Islamic State jihadis (Photo: video screenshot)
What Drives Foreigners to Join the Islamic State?
Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Aug. 30, 2016:
Almost 15 years after the 9/11 attacks, the West is still debating the cause of such terrorism even as repeated studies and common sense points in one direction: Islamist ideology based on certain religious interpretations.
Now we can add another study to this heap of evidence, as a new study of foreign fighters has confirmed that ideology is the primary factor.
The new study released by the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society is based on interviews with 40 foreign fighters who went overseas to join Islamist terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria and 100 other relevant players, such as their family members and online supporters.
Of these, 15 joined the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), 12 joined Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing), three joined the Free Syria Army and 10 joined other rebel groups, mostly jihadist in nature.
Here are five of the most important findings from the study:
The primary factor is religious interpretation.
“As our interactions with these individuals are so heavily mediated by a religious discourse, we also think that religiosity (i.e., sincere religious commitment, no matter how ill-informed or unorthodox) is a primary motivator for their actions. Religion provides the dominant frame these foreign fighters use to interpret almost every aspect of their lives.”
“There is a real concern with real moral issues, with knowing and doing the right thing—again, not as determined by the seeming apathetic and corrupt surrounding society but by some higher or transcendent authority.”
This is the obvious conclusion that many observers have sought to deny, such as when former State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said ISIS is caused by unemployment and subsequently defended her comments. She was laughed out of her job, but her illogical understanding of the problem remains pervasive as many Westerners desperately seek to find a more comforting and relatable cause than Islamism for Islamist terrorism.
One Western Muslim told the authors, “The zeal of jihad always struck me when I would sit in my room and read Quran with English translation. I would wonder how jihad was fought today.”
The political gripes of the Islamist terrorists are a subset of their religious gripes.
“[Most] provided justifications for being a foreign fighter that were largely moral and religious in character, more than explicitly political.”
The researchers found that the decision to become a foreign fighter was more about rejecting Western governments and societies than a decision to combat Western foreign policy.
The common mantra that Islamist radicalization is simply a religious expression of political protests over Western “imperialism” is false. The primary factor is the adoption of the ideology and those that hold that ideology will become exponentially more infuriated over the West’s foreign policy. If you believe in resurrecting the caliphate, then you’ll rage against the West’s presence in the Middle East that stands in your way.
It’s not about inequality.
“None indicate, directly or indirectly, that forms of socio-economic marginalization played a significant role in their motivations to become a foreign fighter.”
Here we have yet another study finding no connection between Islamist radicalization and unemployment, poverty, lack of education, broken families, mental illness, etc. About half of the foreign fighters in this sample went to university and one-third graduated.
The study identified five “ecological niches of homegrown terrorism:” Late modernity (our Internet-driven society); the immigrant experience (most come from Muslim immigrant families); youthful rebellion; ideology and group dynamics.
The linkage between Islamism and lack of integration is overemphasized.
“The correlation between marginalization or lack of integration and radicalization are not as robust as commonly assumed.”
Previous studies have shown a linkage between a lack of assimilation and Islamist radicalization. For example, Marc Sageman’s pivotal study based on 400 biographies of Al-Qaeda members found that 80% “were, in some way, totally excluded from the society they lived in.”
This study doesn’t deny that a correlation exists, but rather that the correlation is played up too much. The authors refer to how some respondents described feeling out of place in the West as they saw how it conflicted with their faith. In these cases, the religious belief is prompting the individual to marginalize himself, as opposed to Western society marginalizing the individual and pushing him towards radical beliefs.
They aren’t lone wolves.
“The process of self-radicalization needs to be legitimated to be complete.”
The researchers found that, in most cases, “outside mentors” enter the Islamist’s life and guide him into becoming a foreign fighter. They are not lone wolves if they are being led, even if it is online.
The West can either craft a strategy for each Islamist terrorist group it goes up against, starting over and over with each new manifestation or it can target the common variable between all of them. This study, like others before it, finds that the common variable is Islamism and its foundational religious interpretations.
Robert Spencer on the Obama/Clinton war against the reality of the jihad threat:
Secure Freedom Radio with Jim Hanson Aug. 30, 2016:
SEBASTIAN GORKA, Chairman of the Threat Knowledge Group, author of “Defeating Jihad: the Winnable War”:
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