Skip to Main Content

It's the Ideology, Stupid

Recruits Join the Islamic State Group Because of its Radical Ideology, Not a Lack of Economic Opportunity

UMass Lowell Image

02/23/2015
US News & World Report
By Mercedes Schlapp

Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, recently shed light to the administration’s incoherent strategy on dealing with the Islamic State group. In an interview with MSNBC host Chris Matthews, she stated, “we cannot kill our way out of this war" and added that we need to deal with “the root causes that lead people to join these groups whether it is a lack of opportunity for jobs.”

The idea that jobs and economic opportunity could stop the current recruitment of Islamic State group militants and end religious extremism shows a fundamental lack of understanding by the Obama administration. The root of the problem lies in a radical ideology that drives individuals to join the jihadists.

Harf fails to understand the real reason why men and women leave their homes and join the ranks of the radicals, which has little to do with lack of economic opportunity and more to do with the Islamic State group's driving purpose of creating an Islamic caliphate and killing infidels. And her lack of clarity should be disconcerting to Americans who are placing their trust on President Barack Obama to deal with the growing threat of the Islamic State group abroad. It is difficult to even begin discussing helping governments with their economies when the U.S. is being forced to close its embassies in places like Yemen and Libya where chaos rules, governments are weak and terrorists are gaining ground.

Professor and psychologist John Horgan from The University of Massachusetts Lowell, who is an expert on terrorists, explains that individuals who join the Islamic State group generally want to “find something meaningful for their life” and “belong to something special.” Being employed or unemployed was not one of the factors that kept individuals from joining the jihadists.

In one compelling video, Andre Poulin, a Canadian Muslim convert, spoke about leaving his family, home and job to join the Islamic State group because he felt that everyone could contribute to the cause. These individuals are inspired by jihadists and find their life’s purpose in joining the terrorist group. And last year, Vice Media made a documentary where it spoke with Islamic State group fighters who clearly stated the reason that they joined was to kill the infidels. Unfortunately, it may be too late for the United States to “reindoctrinate” those foreign fighters, leaving defeating them as the only real solution.

The minds of Islamic State group militants and those who are recruited have a deep and twisted ideology where absolute power in the name of Allah and the elimination of infidels are their main drivers. The notion of jobs, economic opportunity or better governance in the region, as suggested by Harf and the Obama administration, is just not a realistic approach to winning this growing war.

Harf and the Obama administration fail to understand that the Islamic State group is enthralled by religious war, with its eyes set on expanding beyond the Middle East and terrorizing Western nations. The discussion that we need to have is about how to eradicate the Islamic State group militants who are at the root of the problem and stop them from further radicalizing and recruiting Westerners and Muslims who are drawn to their extreme religious views.

Through the Islamic State group’s sophisticated social media outreach efforts, the militants are becoming the best global sales team, with the capability to recruit and radicalize men and women who are in search of purpose and absolute power in their lives. The group's propaganda videos have gone viral, and beheadings and crucifixions are becoming daily occurrences, all in the name of Allah and with the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate.

Harf spent several days on social media and on television defending her comments. Instead, she should rewrite her talking points, surrender her defeatist attitude and give a convincing argument on how to stop the recruitment of militants. The Islamic State group's hunger for power and relentless conviction will overrun the administration’s approach of strategic patience, which has yet to produce real results in defeating these radical terrorists.