What fuels Islamic State recruitment? John Kerry vs. Reality
The Islamic State, the jihadist force rampaging in Iraq and Syria, has succeeded in recruiting fighters because — wait for it — there’s no peace between Israel and the Palestinians. So claims the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry. Now to be fair, he sees that as one cause, but nonetheless a factor significant enough to mention. Kerry’s talking point, which alludes to anger on the Arab streets, encapsulates an actual theory. It’s the idea that jihadists (many of whom deploy the tactic of terrorism) are moved by the desire to redress some bundle of grievances. What to make of that theory?
The scholar Michael Rubin offers a sarcastic tweak of a Clinton-era slogan: “It’s the Ideology, Stupid!” Rubin suggests that we ought instead to look at the ideas that jihadists embrace, and points out some of the facts that belie that alleged grievances-terrorism link that Kerry and others put forward.
the most oft-cited grievances — poverty and lack of education — have no statistical link to terror. Suicide bombers tend not to be those with the least opportunities; rather, they tend to be those from educated, middle-class backgrounds. In the Gaza Strip, Pakistan, Turkey, and elsewhere, recruitment occurs in the schools. Nor do we see a rash of terrorists and murders arising from the ten poorest countries on earth.
I would add that the thirteen years since 9/11 are the story of America’s ongoing refusal to look seriously at the ideas motivating the jihadist cause.
There’s more to say on why scholars, diplomats, Arab leaders, and some jihadists (e.g. Hamas) view the Israel/Palestinian conflict as The Core Issue in the Middle East, from which all the woe of the region emanates. Let me just note: that view is false — the Syrian civil war is one of many countervailing data points — and that I intend to cover this topic in future writing.