(2016). Talking to Foreign Fighters: Insights into the Motivations for Hijrah to Syria and Iraq. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. Ahead of Print. doi: 10.1080/1057610X.2016.1274216
I try to avoid contemporary politics in this blog, as much as possible, but there are times when it’s unavoidable. We are, after all, at war, whether we like to admit that or not. And if we in the West, on both sides of the Atlantic, are going to be engaging in an ongoing war against radical Islamic militants for the foreseeable future – as appears likely – then it would help to know precisely what it is we’re fighting, and why.
The dominant narrative on the subject, that jihadists “appear to be mainly marginalized individuals with limited economic and social prospects, who are experiencing various kinds of frustration in their lives,” is belied by interviews with the fighters themselves, as this study makes clear:
“Little of the discussion of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq is informed by primary data derived from talking with the foreign fighters. This article reports some initial findings from interviews with twenty foreign fighters in Syria. The findings are compared with three other recent studies of European foreign fighters, and aspiring fighters, based on some primary data. While those studies emphasize the role of low social and economic prospects in motivating the choice to go, this study found little evidence of such factors, and alternatively argues more attention should be given to existential concerns and the role of religiosity…
“In the twenty interviews analyzed no one indicated, directly or indirectly, that forms of socioeconomic marginalization played a significant role in their motivation to become a foreign fighter. Moreover, the interactions with these individuals were so heavily mediated by religious discourse it seems implausible to suggest that religiosity (i.e., a sincere religious commitment, no matter how ill-informed or unorthodox) is not a primary motivator for their actions. Religion provides the dominant frame these foreign fighters use to interpret almost every aspect of their lives, and this reality should be given due interpretive weight.”
I have commented before that while by no means all – or most, or even, considering the numbers, many – Muslims are terrorists (but even as little as 1% of 1.6 billion is still a lot of actual or potential terrorists), that does not mean that Islam itself is benign. As one commentator pointed out, it is certainly not the case that most Muslims are trying to destroy Western civilization, but it is nonetheless the case that most of those who are trying to destroy Western civilization are Muslims.
There is something about it that seems to inspire this sort of thing, in a way that Christianity, Judaism, or other major world religions does not. That “something” may have a lot to do with the nature of the Prophet of Islam, and how he and his successors spread the religion: through violent conquest and subjugation. This example continues to be highly influential, even today. In centuries past, Britain, France, and other European nations saw this clearly, and took steps to defend themselves, and what used to be called “European Christendom.” Now, there is reluctance even to mention such things, for fear of being accused of racism, xenophobia, or the like.
Political correctness notwithstanding, however, we ignore these truths – both historical and contemporary – at our peril, in my opinion.