With the ever expanding presence of the Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East, there have been more and more reports of westerners leaving their home country to join the fight. This leaves many people wondering why this occurs. Why would an American leave their home to fight abroad in a country they have most likely never been to before?
It is reported that there are some 12,000 foreign fighters in Syria, with about 3000 being from western countries such as the United States, Australia, Great Britain, and Germany. It is estimated that nearly 100 of these fighters are American. The average age of these recruits is between 18 and 29, with documented cases of even younger recruits. There are more foreign fighters that have gone to Syria in the past three years than had gone to Afghanistan during its ten year war.
Arie Kruglanski, psychologist and terrorism expert, suggests that there are psychological reasons for westerners to join terrorist groups such as IS. These militant groups see the world in very definite terms of right and wrong, with no tolerance for any gray area. This ideology especially attracts young Muslims who are aimless, lacking a sense of belonging, and looking for a greater purpose in their lives. It can be said that the characteristics of someone joining a terrorist group like IS are very similar to those of a person joining a street gang. There is also a compelling argument that the media’s sensationalizing of groups like IS is partially to blame for peaking the interest of foreign recruits. It is interesting to note that many foreign recruits coming from non Muslim majority states are converts.
The popularity of IS over Al Qaeda is telling of a generational divide brewing. IS has been rising in popularity among young radicals for several reasons; a successful social media campaign, recent battle victories, and promises of wealth. With Al Qaeda’s last major triumphant over the west being 9/11, which is nearing it’s 13th anniversary, they are seen as a weakening force. With the war on terror dealing larges blows to Al Qaeda, it has given IS a chance to grow and gain popularity.