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What Is (Who Are) The Islamic State? (3 of ?)

November 16, 2015

Why become a soldier for the caliphate?

On page 1 I recommended an article about the advanced, theological orientation of the leaders and philosophically studied supporters of the Islamic State (caliphate) that now holds territory in Iraq and Syria. But is theirs the same thinking and motivation as that of ordinary IS soldiers? Now I want to recommend an article in The Nation, by Lydia Wilson, “What I Discovered From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters.” Wilson’s draws her conclusions from extensive, thoroughly designed, interviews of captured IS fighters. She finds that their motivation is more down-to-earth than philosophical.

For instance: With regard especially to European recruits, “as Saltman said, ‘Recruitment [by ISIS] plays upon desires of adventure, activism, romance, power, belonging, along with spiritual fulfillment.’ That is, Islam plays a part, but not necessarily in the rigid, Salafi form demanded by the leadership of the Islamic State.”

Regarding local recruits: “More pertinent than Islamic theology is that there are other, much more convincing, explanations as to why they’ve fought for the side they did. At the end of the interview with the first prisoner we ask, ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ For the first time since he came into the room he smiles—in surprise—and finally tells us what really motivated him, without any prompting. He knows there is an American in the room, and can perhaps guess, from his demeanor and his questions, that this American is ex-military, and directs his ‘question,’ in the form of an enraged statement, straight at him. ‘The Americans came,’ he said. ‘They took away Saddam, but they also took away our security. I didn’t like Saddam, we were starving then, but at least we didn’t have war. When you came here, the civil war started.’”

“They are not fueled by the idea of an Islamic caliphate without borders; rather, ISIS is the first group since the crushed Al Qaeda to offer these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe. This is not radicalization to the ISIS way of life, but the promise of a way out of their insecure and undignified lives; the promise of living in pride as Iraqi Sunni Arabs, which is not just a religious identity but cultural, tribal, and land-based, too.”

The Iraqi Sunni soldier’s view of Bush Iraq War II reminds me of psychopathologies of our democracy in addition to fundamentalism: our fantasies of innocence, invincibility, and dominion, expressed by our mythologizing of wealth and power, further expressed by our fetishizing of Big Military, like an erect penis of monopoly capitalism.

How’s that for an image? Or is my outraged imagination getting the best of me?

Or as K has commented:  The young IS men are just like the young US men who pick up guns, go to places where lots of young people are congregated (schools, theaters), shoot as many as they can, and leave behind written rants about their miserable adolescence, their inability to attract girls and have the sex they think everyone else is having, and America’s failure to offer them a society or economy in which they see any place for themselves. Terrifying. Because there’s A LOT more of that to come . . .

{Update 3-24-16:  A new motivation and kind of recruit.]

{Page 2,  Page 4}

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