Why We Should Care About ISIS Recruiting
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS, is renowned for their recruiting. Al-Qa’ida was known for recruiting people from around the Muslim world, but ISIS has successfully reached out into the West and pulled people in. But where did ISIS originate? In a twisted way the United States and Coalition members who operated in Iraq can be blamed for ISIS. It was discovered that at least 12 of ISIS’ core leadership were prisoners in Camp Bucca [i]. Thus, the 2010 boom of ISIS can be directly attributed to a Western held POW camp in Iraq, where ISIS leadership, met, conspired, and planned. When the US moved out of the region and Iraq was left to govern itself, the Syrian conflict exploded because of a pro-democracy resistance.
ISIS moved into the destabilized region to start a caliphate. While it would be fantastic to iterate why the Islamic State wanted to establish a caliphate and how it relates to Islam, this is not the forum for it. Unfortunately, that topic cannot be truly discussed in brief. But as the organization moved from Iraq and into Syria, it began to grow. They met resistance but were able to expand their new ‘state’. Not only did the organization (and arguably small new nation) increase geographically, it grew in population and fighters. How did they expand from a core group of a dozen men, to an army?
The CIA gave an estimate of how many ISIS members there were in 2014, and it ranged from 20,000 to 31,500. This was up from the 9,000 to 18,000 that US intelligence reported less than a year prior [ii]. This increase is significant, but how did they do it. It’s very well documented that the Islamic State has been producing phenomenal recruitment videos. Recently, al-Qa’ida shot back at ISIS for their highly staged videos [iii]. Regardless, they have been fruitful. That being said, their methods should be analyzed.
Professor Mohammed Hafez stated that two primary means of radicalization exist in the Middle East. The first was called the top-down method and the second is called the bottom-up approach [iv]. But how does this apply to our case study? The top-down method is defined by recruiting methods conducted by the organization. The bottom-up approach is the exact opposite, where potential recruits seek out the organization. This may seem strange for some; however, we see this commonly in American culture. Every time you sit on your couch, watch The Walking Dead on Sunday night, and happen across a US military commercial, you have been hit with the top-down. It’s recruiting 101. However, when a young man (or woman) lives in a bleak environment and needs a decent job, but does not have an opportunity, he may walk into a military recruiting office. This would give the person a chance at education, meaning, training, skills, travel, etc… this is also a perfect example of the bottom-up approach.
Now that we have an understanding, we have to look at how this is occurring in the Syrian/Iraqi region. ISIS has moved into several locations that were destabilized. Sometimes they destabilized the area, and other times they moved into a vacuum. However, when they take control, they immediately enforce strict Sharia Law (another topic that cannot be explained in brief), among others. This makes it difficult to find work, or even live life normally. Therefore, the locals do not have many options at providing for themselves or their families. The Syrian/Iraqi region is also being destroyed by other Islamic radicals, US backed forces, European forces, Russian & Iranian forces, and forces backed by Russians & Iranians. There are more militaries involved in the area than anywhere else in the world. Thus, the locals become more prone to radicalization because their way of life and culture is threatened every day. Feeding off of this, ISIS takes advantage of the desperate situation by broadcasting propaganda. Their recruitment attempts promise the populace a chance at making money, making a difference, and finding a way out of desperation.
In Syrian civil war, the bottom-up and top-down feed off of each other. It’s a disgusting cycle of despondency. Therefore, while destroying the caliphate is important, it is just as important to instill stability in the region. Until it is safe to live in Syria, Iraq, and surrounding states, there will always be radical Islam. While radical Islam exists, there will threats to safety around the world.
[i] Ward , C. (2014, November 4). The Origins of ISIS: Finding the Birthplace of Jihad. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from CBS Evening News: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-origins-of-isis-finding-the-birthplace-of-jihad/
[ii] Gartenstein-Ross, D. (2015, February 9). HOW MANY FIGHTERS DOES THE ISLAMIC STATE REALLY HAVE? Retrieved from War on the Rocks: http://warontherocks.com/2015/02/how-many-fighters-does-the-islamic-state-really-have/
[iii] Chiramonte, P. (2016, February 25). ISIS, Al Qaeda point fingers in Yemen over ‘fake’ propaganda videos. Retrieved from Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2016/02/25/isis-al-qaeda-point-fingers-in-yemen-over-fake-propaganda-videos.html
[iv] CSIS. “Pathways to Muslim Radicalization.” CSIS Congressional Forum on Islam. Washington, D.C., 2007. 1-2.