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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Youth prone to online IS recruitment

ISIS+and+social+media
Photo by Shelby Knowles
ISIS and social media

Twitter accounts and other social media platforms aren’t often thought of as tools for war recruitment, but that is exactly how members of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, are using these technologies.

Social media has become a weapon of recruiting westerners to join the Islamic State group’s action in the Middle East, and with an estimated 3,000 westerners having joined, according to Business Insider, many are left asking, “Why would anyone go?”

Ryan Crocker, dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service, served much of his career as a foreign service officer in the Middle East. He said the Islamic State group is reaching out to young people who feel alienated in their community, and then making promises of giving self-worth.

“That makes especially young people vulnerable to a recruitment campaign that says, ‘Come to us, we will give you dignity, we will give you superiority and we will give you opportunity,’” Crocker said. “Never mind that it is a terribly twisted message for people coming of age in a society they perceive as not valuing them, that can be pretty persuasive.”

Another reason young people might be joining is because Islamic State aims to appeal to the excitement they crave, Crocker said.

“You have to just consider that these are young people,” Crocker said. “For 17 or 18 year olds, excitement and adventure are always tempting and whether, whatever it is, one might find oneself doing something that they wouldn’t dream of doing five or six years later.”

Crocker said media coverage of the Islamic State group and its videos has probably been both beneficial and damaging for the Islamic State group in gaining western recruits.

“For those totally alienated and completely outside the norms of the societies they are living in might perversely appealed,” Crocker said. “For more normalized individuals, they will turn them away, so I would say it’s a mixed bag.”

Sahar Aziz, professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law, said she does not feel footage shown on U.S. news channels has done much for the recruiting efforts of the Islamic State group. However, she said it does get the shock factor across that the group could be aiming for. 

“They are recruiting on their own using social media and chat rooms and web pages, and people who are watching it on television tend to be those who will not be recruited,” Aziz said. 

Crocker said he thinks the group’s actions could only increase Islamophobia in countries that already have a strong prejudice and sense of muslims as “the other.”

“Here in the U.S. I think we’re in a better position — Muslims are very well integrated into Muslim society, they’re part of our political, social and cultural fabric, and we don’t have the divisions and barriers that exist in many places in Europe,” Crocker said. “So with that background I wouldn’t really think the recruiting campaign by the Islamic State in the West is going to affect attitudes very much in this country.”

Salman Munir, president of the Texas A&M chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Student Association and biology sophomore, said he feels Islamic State recruitment actions in the West have been increasing Islamophobia around the world, and he understands why people in the West may be fearful about the recruitment efforts spreading.

Munir said he thinks this is a scary situation, which is why he is trying to get the word out that ISIS is not a representation of Islam and that he believes people around the world have a right to be afraid — but they also have a right to get the correct answers about the true nature of Islam.

Munir said the group is the first large extremist group that has access to social media as a tool for recruitment and is using this technology to gain an audience throughout the world.

“One of their biggest things is using social media to try to brainwash individuals here in the West and try to bring them over,” Munir said. “When you see the kid next door and all the sudden he’s over there fighting, it kind of opens a lot of people’s eyes. It’s really scary, and I really do think it’s increasing Islamophobia around the world; I really do think it’s becoming a growing issue really fast.”

Adam Nadeem, vice president of AMSA and university studies senior, said finding a solid way to shut down global Islamic State recruitment is not possible.

“I don’t think that you’re going to be able to stop ISIS from recruiting on any part of the world, because they are a terrorist organization so they are going to obviously have the impact wherever they are,” Nadeem said. “Unless the government or someone is able to shut them down, they are not going to stop.”

Nadeem said Islam is a peaceful religion, and said that every terrorist act has been conducted by somebody in an extremist group.

Munir emphasized that the root word of Islam means “peace,” and Islamic State fighters are not promoting Islam — they are trying to push a political goal while declaring it under Islam simply to get more support from the Middle East.

“A lot of leaders in ISIS and especially in different organizations on that part of the world — they’re just trying to fulfill their own political agendas, and they use Islam,” Munir said. “It’s an easy way to manipulate a large group of people in that part of the world.”

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