Experts: Atrocities of ISIS attract extremists with a certain mindset

Experts: Atrocities of ISIS attract extremists with a certain mindset
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on social networks shows young men in underwear being marched barefoot along a desert road before being allegedly executed by IS militants at an undisclosed location. AFP was unable to verify the location and the date of the video.

THE BRUTALITY is appalling - beheadings, massacres, torture - yet some people from countries around the world are heading to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

There are at least 12,000 foreign fighters from 81 countries participating in the conflict, according to a report from an intelligence agency.

On Tuesday, photographs of a captured Chinese soldier bearing ISIS insignias were posted on the Facebook page of the Iraqi Defence Ministry.

Nearer home, as many as 20 Malaysians have been identified to be fighting as jihadists for ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State.

But why, asked Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim on Wednesday.

"The question you must ask is, why would you want to support a movement that promotes mass killing, the murder of innocent (people)," Dr Yaacob told reporters after a post-National Day Rally dialogue.

The New Paper asked two experts in Middle Eastern politics the same question.

Dr Fanar Haddad, a research fellow from the Middle East Institute (MEI) at the National University of Singapore, said: "We might be turned off or even scared by videos of beheadings and massacres. But that's because they're addressing a specific mindset of people.

"Far from being turned off by the images, they are attracted to these brutalities instead."

This mindset, added Dr Haddad, exists wherever Muslims are minorities around the world.

"It is a mindset that completely rejects the prevalent social and political order around the world, in its many different shades.

"They want to establish an alternate order. There's also the view are that their actions are justified and ordered by divine powers.

"People with this mindset are a minority, but clearly not an insignificant minority."

Dr Peter Sluglett, director of MEI, explained that it has to do with the ideology of the group.

ISIS subscribes to the ideals of a puritan brand of Sunni Islam that opposes all other denominations of the religion.


"It is officially attractive to rather misguided young people who think that this will restore the glory of Islam, but the actual manifestation of it is very unsavoury indeed," said Dr Sluglett.

"Their ideology attracts extremists, not moderates."

Dr Haddad said the atrocities shown by ISIS are meant to send messages to different audiences, all of which would benefit the group.

Said the author of the book Sectarianism in Iraq: Antagonistic Visions of Unity: "On one hand, it is for recruitment purposes and is directed to potential recruits. It demonstrates their ruthlessness and determination, and the fact that they do not compromise on their beliefs.

"That is appealing to certain groups."


The videos and imagery also tell their enemies and civilians in the territories they conquer that there is "a price to opposing them".

When asked if releasing brutal videos is a bad recruitment practice, Dr Sluglett said: "Well, it is and it isn't.

"Basically, it is beheading and killing people who are not as pure as you are. It appeals to the mindset of people who believe they are the pure ones."

This trend will soon die out as the gruesome nature shown in the videos eventually dissuades people from joining ISIS, he added.

"(Governments) should continue doing their best to prevent their young men from going. But I think it will eventually die out."


Led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS wants to establish an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria by eliminating the Shiite-led Iraqi central government and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

2003: ISIS has its roots as a branch of Al-Qaeda, known as the Al-Qaeda in Iraq. It came to light soon after the US-led invasion in Iraq.

2006: The group officially establishes itself as the Islamic State in Iraq, or ISI. Abu Bakr becomes the leader of ISI after two emirs who were next in line were killed in an operation. They claim to be a state instead of a jihadi group, and calls for the allegiance of all jihadi groups.

2013: ISI renames itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after it conquers territories from rival groups like Syria-based al-Nusra Front and other Al-Qaeda affiliates.

2014: ISIS declares the establishment of a caliphate known as the Islamic State, with its leader Abu Bakr as the caliph. It announces that Muslims all around the world must pledge their allegiance to the new caliph.

Source: Dr Fanar Haddad


AUGUST 19: ISIS uploaded a video showing the beheading of an American hostage, journalist James Foley. The killer had a British accent and is believed to be a foreign fighter.

AUGUST 28: A video depicting the execution of more than 160 Syrian soldiers begins circulating online. It showed them being marched through the desert in their underwear and then lying dead in the sand.

AUGUST 29: The group posted a video of a captured Kurdish fighter being beheaded, warning Iraqi Kurds to end military cooperation with the US. Fifteen men in orange jumpsuits, presumably Kurds, were also shown.

SEPTEMBER 2: Another video was released, purportedly showing the beheading of American freelance journalist Steven Sotloff. The killer warned that a British man, shown in the video and identified as David Cawthorne Haines, would be next.


This article was first published on September 6, 2014.
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