Europe ‘Should Follow Israel’s Model’ to Combat ISIS Recruitment

March 3, 2015  

The stream of recruits heading to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS has Europe up in arms. In ways that Europeans are just now beginning to realize, their continental vision of democracy and citizenship is being severely tested. A September 2014 BBC report estimated over 3,000 Europeans had joined the ranks of ISIS either as fighters or as soldiers’ wives and as recruiters.

Lieutenant Colonel (res.), Dr. Mordechai Kedar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies has long written about developments in Islam and the Middle East. Broaching the topic of Europe, there is much more at stake as far as he is concerned.

When asked what Europe’s primary preventive tactic should be, he immediately cites Israeli policy.

“Do what Israel does. Revoke their citizenship. It should be clear that they cannot come back. Send a clear message to these people that neither will they be entitled to citizenship in the country where they reside, nor even to citizenship in the nation of their birth (if different).”

It is a dramatic tactic, but for Dr. Kedar there is no escaping the need to consider upholding democratic principles (such as citizenship and rights tied to it) in the broader context of defending the democratic society from harm. In other words, people cannot be permitted to abuse their rights at the expense of others.

Referencing religious freedom for others, he addressed those European Muslims persuaded to join the Islamic State.

“If they do not believe in democracy, they should not have the opportunity to enjoy all its benefits and advantages. Countries and their societies must decide if they will have a ‘suicidal democracy’ or one that knows how to protect itself. Otherwise, it will fall victim to its own citizens.”

The implications here reverberate for a number of European Muslims who are now caught between having to protect their religious rights from overbearing secular legislation on the one hand (a problem dually faced by European Jewish communities who are working with Muslims in tandem to defend rights of ritual circumcision and religious slaughter in some countries), and fending off a harsh strain of violent extremism on the other.

Dr. Kedar did not speak directly to this issue, but he did touch on the notion that understanding the motivations for conversion to Islam is critical to understanding the general motivations for recruits to ISIS. As he points out, a significant number of recruits to Islamic State are freshly minted converts.

But are the majority of converts headed to the front lines?

“Not at all. But the number of converts is significant. To combat recruitment you have to understand what is attracting people to the religion.”

He implies that what attracts new Muslims is not so different than what might attract born-Muslims. They feel that the Western societies in which they live have pushed them (or their community at large) to the periphery. Of particular interest though could be female recruits. As Dr. Kedar stated in a recent op-ed:

“Young women are attracted to Islam because it offers them a society that espouses morals and modesty, something that is often non-existent in their former lives. They are sick of a life of permissiveness, promiscuity, hedonism, drugs and drink, all characteristics of the lives they led beforehand. Islam offers them a clean, sane, orderly and moral life, something they were missing.”

This logic of conversion – that religious communities’ principles are often in contrast to more hedonistic culture – is something that many non-extremist Muslim converts espouse also (as would converts to other religions). What is different here is the context of war, revenge and resentment at society at large for those characteristics, which puritanical Islam is perceived as being the answer.

And with recent reports indicating the number of high school-aged girls moving to ISIS-controlled territory have increased, if there is a link to frustrations about women’s role in Western society, it is likely younger girls will be the ones to lash out and overturn their lives. 

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