Jihadism has gone from fringe cult to a mass movement because non-violent extremists have too often gone unchallenged.
Jihadism has gone from fringe cult to a mass movement because non-violent extremists have too often gone unchallenged
A Bolton-based chemistry teacher and father of two, called Jamshed Javeed, has just pleaded guilty to two Syria related terrorism offences.
In a case that is being dubbed ‘Breaking Jihad’, after the US hit series about a chemistry teacher turned drug dealer, Jamshed become radicalised over a relatively short period of time in mid-2013.
Apparently he was deeply moved by images of Syrian civilians suffering under the brutality of the Assad regime, so decided to join ISIS to help them.
He was arrested by counter-terrorism police in December of the same year after a tip off that came from his own family. This followed a period of time in which members of his family had sought to prevent him from travelling to Syria by, amongst others, confiscating his passport and taking his battlefield equipment away.
Previously his younger brother, Mohammad Javeed, had also travelled to Syria and Jamshed had transferred money to him for his trip.
If the media reports are to be believed, Jamshed seems a fairly typical ISIS recruitment case. His radicalisation seems sudden and happened over a relatively short period of time, his family did their best to prevent him travelling and he claims to have been moved by the suffering of civilians in Syria.
This would suggest that some young Muslims in the UK assume that joining ISIS is the only means through which they can prevent the suffering of ordinary Syrians, which is an utterly bizarre assumption.
The primary objective of ISIS is not to prevent civilians in Syria from suffering but to impose an expansionist theocratic dictatorship in the region that will trample on the rights of minorities, women and anyone else who disagrees with their fanatical worldview.
In fact, the suffering of Syrians is likely to increase if ISIS, and other jihadists factions such as the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, are successful.
In previous conflicts, such as Afghanistan, we also heard about British nationals claiming to be moved by the suffering of civilians who then, exclusively, joined jihadist groups that were more interesting in fighting more secular and nationalist forces as opposed to alleviating suffering.
This suggests that either these foreign fighters are simply lying about their motivations or jihadists have skilfully manipulated the suffering of civilians to recruit them. Either way, I think it is safe to say that the suffering of others is not actually a real motivating factor for foreign fighters in and of itself.
Despite it now being fairly obvious, we are still keen to downplay the role of ideology in galvanising foreign fighters. One cannot decide to abandon a young family and all that is familiar as quickly as Jamshed appeared to do without a fundamental transformation in worldview. One would not travel to Syria to fight alongside jihadists if one had not fervently embraced the jihadist ideology and framed the Syrian civil war through a jihadist framework.
In spite of this, alarmingly few seem to appreciate the importance of undermining the appeal of jihadist ideology as a means of combating the foreign fighter phenomenon that is currently spiralling out of control.
The reason why ISIS attracts British recruits like Jamshed, who go from respectable school teacher to wannabe foreign fighter in a couple of months, is because the groundwork has already been done. For decades we have had groups like the Hizb ut Tahrir as well as Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami affiliated or inspired outfits popularising the Islamist global geo-political narrative in the UK.
These groups have been doing this work unchallenged and, in some cases, have even been supported by sections of the hard-Left that share their disdain for western capitalist nations.
It is highly likely that the likes of Jamshed were at least exposed to some this propaganda at various stages in their life, hence when they encountered ISIS recruitment material the messages did not seem so alien or unfamiliar.
It is also likely that they had not been exposed to counter-narratives that frame global conflicts involving Muslims from a non-Islamist view, since they are far from ubiquitous.
Jihadism has gone from being a fringe cult to a mass movement because, ostensibly, non-violent extremists have been incrementally paving the way for the jihadist worldview and associated propaganda.
The solution, therefore, is to tackle the ideologically driven narrative that is at the heart of the foreign fighter phenomenon by discrediting, deconstructing and debunking it on a large and public scale both online and offline.
Efforts also need to be made to challenge and expose the work of shadowy non-violent extremists that hide behind front groups and seek to mainstream their hate narratives.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.