In light of the recent case of Shamima Begum, the 19 year old from Bethnal Green in East London, who fled to Syria at the age of 15, one must question how the Islamic State successfully recruit young Westerners?
With promises of helping people fulfil a greater purpose, benefiting their community, and doing what is viewed as God’s work, the Islamic State have turned to the internet to radicalize the vulnerable and ostracized individuals in the West. The growth of social media has become a vital tool for Islamic State recruiters to target predominantly young Westerners with the hopes of motivating them to join the Jihad.
According to the Washington Post, “The presence of young Western militants in Iraq and Syria signals a profound generational divide between ISIS and the older and now diminished al-Qaida,” So is it fair assume that the lack of connection with Al-Qaida’s greatest success, the September 11 attacks, are now pushing Islamic state recruiters to adopt innovative ways of attracting members? The answer is yes. How? With the use of social media platforms ranging from Kik to Instagram; recruiters are now relentless in their efforts to increase membership.
There are commonalities within the individuals that the Islamic State recruit. They are individuals who feel inadequate and disrespected. Several case studies support this theory such as 17-year-old Australian Abdullah Elmir, who became known as the Ginger Jihadi’ in 2014 due to his red hair by women from the West who call themselves “lionesses of Allah” and who are, according to The New York Post, ‘bearing the next generation of terrorists, whom they call “cubs of the caliphate.” The Islamic State reach is wide, and their audience varied, and the Islamic State recruitment technique is proving effective.
Imagine spending an afternoon at ease in the mountains with new friends, after some hours they being to ask questions about your future and your purpose. At first, the questions appear harmless but soon their persistence becomes suspicious.
You question what their intentions may be, and sensing your growing discomfort. As time together comes to close, they insist on meeting up again, a commitment you agree to but have no intention of honoring. You leave the mountains knowing that you just escaped Part One of the Islamic State recruitment process. This story was recalled by Mark Juergensmeyer, professor of global and religious studies at University College Santa Barbara, as he outlined the Islamic State motivational talk technique.
‘If you can get someone to kill themselves, you can get them to do anything’ said Juergensmeyer; explaining how the use of religion is an effective way to promote violence, while suggesting to potential recruiters that the violent acts are part of a greater purpose. Juergensmeyer alluded to the effectiveness of the message of Islamic State recruiters – through the promise of martyrdom for a greater purpose, the recruited believe in their cause so strongly that death seems like worthy price to pay.
Some may argue that the use of motivational speaking is one of many methods used by Islamic State recruiters to attract members and many state that their methods are still incredibly violent. From taking pictures next to decapitated heads, to prayers for the murders they plan to carry out, as written by The Washington Post, the Islamic State recruitment social media pages are a reminder that alongside the motivation there is a history of brutal violence.
Considering the imagery of explicit violence, the act of selling potential Islamic State recruits a promise of fulfilment of purpose seems counterintuitive when considering why Westerners join the jihad. Some call it brainwashing, others call it a means of survival, but non-violent recruiting techniques speak to the innermost part of all of us, the part that wants to be seen, heard and ultimately to matter.
It is estimated 4,000 people have left their homes in the West to migrate to ISIS’ according to The Atlantic. This number could potentially grow, so in addition to questioning why Westerners commit themselves to terrorist groups, it is crucial to understand what it is about society in the West that renders people invisible and consequently more susceptible to IS recruitment.