The limits of the "Islamic" label

This battle of ideologies can be seen vividly in the life of one man, Islam Yaken, profiled brilliantly by the New York Times’ Mona El-Naggar. Yaken, a middle-class fitness trainer from Cairo, was interested mostly in making money and meeting girls. “Every guy dreams of having a six-pack so he can take his shirt off at the beach or at the pool and have people check him out,” he is quoted as saying in an exercise video shot two years ago.

But “his dreams began to crash into Egypt’s depressed economy and political turmoil,” the article notes. He couldn’t get a good job and began dreaming about leaving Egypt. As the country’s democratic revolution collapsed and its military dictatorship returned, his political alienation increased. Questioning his life choices, Yaken became drawn to a very different ideology, a version of Islam that is rigorous and militant.

Yaken, now 22, fights for the Islamic State in Syria. During the last Ramadan season, he tweeted a photograph of a decapitated corpse. His post read: “Surely, the holiday won’t be complete without a picture with one of the dogs’ corpses.”

Islam Yaken is now a true believer. But the question surely is, how did he get there?