UN Report Says "Unprecedented" Number Of Foreigners Are Joining Terror Groups, But Why?

A United Nations report obtained by the Associated Press on Friday said that there has been an unprecedented number of foreigners joining terror groups, and that the figure is increasing — about 15,000 have joined in Syria and Iraq alone. The panel of experts behind the report, which was submitted to the UN, were monitoring al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They said that there were fighters from over 80 countries, warning that it could lead to a rise in domestic terrorism when they return to their home countries. The report also noted:

Numbers since 2010 are now many times the size of the cumulative numbers of foreign terrorist fighters between 1990 and 2010 — and are growing... [They] form the core of a new diaspora that may seed the threat for years to come.

The horrors that were the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff were carried out by a man with a British accent, and it's now common knowledge that there are many foreigners in the ranks of ISIS. But, why? Why would any sane human being to join a terror group — from the Taliban to Al-Qaeda and their associates to the faction they kicked out, ISIS?

Social Media

We've all been aware of how deft ISIS' social media department is — from its slick recruitment videos to its Twitter presence and hashtag campaigns. It's proven itself to truly be a terrorist organization of the 21st century. But professional YouTube videos and social media strategies don't entirely explain why thousands of foreigners have joined the ruthless terror group.

Having a strong social media presence and running itself like a profit-making business means that ISIS is actively reaching out to people who are seeking to join a group or a cause. (In this case, killing pretty much anyone who stands in their way of establishing a caliphate.)

Would could compel a person to travel thousands of miles to join a killing cause, you ask? Well:

Marginalization At Home

Believe it or not, many people really, really don't feel like they belong in their home country. In an interview with PBS, Jessica Stern, a lecturer at Harvard University and author of Denial: A Memoir of Terror, said that many foreign jihadis are marginalized in the locations they're from, and have had bad or unhappy encounters with the authorities — the police, political establishments, etc. She added,

They may have had an identity crisis. They feel more connected with a group abroad than with their neighbors.

Feelings of displacement and not belonging often lead people to find that camaraderie elsewhere (although camaraderie might be too positive a word for groups who feel connected through murdering, plundering, pillaging, and terrorizing).

Making Amends

Stern also said that those with troubled pasts who convert into the religion think that by fighting for "the cause" (whatever it might be), they are playing their part in contributing to the greater good. She said,

For them, it’s a matter of proving that, oh, we can actually — we have now become good. They’re trying to make amends in a particular way.

According to a report by Tori DeAngelis at the American Psychological Association, a study by psychologist John Horgan, PhD, Director of the Pennsylvania State University's International Center for the Study of Terrorism, found that people who were more open to radicalization and recruitment could "identify with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting."

Misunderstanding The Religion

A fundamental misunderstanding of religion and religious texts has led to countless atrocities in the name of god (pick your affiliation) throughout history. After ISIS beheaded Foley, Obama condemned the terror group and said that they were "not Islamic":

No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of [ISIS'] victims have been Muslim.

Stern also said that converts who don't have a traditional grasp of the religion often assume that joining a terrorist group is a "shortcut to heaven,"

Now, most people when they do something bad in the past, right, a regular believer will say, OK, I need to repent, I need to do good deeds, I need to maybe go for a hajj. I will pray.

Those are the regular things you do. But these — they have such a superficial understanding of religion, that they actually go down the path of, well, maybe if I do this, this will be my shortcut and it get me away suddenly into — and it will save me.

However, Stern also reminded that "these are people who actually want to kill." In its report, AP stressed that the U.S. has been especially concerned about the number of foreigners flocking to Iraq and Syria to join the fighting — why, just last week, three teenage girls from Denver tried to hop on a plane to join ISIS.

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