-numbing effect. It is all a self-contained pantomime that pits ISIS as the little guy standing up to the mighty Western overlords armed with little more than the will of an unrelenting God, and a staunch belief that this little boy who can, will.

Crudely simplified, yes, but for some, that is much of the allure. And by extension, for many of those, the religious mandate that masks the megalomania is seen as retribution for whatever sins they may have committed before. Therefore, those who are willing to apply to ISIS render their previous experience and identity null and void.

I mean, can you imagine writing a character reference for a wannabe terrorist?

The Point

If you ever wanted to know how to join ISIS, well here is it: you have to fill in a form.

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