Mahknouk.

I recently read an article in The New Yorker in which the reporter visits Tunisia, the country whose revolution tipped off the Arab Spring. Egypt, Libya, and Yemen all followed suit and ousted their government leaders (and many more Arab countries had civil uprisings of various intensity – read more here). The only nation with a functioning democracy is Tunisia. Yet, they produce more fighters for Daesh than any other country. Why?

The reporter interviews several young men, including one who fought with Daesh and returned home, disillusioned, and another who is frustrated with grim prospects and itches to join Daesh.

As I read about the current situation in Tunisia, I was struck by how familiar the complaints are. The revolutionaries struggle against a police state. Unemployment is high, especially for people who are educated; according to the article, a third of recent college graduates can’t find work. Even with a democratic government, the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Frustration grows by the day; a word that the writer heard many times over is makhnouk. “It means ‘suffocated,’ and it suggests a sense of being trapped, bored, and enrage, with no alternative but to explode.”

I feel little difference between myself and these young men of Tunisia and other Arab countries. I, too, feel frustrated with and held down by invisible systems. I, too, want to see dramatic change as well as personally take part in creating a better world. I’m sick and tired of racism, inequality, pollution, consumerism… you know as well as I do that the list is never-ending.

It seems easy to say that I’m choosing the peaceful and creative path because of my convictions, but if I wasn’t surrounded by amazing people who are truly re-imagining the world, would I be able to keep choosing that path? If I lived in a country that had been invaded by Western forces who had reduced my home to rubble, like Iraq, would I choose a path of peace? If all I saw was violence and destruction and had no job or food to eat, if I had lost my family, if I was in fear of losing my life daily, would I be angrier, ready to lash out and do anything to ease the pain?

If I were a 20-something Arab man who was brimming with rage, not to mention socialized to be macho and provide for the family, and many of my friends, dealing with the same issues, were joining up with a group with power and money and women, I might very well join up with Daesh, too.

Completing this post in a adequately satisfactory way feels impossible. My head is full of thoughts attempting to detangle the myriad causes and nuances of the very complicated situations in the Middle East. These weary thoughts turn to angry ones as I think of rising Islamophobia here in the United States. My heart cries out for more peace and understanding and, though I am still sometimes caught up in the fear surrounding Daesh, I feel just a little softer and compassionate toward those confused and angry boys across the sea.

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