Book Review: ISIS- How a terrorist group attracted such diverse recruits

Ahram Online , Sunday 15 Nov 2020

The book explores the ideology of ISIS and the reasons why it attracted so many people of diverse backgrounds, as well as the future of the organisation after its military defeat

book cover
Book Cover

Daesh: Sharanat Al-Tawahosh (ISIS: Legitimising Savagery), (Beirut: The Centre for Arab Unity Studies), 2020, 456pp

The Centre for Arab Unity Studies (CAUS) has released a new book by Moroccan author Wafaa Sandi titled ISIS: Legitimising Savagery. The book analyses and characterises the terrorist group and deconstructs its ideology.

The 456-page book tries to illustrate the differences between ISIS and Al-Qaeda, providing a deep analysis of the reasons behind why so many young people, women and children have been attracted to extreme radical thought, which subsequently led them to join ISIS and committing horrendous acts of violence.

After the author lays out the reasons why one would embrace such extreme thought and behaviour, she goes on to explore how to face this phenomenon, after deconstructing its interwoven dimensions.

The author looks at the future of the Islamic State after it lost all areas it used to control and the assassination of its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. The author concludes that while it is true that the organisation has been defeated militarily, it has not yet been defeated on the ideological front. She says that ISIS lost the battle for land but not the battle for minds; and as long as the reasons behind the formation of such an organisation still exist it will still be here in one form or another.

On the issue of foreign fighters, Sandi argues that the problem is not new and it goes back to the last century, but what has made it so much more problematic and exceptional is that the Syrian front became a battle for so many forces and proxies. This meant that the number of foreign fighters and their quality is much higher than in any other war. Syria became a magnet that attracted foreign fighters who had previously fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia or Iraq.

The author says that the Islamic State was able to recruit fighters from different backgrounds, social classes, political affiliations and educational levels, which sets ISIS aside from all other terrorist organisations that did not have these diverse recruits.

Sandi attributes this fact to the organisation’s ability to develop a digitally appealing discourse that it used to market itself and sell its ideas, and with the diversity of its discourse came a diverse audience. According to the author, ISIS adjusted its discourse according to the target audience and utilised every means of finding recruits that are qualified in many fields, from military matters to the media and technology, which makes ISIS more exceptional on that front.

There is no specific pattern or social, economic or political background that the ISIS recruits share, not even religious upbringing, and so the author studied some of the factions of these recruits based on the available data and analysed it to get to a better understanding of their psyche.

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