The dark lure of the Islamic State group

The dark lure of the Islamic State group
Comment: The grim spectacle of IS propaganda attracts its supporters, recruiting vulnerable young men to fight and wealthy elites to donate resources.
4 min read
27 Apr, 2015
The Islamic State group's use of social media is commonly cited as successful propaganda [alAraby]

The terrible images of executions of the Islamic State group's prisoners have already entered almost every home, horrifying viewers around the world.

A new interpretation of radical political Islam - violent, colonial, and organised as a state in expansion - is spreading across north Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, sections of the Middle East - and even in Western countries.

In particular, 2014 marked the fierce exploits of the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis). In June, it called on al-Qaeda and other armed groups for an alliance to fight "a new era of international jihad".

It is a complex case of fundamentalism which blends a medieval interpretation of religion with the brazen exploitation of mass-media and online social networking, reinforced with huge amounts of oil money.

Just think of Dabiq, the glossy English-language magazine of the IS, or the anger and aggression towards the West, the sectarian hatred against religious and ethnic minorities and against "apostates" - that is, those who do not share the religious and political view of the IS group.

The IS group has also exploited desires for revenge against years of Shia and Alawite domination over Iraq and Syria.

Finding an audience

It is an aggressive and spectacular phenomenon. It has, however, found that its bloody message resonates - particularly in North Africa and in Europe - among the younger generations.

This attraction is unleashed by different and contrary factors that converge in supporting the actions of a group projecting part of the Islamic world in another dimension of time and space, a sort of medieval state with open boundaries.

The relevant fact is that among the jihadists are wealthy youngsters and graduates, arriving from Europe and Africa. A group of British-Sudanese medical students and trainee doctors, for example, had been studying in Sudan and went to Syria, apparently to volunteer for IS medical duties.

These students belong neither to the stereotype of disadvantaged European immigrants whose social inclusion project has failed, nor to a marginalised class of citizens of any Muslim country.

They are the privileged and educated offspring of middle and upper class families, and their radical choice may derive from the study of texts of Islamic fundamentalism or from contact with members of Salafist groups at university.

     Facebook and Twitter are among the social networks where it is easier to find people... sympathising with IS.

Getting connected

Facebook and Twitter are among the social networks where it is easier to find people - men and women - of different social, cultural and political extractions sympathising with IS.

What unites them is a deep anger towards the West and its wars against innocent people and Muslims. Washington and Israel's conflicts against the Near and Middle East are primary sources of hatred that feed the desire to radically change the world's power structures.

It is here that some people with excessive idealism and sentimentalism, or with imbalances of personality, are attracted to the "redemptive" mission of IS.

For its part, IS propaganda and its slick use of technology and mass-media play an important role in influencing and attracting people disgusted by Western values and aggression, luring them with emotional manipulation until they are ready to explode.

Desensitisation through exposure

Although gruesome execution videos, broadcast online, provoke reactions of horror among most who watch them, they capture the attention and the interest of those desensitised to the horrors of war through its ubiquity in daily life.

This is especially true for some problematic young people from European, US and Arab suburbs, brought up in contexts of social or political conflict, under despotic regimes or with failed life projects, searching for a mental and social order which puts an end to internal and external chaos.

The Islamic State group is undoubtedly a catalyst of different feelings and aspirations that cannot be simplistically classified as belonging to one category or another.

For some it is a space of struggle for a new world, one not dominated by the West and its partners. For others, it is a space of redemption or insanity. For many, it is just a job, albeit mercenary.

However, we should not forget that the majority of those who adhere to radical corruptions of Islam are most often indoctrinated by preachers in mosques or via the internet long before having any contact with armed groups.