The respondents in this report do not plead ignorance, but they engage in another predictably exculpatory activity. They claim motivations that make them appear sympathetic and corrigible. They say they wanted a payday—many were jobless in their home countries—and were badly misled about the nature of the work ISIS offered (for a pathetic $50 to $500 per month, according to the report). And they stress humanitarian impulses, chiefly a desire to protect fellow Sunnis from the armies of Bashar al-Assad. When you make your jihad out to be a quest to save babies from a modern-day Herod, it doesn’t sound so bad.
These purported motivations are not necessarily all lies. Shiraz Maher and others have documented the anti-Assad impulse behind the early stages of foreign-fighter migration—especially before the declaration of the Islamic State’s caliphate in mid-2014. But that motivation just happens to be one of the only ones that might lead the jailers of the 43 respondents to conclude that the respondents pose no threat to their home countries, and can be safely released. If you cop to an ideological motivation—“I went to Syria because Islam requires me to fight to defend and expand the caliphate”—you are more or less promising to be violent again. You may as well be begging your government to fit you for a monogrammed orange jumpsuit, and custom-fit manacles, because you will be eating prison food for a very long time.