Brown: Why ISIS recruitment is so effective


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ISIS has become a household name and one that has inspired fear across the globe. The militant group has evolved into a multifaceted engine of terror, garnering support from terrorist groups in countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Algeria, and most recently Nigeria with the pledge of allegiance given by Boko Haram.

More frightening than the unification of extremist insurgencies joining forces with ISIS is the effectiveness of its recruiting machine. Not only does the group work to attract ideological zealots but the young, disenfranchised, and mentally susceptible as well.

ISIS has carefully manicured an image that is only supplemented by gruesome acts of terror such as the public hanging of corpses or the litany of beheading videos made available for mass consumption. Yet this is not what compels young people to sympathize with ISIS’s brand of extremism and leave their homes in Europe, Australia, and even the United States to die in combat.

These are not disillusioned extremists blowing themselves up to cement a skewed vision of a religious utopia. These are men and women who don’t fit the traditional definition of marginalization and believe that fighting for ISIS will allow them to help reformat the world they live in.

Mohammed Emwazi, or “Jihadi John” as he is sometimes called, graduated from the University of Westminster and worked at an IT company before playing the lead in numerous ISIS beheading videos.   

ISIS has succeed in giving the illusion that it can offer an alternative to the existing society and by extension the reality so many people across the world feel they are trapped in. It is not only those without any option fueled by immediate and tangible desperation that find themselves so easily mobilized by ISIS’ message. It is those in the process of forming an identity and solidifying a position in society, finding themselves displeased with their prospects.

When given the option of a wife, machine gun, and the chance to fight for something real, it isn’t exactly surprising that some choose to opt out of the social purgatory that is putting on a tie and waiting to die in relative comfort. Even when social mobility in the current hierarchy is possible, the idea of living in a world with no need for social mobility carries an unrivaled appeal.

When questioning the motives of those who fled their home countries to die in Syria or Iraq, we shouldn’t ask what made ISIS so attractive. We should ask why their old life was so unattractive.

When you take into account the avenues of life made available to the masses and subtract a college education, living in a developed country, or any other vehicle of social mobility, a whole new market for terror becomes visible. Even without this subtraction it wouldn’t be hard to find a portion of the population blessed with these vehicles carrying a skepticism and unwillingness to use them for any one of a million reasons.

Why would you want be a bus driver or a garbage man when you could have an arguably better station in life as a freedom fighter? Why would you want to live in a world where you think being a bus driver or garbage man is your only option?

The key to fighting the ISIS propaganda machine lies in providing reasons to contribute to this society and not ISIS’ supposed utopia. There’s a difference between keeping people from leaving and making them want to stay.

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