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  • Darren Lindeman

Why people join the Islamic State, in brief.

Updated: Dec 12, 2019


During 2014, the Islamic State officially declared its caliphate. The Islamic State's caliph Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi revealed himself to make a sermon in a Mosque in Mosul, thus declaring himself the caliph of Muslims worldwide. Many at the time wondered why a terrorist organization would become such a strong and captivating source of inspiration for thousands of would be Islamic State members. ISIS is often noted to have gone beyond the activities of it's ideological parent, Al Qeida, focusing on the frenzy of engineered terror and slaughter. Although Islamic State members are generally ascribed as die hard religious fanatics, most of its fighters are Iraqi and Syrian nationals. Many many local fighters join out of economic necessity. Iraq and Syria at the time before the Syrian Civil War in 2011 were both largely very economically backwards and both countries had high wealth disparity. Sectarian indifference and corrupt governments often caused economic growth to suffer, further escalating poverty and creating a breeding ground for prospectus members for future insurgencies.


When the Syrian Civil War did escalate in 2012, the state of different regional local economy collapsed or had to adapt to changing conditions. Men were left jobless, businesses began facing conditions of a war economy. Many people would eventually leave to various refugee camps as villages, towns and cities were increasingly facing tougher living conditions and threats from armed clashes. This created the first breeding group for militancy, as men decided that it would be ideologically and economically necessary to become insurgents. By becoming part of an insurgency, men would be able to receive a salary. Becoming insurgents also provides men with opportunities to receive food and basic living amenities. Ideologically, the Sunni - Alawite struggle gave an ideological impetus to the need for waging warfare. The Alawite focus of power on Syrian politics had created much ideologically resentment and distaste for the Syrian government. Escalation of war also led to an increasing of traumatization of the population.


During the beginning phases of the war, the Islamic State established their Syrian venture named the al Nusra Front. The al Nusra Front quickly became a respected group within Syria, creating networks within Syria with other opposition groups. As the war dragged on and the Islamic State grew, there became a point when the Islamic State had sufficient resources to not only expand in Syria, but also in Iraq where there was a very weak security force. The drift in ideology, economic and territorial expansion were also favoring the Islamic State to absorb the al Nusra Front in 2013. By mid ~ late 2014 the Islamic State had supposedly twenty to thirty thousand men at arms according to the CIA. The Islamic State has achieved this number by annexing smaller militias, recruiting locals, controlling local economies, conducting alliances with larger tribes, freeing prisoners and forced recruitment. Although it is often represented that the Islamic State is a highly centralized group, at multiple points in time the group relied strongly on cooperation and franchising.


Eventually the Islamic State conquered Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The capture of Mosul was seen as a symbolic pivot among Muslims world wide. Many religious Muslims would see to it that their faith could be expressed in this radical new religious venture of Wahhabi and Salafi Jihad. The Islamic State thereby became a destination for radical Muslims under a unified banner of creating, preserving, and if necessarily dying for the first true modern Islamic State. This being said however, Islamic State members come from a diverse mix of back grounds. Foreign fighters come from all walks of life and countries, including China, France, Germany, Canada and Africa. Local fighters also come from various demographics and join for different reasons.


The profile of individual Islamic State members can be broadly categorized as follows.


[ 1. ] ; Foreign or local fighters.

[ 2. ] ; Demographics of recruitment, constituting which tribe or regional demographics. i.e Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish or Kurdish. Constitutes the background of individual recruits, i.e former Baathist, former Iraqi Security Forces, former government official.

[ 3. ] ; Function, constituting what role each Islamic State member conducted. i.e Hisbah, oil transport facilitation, fighter.

[ 4. ] ; Understanding of Sharia, constituting the understanding of the Islamic State's interpretation of Islam and the Quran.

[ 5. ] ; Motives for recruitment, constituting the main reasons for employment by the Islamic State. Motives can includes monetary, social mobility, religious beliefs, revenge.

[ 6. ] ; Circumstance of recruitment, constituting how potential members are recruited. i.e via tribal, militia allegiance or annexation, local recruitment events, foreigner induction and forced recruitment from prisoners.


















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