Kamran Bokhari, senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy, discusses ISIS and its role in radicalization with Akil Awan, CGP senior fellow and associate professor at Royal Holloway College in London. Awan teaches history, terrorism, and political violence.
After the world’s focus on terrorism turned to ISIS, the group was able to launch a highly successful recruiting campaign that drew fighters from all over the world. Awan explains that the success ISIS has had — on the battlefield and in gaining territory, resources, money and recruits — led to its success in attracting new followers. However, the ISIS narrative — that its caliphate is a utopia for Muslims, that its vision of the course of world events leading to an apocalyptic battle is coming true — has begun to fall apart with its large losses of territory. ISIS propaganda targeting Muslims in the West portrays the caliphate as a welcoming utopia, but the group has been releasing less propaganda as it has to ration its resources. Awan points out that ISIS is attracting far fewer foreign fighters from the West than before because nobody wants to join a losing team.
Awan also points out that religious ideology is not the only factor in radicalization — if it is a factor at all. Many foreign fighters who joined ISIS lack religious literacy, Awan says. The ISIS narrative needs to intersect with personal circumstances to have an effect on a potential recruit — circumstances like a feeling of alienation in a host society. ISIS works to eliminate “the gray zone,” an area in which Muslims feel like they can be both good adherents to their faith and good citizens of a Western country.