The BBC has a chilling article about "a man of peace" who was radicalized into terrorism, torture and murder.
[Khaled] told the BBC [that], when the Syrian revolution drew its first breaths in 2011 he was a man of peace, "a bit religious, but not too strict", with a job organising pilgrimages.
"It was an amazing feeling of freedom mixed with fear of the regime," he says, recalling the first day he joined the anti-government protests.
"We felt that we were doing something to help our country, to bring freedom and to be able to choose a president other than Assad. We were a small group, no more than 25-30 people."
Khaled says no-one thought about taking weapons to the early protests - "we didn't have the courage for that", but the security forces arrested and beat people nonetheless.
One day, it was him they detained.
"They took me from my house to the Criminal Security Department, then to other departments. Political Security, State Security... and then to the Central Prison where I stayed for a month before they released me.
"By the time I entered the Central Prison I couldn't walk, and couldn't sleep because of my backache."
Khaled says his most barbaric abuser was a guard at the Criminal Security Department who forced him to kneel before a picture of President Assad, saying: "Your god will die, and he will not die. God dies, and Assad endures."
"His shift was every other day, and when it came I knew I would be tortured.
"He used to hang me from my arms with chains to the ceiling. He would force me to strip, then put me on 'the flying carpet' and whip my back. He would tell me: 'I hate you, I hate you, I want to you to die. I hope you die at my hands.'
"I left his prison paralysed, and when they moved me to the Central Prison inmates were crying when they saw me. They brought me in on a stretcher.
"I decided that if God saved me I would kill him wherever he goes. Even if he went to Damascus, I would kill him."
When he was freed from prison, Khaled took up arms against the government. He says he "helped" 35 Syrian army soldiers to defect from the 17th Reserve Division, which was stationed in the country's north-east.
Some of them he kidnapped, selling their possessions to make money for guns.
Sometimes, he says, he joined forces with attractive women to lure "notorious individuals who hurt protesters" with offers of marriage. He spared their lives, but forced them to make defection videos so they could never again serve President Assad. For his first hostage, the ransom was set at 15 Kalashnikovs, or their value in cash.
One man received no such mercy: the guard who tormented Khaled.
"I asked people about [the guard] who worked at the Criminal Security Department until I found him. We followed him home, and took him.
"He told me something that I reminded him of later. When I was in prison, he told me: 'If you leave this prison alive and you manage to capture me, do not have mercy on me' - and that's what I did.
"I took him to a farm near the Central Prison which was a liberated area. I cut off his hand with a butcher's knife. I pulled out his tongue and cut it with scissors. And still I wasn't satisfied.
"I killed him when he begged for it. I came for revenge, so I wasn't afraid.
"Despite all the torture methods I used with him, I don't feel regret or sorrow. On the contrary; if he came back to life again right now I would do the same.
"If there had been an authority to complain to, to say he beats and humiliates prisoners, I wouldn't have done this to him. But there was no-one to complain to and no state to stop him."
Khaled had lost his faith in the revolution. His focus became the daily battle for his own survival. And he would soon find an even darker role in Syria's savage conflict - as an assassin for the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).
There's more at the link. Recommended reading.
Tragically, I can understand this man all too well, because I've seen the same radicalizing effects of violence in too many African countries over the years. Ordinary, everyday people like you and I are suddenly traumatized by violence, rape, assault, war - whatever. Their initial response is often fear, attempts to flee, blind panic. Most of those who react like that will either die, or "knuckle under" and submit to whatever force, or group, or person, is oppressing them. However, there will be others who vow revenge; to do unto their oppressors what is being done unto them. They become hardened, radicalized, brutalized - as bad as those who wronged them. It's a vicious cycle, and it's utterly predictable.
The trouble is, they never restrict their radicalization to their enemies. Sooner or later, everyone becomes an object of suspicion, and disagreement with them, or doing anything they find suspicious or out of the ordinary, becomes proof positive in their minds that you are an enemy. They won't stop to question their interpretation of your actions or words. They'll simply act against you, because not to act might give an enemy time to strike at them. This can lead to the most horrendous atrocities, because they regard themselves as fully justified in striking first, and then in making sure that there can be no retaliation.
Two incidents in my personal experience, from individuals to entire tribes, illustrate this.
- In Soweto, back in the 1980's, I helped the wife and children of a trade union official who'd been detained by the apartheid government. I gave them money to help them buy what they needed to survive while he was in prison. Tragically, I was not careful enough in how I handed over the money. We were seen, and the local "comrades" (a terrorist-aligned youth group) were informed. They assumed, with no evidence except the fact of the handover, that she must be a police informer, and that the money I gave her was payment for her information. That night, they raided her house, dragged her outside, and gang-raped her in front of her three children, forcing them to watch as she screamed. When she tried to resist, they hacked off both her arms above the elbow, tying off the stumps to prevent her bleeding to death, and continued to abuse her. When they'd all had their way with her, they put an old car tire around her neck, splashed it with gasoline, and set it on fire, burning her head and shoulders into a charred caricature of a human being while they danced around her burning remains, screaming slogans.
- In Rwanda, the Hutu tribe (in the majority) massacred hundreds of thousands of Tutsi (the minority tribe) in 1994. Some estimates put the total killed at over 900,000. Two million more became refugees, flooding out of Rwanda into surrounding countries. Formerly neutral people such as pastors, priests, teachers, nurses and doctors turned into tribal radicals, deceiving Hutus into taking refuge in places they suggested (such as churches, schools, etc.), then leading or organizing mobs of Tutsis to attack those places, kill everyone inside, and burn them to the ground. I've walked through the burned-out shell of a Rwandan church in which over 2,000 people were herded, then the building was set alight. Those who tried to flee were chopped to pieces (literally) with machetes as they emerged. The rest died in the fire. The smell, or rather stench, of burned human flesh was . . . let's just not go there, OK?
Africa is hardly alone in such atrocities. Look at Mexico today, with the cartel killers running rampant. Look at Nazi Germany or the former Soviet Union, where tens of thousands enthusiastically joined government forces to repress, torture and murder those whom the regimes classified as enemies, or aliens, or "subhumans". Go back through history, and the same story is repeated over and over and over again. No nation or people or tribe is immune, and none can boast of historically clean hands.
Khaled, and those like him, are merely the latest in a long line of people who have turned to evil. There will be more. We need to be aware of that reality, and understand that it can happen anywhere, at any time. The only way we can prevent it - and even that isn't foolproof: consider sociopaths, for example - is to prevent the conditions that engender it from arising. As Edmund Burke so wisely said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".