Post No.: 0298
Regarding extremist or fundamentalist group recruitment from a foreign country (e.g. British civilians being drawn to and deciding to get involved in the Syrian Civil War, which started in 2011) – there are both push and pull factors. Pull factors include grooming websites that spread propaganda and lies about how great it’ll be for anyone who joins their group. Push factors include domestic far-rightwing supporters and racists who generalise and label all members of a particular (religious) outgroup as ‘enemies’, even though these people may have been born and bred in the country they live in, thus these people are made to feel like they’re not at home and so seek a place and group where they will feel accepted, which might be abroad with an extremist or fundamentalist group that opposes the prevalent ideals of one’s origin country. Whichever side of an ideological divide one finds oneself, one must refrain from making such erroneous generalisations and labels, and ask oneself ‘did this specific person hurt me or some other innocent person, regardless of his/her ethnicity or supposed religious beliefs?’
One may claim that it’s all a free and un-coerced choice why some people end up joining a foreign extremist or fundamentalist group, but there are reasons why it’s statistically virtually always marginalised and vulnerable adolescents who join. Along with the aforementioned factors, this may be partly down to changes in hormone levels and brain development during the time of puberty that makes adolescents more likely to make risky and rash decisions. It’s also at the age when people are naturally looking for their identity and belonging – and if they feel like they’re not welcomed by members of their own country of birth and feel wanted by an extremist or fundamentalist group in another, foreign, country then they might gravitate towards joining that extremist or fundamentalist group and their cause. (Post No.: 0165 explored in more depth the general profile of terrorists.)
Concerning foreign fighters regardless of the side they join (e.g. the conflict in Syria and the various belligerents that are/were involved there) – people join the fight in another country for a multitude of reasons, including truly believing that they can do some good for a cause they believe in (e.g. to build a caliphate, to combat an oppressive incumbent regime), religious reasons (e.g. fulfilling a prophecy), comradeship, the lure of using weapons, the action and adventure, and/or to become a martyr. Their goals and beliefs may be due to a sense of justice, listening to propaganda or due to their own personal experiences, such as feeling discriminated and marginalised against, having trouble with authority, the lack of perceived prospects and other social, economic and political climate push factors in their original home country.
Some are (or claim to have been) misled into joining a group or into following an ideal, and so foreign fighters, just like (other) terrorist or extreme view groups, are not totally homogenous. Reasons can be individual, but a shared belief is believing they had chosen the good or at least ‘right’ side, even though they’re fighting each other! So of course they all tend to say, and maybe genuinely believe, they’re only going because they want to do good, and maybe some will; but even many of those who say they were only there for humanitarian reasons will have actually picked up arms and fought there.
They cannot be stereotyped as losers, unemployed or mentally ill – in fact, the reasons for joining a foreign force are pretty similar to people wanting to join a domestic armed force, but they’ve just picked a different force in another country.
Civil wars tend to occur in poor countries because poor people are desperate for food and other resources, they feel like they have nothing much to lose compared to gain via fighting, there is anarchy or a lack of a strong and effective government, and so people are more willing to join aggressive guerrilla groups or gangs (particularly adolescent males). It therefore becomes a vicious circle because civil wars exacerbate poverty and the lack of schooling, basic universal healthcare and the construction and maintenance of infrastructure for building a healthy economy, and so forth. Not all but a good proportion of all wars could be eliminated if poverty were eliminated.
Dangerous people/groups, in general, are often those who feel like they have nothing to lose but something to gain through violent means – so we should all help people to not feel like they have nothing to lose, hence the wider social benefits of a robust welfare state, not only directly to the needy, but indirectly to those who would risk being mugged, kidnapped or the like by those who feel like they have little to lose and much to gain from stealing from or harming others (which, from this perspective, would arguably be a rationally calculated behaviour by criminals). Some of the most desperate even feel that going to prison is better than living homeless on the streets.
All in all, people may join a violent group for many reasons, such as revenge (e.g. for being wrongfully detained without charge or fair justice and/or the (perceived) injustice towards other members of their own religious or ethnic group), being exposed to the reinforcement of ideologies and hatred towards ‘outsiders’ within a tight and enclosed group (the echo chamber effect), propaganda (e.g. false or unattainable promises of a glorious life for those who join), being tempted by economic interests and/or status incentives (e.g. getting paid or well looked after for joining – or at least that’s what the PR brochure says), and fear (either forceful threats and coercion against people or their families to join, or seeing a growing violent group in one’s community and perceiving that one is in the vulnerable minority and so joining this group instead of standing against it is perceived to be the safer option for oneself and one’s family – however, this makes this violent group seem even larger, and thus in turn prompts yet more people in the community to perceive that they’re in the vulnerable minority if they don’t also join, which is a network effect i.e. the bigger the group gets, the even bigger it’ll likely get). So they’re not loners. Quite the opposite – they have strong social networks, but you could say that it’s with a wrong crowd.
There’s also a hypothesis that, like ‘incels’ (involuntary celibates), some religions or strict traditions lead to feelings of sexual frustration amongst adolescents, which leads to expressions of violence? This could be especially so if one believes in certain sexual rewards awaiting them in the afterlife if they become a martyr. But a counter-hypothesis claims that most of them are privately accessing pornographic material to release their sexual frustrations anyway, whether this is allowed or not according to their specific religion or branch of religion.
Terrorists and foreign fighters are typically male. But women play a role too – mainly as tools for propaganda, such as to promote a group’s beliefs or paint a picture that the group is functioning well as a new form of society. So women aren’t always the victims or neutral. Some directly aid the recruiting efforts. In some cases they’re even on the frontline and contribute to suicide attacks, although in far smaller numbers than their male counterparts. Therefore we cannot always trust it when any women (or indeed any men) in such circumstances claim that they were coerced and recruited against their will – especially when they only claim this after they’ve been caught or their group has fallen. Individuals must be taken on an individual basis, and there must be an overall prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration strategy.
The vast majority of foreign fighters who return to their countries of origin don’t or haven’t posed a threat to their country of origin – but some do. They potentially come back (more) radicalised, trained for war and more connected to a violent network, which might lead to them partaking in spreading propaganda in this country or, in a few cases, directly committing terrorist acts. Even if they don’t do any of this, coming back home with PTSD after time in a conflict zone brings mental health concerns, and their presence can provoke extreme rightwing groups to again stereotype entire groups of people who believe in a certain religion, where any attacks on places of worship in turn further encourage radicalisation and revenge, and so forth in a vicious circle; and this all causes and perpetuates an inter-group conflict domestically, never mind in a foreign country.
Woof. If adolescents are not abandoned in care, or can spend more time in places like youth centres, for instance, then they can’t and therefore won’t spend that same time on the streets with gangs of any type or being groomed by other undesirable groups. If they’re spending more time with positive influences then they won’t be spending that same time with negative influences or temptations. Social media platforms and media sources in general may currently wish to resist any (actual and meaningful) regulations to tackle grooming by any extreme view side, but there must sensibly be some curbs to free speech when it incites harm in society. And domestically, we must rally against over-generalised anti-minority sentiments since the overwhelming majority of minority members are peaceful and just want to live harmoniously – often in the country they were technically born and bred in.