The Atlantic published an interesting piece yesterday, titled “Why Join ISIS?”. It summarizes the findings by Quantum Communications, which analyzed the statements of 49 current and former ISIS fighters to determine their motivations for joining ISIS. You can read more at The Atlantic, but here is the summary. The Quantum researchers grouped the fighters into nine categories, based on the reasons they gave for joining ISIS or other extremist groups. They are:
- Status seekers: Intent on improving “their social standing” these people are driven primarily by money “and a certain recognition by others around them.”
- Identity seekers: Prone to feeling isolated or alienated, these individuals “often feel like outsiders in their initial unfamiliar/unintelligible environment and seek to identify with another group.” Islam, for many of these provides “a pre-packaged transnational identity.”
- Revenge seekers: They consider themselves part of a group that is being repressed by the West or someone else.
- Redemption seekers: They joined ISIS because they believe it vindicates them, or ameliorates previous sinfulness.
- Responsibility seekers: Basically, people who have joined or support ISIS because it provides some material or financial support for their family.
- Thrill seekers: Joined ISIS for adventure.
- Ideology seekers: These want to impose their view of Islam on others.
- Justice seekers: They respond to what they perceive as injustice. “The justice seekers’ ‘raison d’être’ ceases to exist once the perceived injustice stops,” the report says.
- Death seekers: These people “have most probably suffered from a significant trauma/loss in their lives and consider death as the only way out with a reputation of martyr instead of someone who has committed suicide.”
The researchers also categorized the various influences that led to the fighters joining ISIS, which are counted up in this chart:
From the article:
Perhaps one of the most important findings is that the fighters’ motivations tended to vary by their country of origin.
Foreign fighters in the sample from places like the United States and Western Europe were far more likely to be facing some sort of identity crisis, a desire for a personal sense of recognition that ISIS can provide. They were also more likely to be motivated by a rejection of Western culture. A story in The New York Times over the summer, titled “ISIS and the Lonely Young American” detailed how ISIS sympathizers made contact with a curious and socially isolated Westerner and then manufactured a sense of community and belonging through constant online interaction (not simply one-way messaging, as some have suggested).
People in the sample who joined ISIS or similar groups from another Muslim country, however, were far more motivated by the perceived plight of the Syrian Sunnis. For this group, the report found that “assisting Muslim ‘brothers’ and fighting the Assad regime are the most common catalysts (45 percent).” They were primarily thrill and status seekers.
The fact that joining ISIS or a similar group could improve one’s immediate social status underscores how differently ISIS is perceived in the Arab world than in the West.
Sunni fighters primarily from Syria and Iraq were also motivated by money and status. “Internal fighters believe they have a mission to defend their community (duty, Jihad) but they also have personal interests (money, staying alive),” according to the report.
It quotes one jihadist: “He asked me, ‘Why don’t you join us … leave your work and consider me your financier.’”
Clearly, a survey of 49 people is not a scientific poll, but it does give some insight as to the varied themes that attract individuals to ISIS. One thing it reinforces is the degree to which Shia-Sunni conflicts dominate, as well as the extent to which money is a motivating factor.
In any event, the article goes on to describe efforts, both current and planned, to “reach the group’s target audiences with something more appealing.” As I was saying to Rusty in the comments of my previous post, as long as there are recruits, ISIS will continue to survive, if not thrive. The key to neutralizing ISIS is to cut off the flow of recruits, and the key to doing that is to make ISIS a less attractive (indeed, completely unattractive) options to the alternatives.