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Mason Experts Explain how ISIS Attacks are Recruitment Tools

November 30, 2015

The Islamic State’s methods of civilian attacks, suicide bombers, torture, beheadings and the like are part of an “uncommonly sophisticated” approach by ISIS leadership to raise its profile and attract followers.

High-profile attacks, such as those in Paris, serve as recruitment vehicles for the Islamic State, according to a number of experts at George Mason University.

“These attacks are an effective recruitment tool for ISIS,” said Justin Gest of Mason’s School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs. Gest spent a year embedded in European Muslim communities for his book, “Apart: Alienated and Engaged Muslims in the West.” “These attacks please and may inspire their supporters, yes. But more importantly, they set in action a domino effect.

“ISIS supplies the fear. Western fear motivates the exclusion of Muslim communities. And exclusion motivates Muslims’ rebellion. The link here is Muslims’ exclusion, and it is on us, as average Americans and Europeans, to resist the allure of exclusion.”

That outsiders are drawn to fight with ISIS is alarming, but it can be explained.

“The recruitment policy of ISIS emphasizes the sense of belonging and shared identity that contributes to self-esteem,” said Karina Korostelina, a professor of national identity at Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. “Many of the recruits are people with good education and successful careers who experience relative deprivation and absence of respect and acceptance that they believe they deserve.  

“ISIS provides them a group identity that increases self-esteem and a sense of belonging.”

The resulting recruitment of ISIS personnel isn’t just to fight the forces of the West, said Christopher Mitchell, emeritus professor at Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

“We in the West have blundered into a complex civil war being carried out largely between Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region—not just in Syria—and it's a war that has been going on off and on, periodically for many, many years,” Mitchell said.

“We really don't understand many of the nuances and complexities of this interlocking conflict system,” Mitchell said. “As a result the West has managed to offend most of those on both sides of this divide: Iranians, Iraqi Sunnis, Syrian Alawites, Turks, Syrian Sunnis, ISIS, and the list goes on.”

Justin Gest, http://spgia.gmu.edu/faculty-staff/faculty/justin-gest/, is assistant professor of public policy at Mason’s School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs: Can lend insight on immigration policy and minority political behavior. 703-993-2280, jgest@gmu.edu.

Karina Korostelina, http://scar.gmu.edu/people/karina-korostelina, is an associate professor at Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution: Can lend insight on identity-based conflicts and nation peacebuilding processes. 703-993-1304, ckoroste@gmu.edu.

Christopher Mitchell, http://scar.gmu.edu/people/christopher-mitchell, is professor emeritus at Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution: Can lend insight to issues of the economics of peacebuilding and historic conflicts. 703-993-1306, cmitchel@gmu.edu.

For more assistance, please contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or bmcclai2@gmu.edu, or Michele McDonald at 703-993-8781 or mmcdon15@gmu.edu.

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 33,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity, and commitment to accessibility.