Home Contact Us  

Peace Audit and Ceasefire Monitor - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4709, 21 October 2014
Islamic State: What is Drawing the European Muslims?
Tuva Julie Engebrethsen Smith
Research Intern, IPCS
E-mail: Tuva.engebrethsen@gmail.com

The Islamic State (IS) has demonstrated a remarkable capability in enticing young Muslims from a variety of European countries into the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. These foreign fighters (FFs) have made numerous headlines, with pictures of them posing with heavy weaponry. News articles on present cases of FFs are aplenty on the Internet. Recent instances include that of the death of a Norwegian Kurd in his twenties, according the Norwegian news channel TV2. Magnus Ranstorp, Research Director, Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies, Sweden, points to a new generation of Jihadists. This phenomenon begs the question as to what about the IS attracts European Muslims?

Tool for Effective Recruitment
One of the key reasons behind the IS’ successful recruitment process is its public relations efforts and marketing skills, that employ a tactful use of social media to broadcast high-quality and professionally-made videos. Max Abrahms, Professor of Public Policy, Northeastern University, describes the James Foley beheading video and the beheading itself as a possible means of recruitment, citing how this could be viewed as the IS’s ability, commitment to and preparedness for violence. Hence, it not only attracts FFs, but, as Professor Abrahms says, it could also “induce defections from rival groups to join.”

Most of the IS’s videos, websites and social media activities – such as its video series named Mujatweets – are available in other languages. FFs are therefore needed to translate IS propaganda into English, French, and other languages. Accordingly, Mubin Shaikh, a former Taliban recruiter and presently a national security operative in Canada, told the International Business Times that “Westerners are involved, especially in the recruitment and social media dissemination.”

Furthermore, the IS deliberately builds on the FFs’ consciousness by emphasising on humiliation, prejudice and the stereotyping of Muslims and their cultural associates in the West – that may cultivate a sense of victimisation. This plays with their mindset and turns them into resources for terrorism. Identity crises and/or the sense of injustice among politically active social media users in Europe are some building factors the IS manipulates to their advantage by exploiting the potential FFs’ determination and willingness to sacrifice their lives for the implementation of worldwide Islamic rule. Furthermore, FFs can also be viewed as expendable soldiers. They may not require fighting skills, but a suicide-bomber's willingness to detonate the bomb amidst the targeted crowd alone would suffice.

Attraction Towards the IS
The IS tells people to join their friends in the battlefield, as opposed to al-Qaeda that told its fighters to hide among its enemies. According to Richard Barrett, former head, UN al-Qaida and Taliban Monitoring Team, jihadists are drawn towards the IS because of its attractive character. The IS welcomes people of all nationalities regardless of personal histories and/or criminal records. Thus, FFs might join the IS to improve the quality of their lives. Additionally, some jihadists view fighting for Islam as a fast-track route to heaven. Jessica Stern, Lecturer in Government, Harvard University, calls attention to identity crisis among Muslim converts, and says that their affinity and pledge is reinforced by joining the IS.

On the other hand, Hans-Georg Maassen, head, Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany, stated in an interview with Reuters that, “what attracts people is the intense brutality, the radicalism and rigor. That suggests to them that it is a more authentic organization.” Additionally, social media is teeming with videos carrying promises of a path to heaven, hashtags such as ‘FiveStarJihad’, luxuries and other facilities available in the ‘Caliphate’. While some FFs leave Europe for Syria and Iraq to fight, the others do so with an intention to live a prosperous life in the ‘Islamic State’.

Why are Europeans Choosing the IS?
Abu Tareq, a 23-year-old prospective engineer from Denmark, raised by Muslim parents, was, until recently, rather easygoing vis-à-vis his religion. A while ago, he began investing more into his religion, began praying regularly, practiced abstinence and became a teetotaler. His devotion to Islam resulted in a desire to join the IS. The defining moment for Tareq occurred when he watched a video of people being tortured, and his desire to join and support fellow Muslim brethren arose. In an interview with Louise Stigsgaard Nissen, Journalist, Berlinske and Weekendavisen, Tareq explained his attraction to the IS, saying “It was the humanitarian aspect that drew me to Syria. It is not only about the fighting. They have departments for Islamic education, media, humanitarian aid, electricity and roads.”

The IS openly advocates its ability to control and seize territory, its provision of social services, educational systems, and other tempting luxurious items. European fighters are attracted to the IS because of its savvy tactics, extreme actions, and most of all, these FFs’ appetite for a life better than the ones they otherwise live. They seek a sense of affinity, want to offer humanitarian aid to those in need, and want to live a prosperous life among fellow Muslims.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
Tuva Julie Engebrethsen Smith,
"Islamic State and Foreign Fighters: Jihadists from Europe," 8 October 2014
Max Regus,
"Islamic State and Indonesia: Jakarta's Counter-strategies," 7 October 2014
Ranjit Gupta,
"War against the Islamic State: Political and Military Responses from the Region," 6 October 2014
Aparupa Bhattacherjee,
"Islamic State and Southeast Asia: Answering the Call for Jihad," 30 September 2014
Vivek Mishra,
"Islamic State: Straining the US Defence Budget," 30 September 2014

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
EU-India: Modi and Expectations of Change

Fighting Foreign Fighters: New Legislations

“Britain Belongs to Allah”: Anjem Choudary and His Supporters

Islamic State and Foreign Fighters: Jihadists from Europe

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.