4 Apr 2013

The EU is running a Jihadi exchange programme in Syria

Recent reports revealed that the EU has been running a Jihadi exchange programme, modelled after the successful Erasmus Programme, with Syria over the past year. It is understood that around 600 people from 14 different European countries have taken part, travelling to Syria to get a first-hand experience of the Jihadi culture. The programme is understood to be part of the Euro-Mediterranean initiative to improve communication and exchange between the participating countries.

Until 2011, Syria was a net exporter of Jihadists and the country had hardly any Jihadi activities within. But since then the government has undertaken a policy shift which has seen it increase its local Jihadi production significantly. In parallel, Syria initiated several programmes to attract foreign Jihadists to the country, and invited the Jihadists that it had previously sent to countries like Iraq and Lebanon to return and participate in the nation-wide programme.


The combined efforts of the EU and the Syrian government had made the programme a success as the numbers of Jihadists increased dramatically. The programme has been marred by health and safety issues however, with high numbers of injuries and fatalities, especially among suicide bombers where the fatality rate is an unacceptable 100%. The EU has recently stepped up its training efforts to counter this trend.

There has been some resentment towards the foreign Jihadists among the local population, which the EU aims to counter through its highly-efficient cultural respect and tolerance programmes. Locals have complained of the foreign Jihadists gung-ho attitude and disrespect for Syria’s diversity and traditions. This is however not uncommon in exchange programmes, where participants tend to see their stay as an extended holiday and fail to abide by the core principles of cultural exchange. 

Most foreign Jihadists interviewed spoke very highly of their experience and praised the programme. Ahmed, 22, from Birmingham, revealed that he had the choice of going on his gap year to Africa but he chose Syria because he didn't know anything at all about it and he was very curious. He also said that the all-male environment was also a draw, as it would help me maintain his focus. He described the living conditions as 'rudimentary', but the internet connection was excellent. 

Hundreds of Syrian students, carefully selected from middle class families, travelled to Europe as part of the exchange programme to study at European universities and get acquainted with European culture and its various aspects, such as liberal democracy, drinking alcohol and carefully monitored recreational drug use. This led an observer to comment that it’s a strange world when Europe sends Jihadists to a Muslim country while importing alcohol-drinkers from it, but this old-fashioned thinking fails to understand the realities of today’s multi-cultural world.

The exchange programme has been so successful that it is understood that the US and other countries have also set up similar programs. There are about 6000 foreign Jihadists in Syria currently, arriving both as part of official programmes or on their own initiative. Some non-Jihadists have also travelled to Syria independently, attracted by the buzz that such programmes have created.

A spokesperson for the EU highlighted the importance of the programme in establishing cultural bridges. “The EU’s core principles focus on the importance of tolerance and appreciation of different tradition. The Jihadist culture is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing sub-cultures in the world, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the successive US governments in encouraging its growth, and we want our citizens to have a safe and controlled environment in which they could participate fully in the Jihadist lifestyle. “

Some sceptics however have questioned the EU’s motives since it has active programmes, in Mali for example, to combat Jihadism. This they pointed out appears to be sending mixed messages to enthusiasts of the Jihadi sub-culture. When asked about this, the EU spokesperson refuted the accusations arguing that paradox and contradiction are now part and parcel of the EU’s post-Enlightenment ‘rational’ attitude. He added that moving away from this ‘black and white, right-or-wrong, Euro-centric view of the world’ is a priority for the European community. He accused the critics of having a nostalgic yearning to a simple world that is now gone forever.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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