“At the European level, we estimate that 5,000 [to] 6,000 individuals have left for Syria,” European Union Justice Commissioner Vera Jouriva told Le Figaro in a Monday interview, as transcribed by AFP. She went on to say this was a very conservative estimate, because keeping tabs on foreign Muslim fighters in the Syrian theater is extremely difficult.
Jouriva said not all of these foreign fighters were committed jihadists, citing a British study listing 22 causes of radicalization, including boredom, social alienation, lack of economic opportunities, and the “search for adventure.” One suspects the number of non-Muslim Europeans who decide to hit the Syrian front lines and fight for ISIS or al-Qaeda to alleviate their “boredom” is rather small.
“Jouriva said the EU instead wanted to promote prevention as a means of curtailing the steady flow of European nationals, looking at the diverse reasons of why people joined jihadist groups beyond simply religion,” AFP reports, quoting the Justice Commissioner’s warning that exclusive focus on jihad-seekers would prevent authorities from reaching out to other prospective expatriate fighters in time.
Would someone be willing to produce hard data on the number of European and American citizens who rush to Syria for completely non-jihad reasons? Have the authorities interviewed many frustrated would-be terrorist recruits who gave convincing testimony that Islamist ideology had absolutely nothing to do with their attempt to slip across the Syrian border? Is ISIS taking in a lot of non-Muslim recruits and arming them for combat?
International Business Times ran an article ostensibly on that subject, entitled “ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How the ‘Islamic State’ Goes After Non-Muslims and Recent Converts In the West” last September. Despite the title, nothing in the article actually describes ISIS recruiting non-Muslims.
Some of their young recruits were not devout Muslims — “the vast majority of Westerners joining up with ISIS are extraordinarily ignorant when it comes to religion,” said Max Abrahms of Northeastern University, while Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi of the Middle East Forum said “they don’t have to be religious fanatics,” but jihad ideology always pops up during the recruiting processes laid out by IBT.
There’s a “mentoring” process between ISIS recruiters and their young prey, but religion always seems to be part of it. Former Taliban recruiter Mubin Shaikh, who now does counter-terrorism work for the Canadian government, described “several weeks of religious ideology and physical training, followed by a period of ‘ribat,’ or keeping watch over the infidels.” For an article purporting to explain how ISIS manages the remarkable feat of getting atheists and non-Muslim religious believers to fight and die for the Islamic State, the IBT piece offers very little in the way of such details, or examples of successful secular recruits.
Not all of the terrorist groups and militia outfits in Syria are as fanatically dedicated to Islamist ideology as ISIS, so it would be too broad a statement to declare that none of the 21 reasons for defecting to the Syrian battlefront described by Vera Jouriva other than jihad is valid. Certainly there could be other factors prodding recruits to take the big step of heading for Syria, but the effort to de-emphasize Islamist ideology feels more like a political smokescreen than a fearless search for the truth; it’s all too easy to swerve into the eye-rolling folly of State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf suggesting that ISIS could be defeated with a jobs program.
If the EU commissioner is saying that radicalization can happen very quickly, so it’s important to reach out to vulnerable youngsters while they’re still drifting on the outer fringes of the recruit mindset, that would be an easier point to make. Deliberately ignoring or de-emphasizing Islam and jihad ideology is not necessary for that endeavor, and something tells me neither American nor European officials are ready to start tailoring anti-jihad messages to young, jihad-curious converts to Islam.