Panel 10

Panel 10 – “Why They Joined” Extremist Groups: ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab
John McCoy & W. Andy Knight

Title: The Foreign Fighter Phenomenon: Western Non-state combatants in the Middle East and North Africa

Abstract: As reported in January of 2015 by The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) the number of foreign fighters engaged in the Syria/Iraq conflict now exceeds 20,000 (Neumann 2015). If accurate, these numbers would represent the highest total of foreign fighters engaged in a conflict in a Muslim majority state since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Given the long lasting legacy of political violence and instability that spread from that particular conflict, this trend is of concern for those committed to bringing peace – to the Middle East and beyond. Of these 20,000 foreign fighters roughly 4,000 to 5,000 come from Western states (Neumann 2015). The paper will argue that the presence of such a large contingent of Western foreign fighters, not only in Syria and Iraq but also in other conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, reveals the interconnectedness and globalized nature of the conflicts that have followed the initial flourishing of the Arab Spring. The extremist groups which have emerged from the aftermath of the Arab Spring, such as the so- called Islamic State (IS), have attracted a globalized force to their cause. Today, in the absence of an alternative “third-world,” socialist, or other political movement that transcends state boundaries, militant Islamism has emerged as one of the few legitimate contenders to a counter- hegemonic political movement opposed to the contemporary statist global order (Sivanandan 2006, 8).

Groups like IS draw part of their legitimacy from the perception that they are a global force—one that can call on the agency of Westerners who reject their own cultural norms and mores in favour of their revisionist-political vision. In return, within the sophisticated propagandist message of groups like IS, western foreign fighters have emerged as the cause celebre of a powerful political movement, creating a quid pro quo between these actors (McCoy & Knight 2015, 266). Critically, the presence of westerners, including a growing number of religious “converts” in groups like IS undermines culturalist-orientalist arguments that the movement(s) is merely an extension of the atavistic and violent tendencies inherent to Islam and the “Muslim world”. Rather, this trend demonstrates that westerners are playing their role in the highly conflictual aftermath of the Arab Spring, not only as state actor interventionists but also as romanticized revolutionaries.

Bio:  John McCoy holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science from the University of Alberta and a Master of Strategic Studies from the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on international relations, terrorism studies, international political economy and foreign policy at the University of Alberta. McCoy is the Director of Applied Research with the Organization for Intra-Cultural Development (OICD). He also works as a policy consultant for the federal government and international organizations, including the United Nations. McCoy has published numerous academic and government papers, journal articles and op-eds on the subjects of newcomer integration, multiculturalism and homegrown violent extremism in the West.

W. Andy Knight is the Director of the Institute of International Relations (IIR) at the University of the West Indies and Professor and former Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. Based at the UWI St Augustine Campus in Trinidad from January 2013, a Barbadian by birth, Professor Knight has had a distinguished career as an academic and scholar in Canada. He serves as Advisory Board Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Welfare of Children and was a Governor of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) from 2007 to 2012. Professor Knight co- edited Global Governance journal from 2000 to 2005 and was Vice Chair of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS).

Temitope Oriola & Marcella Cassiono

Title: Statistical Trends and Patterns of Mohammed Shekau’s Boko Haram

Abstract: The rise of Jama’atu Ahlis Suna Lidda’awati Wal Jihad or Boko Haram continues to generate major concerns in the West African sub-region. In particular, the abduction of over 200 girls at Government Secondary School Chibok, Borno state, Nigeria on 14 April, 2014 remains a watershed moment in the insurgency. This paper draws on the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) to analyze the trends, patterns and techniques of Boko Haram. This study complements growing theoretical knowledge on the Boko Haram phenomenon using statistical evidence. Findings reveal that there has been a fundamental shift regarding authorship of terror and motivation of terrorists in Nigeria. Terrorism in Nigeria until recently did not have a particular “face” as the perpetrators were largely unknown. For instance, approximately 70 percent of attacks in the years 2006, 2007, and 2008 were executed by unknown agents and groups. Boko Haram has rapidly supplanted all other violent political actors in Nigeria regarding number of attacks, fatalities, and territorial scope of action. The conclusion explicates why Boko Haram is more brutal than previous non-state actors in episodes of political violence in Nigeria.

Bio: Temitope Oriola is an Assistant Professor of Criminology and Socio-legal Studies, in the Department of Sociology at University of Alberta. He is the author of  Criminal Resistance? The Politics of Kidnapping Oil Workers (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013). His research interests include

resource conflicts (oil-related insurgencies), political kidnapping, use of force by police; ethics and research in conflict zones; qualitative research methods, response of Western liberal democratic states to the threat of terrorism. Temitope Oriola is currently working on a new research project entitled: “#Bringbackourgirls: Boko Haram’s fatua on Nigeria”.

Marcella Cassiono is a PhD Student in the Department of Sociology at University of Alberta.

Sandra Bucerius

Title: Why They Joined: The Somali Diaspora and Perceptions of al-Shabaab

Abstract: Recently, the Somali Diaspora has found itself at the center of heightened security concerns surrounding the proliferation of international terrorist networks and their recruitment strategies. These concerns have reached new levels since the absorption of al-Shabaab into al-Qaeda in 2012. Based on a qualitative analysis of interviews with 118 members of Canada’s largest Somali community, this presentation reverses the ‘why they joined’ question that serves as the predicate for much recent radicalization scholarship, and instead explores, ‘why they would never join.’ We encounter Somali-Canadians equipping themselves with sophisticated counter-frames that vitiate the enticements of al-Shabaab. Particularly, notions of ‘coolness,’ ‘trickery,’ and ‘religious perversion’ mediate participants’ perceptions of al-Shabaab, and enable a self-empowering rejection of its recruitment narratives.

Bio: Sandra Bucerius is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Alberta. She is the author of Unwanted: Muslim Immigrants, Dignity and Drug Dealing (Oxford University Press, 2014) and co-editor (with Tonry, M.) of The Oxford Handbook on Race, Ethnicity, Immigration, and Crime (Oxford University Press, 2014). Her research and teaching interests fall in the areas of resilience and risk to radicalization, immigration and crime, social exclusion and marginalization, neighbourhood restructuring, youth gangs/groups, and ethnography and qualitative methods.

Srdja Pavlovic

Title: ISIS and the Bosnian Connection: The Case Study of the Wahhabi community in Gornje Maoce

Abstract: This papers aims to critically assess the issue of growing religious extremism in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H). By examining a case study – the isolated Wahhabi community in the village of Gornje Maoce – the paper tries to illustrate a growing influence of ideas and worldviews espoused by ISIS on the families living in this village and their relatives residing in various Western European countries. Such examining also invites a critical re-evaluating of the war-time Western policies in B&H (1990-1995) as well as problematizing of the current security situation in the Balkans.

Bio: Srdja Pavlovic teaches modern European history at the University of Alberta. His area of expertise is political, social and cultural history of the Balkans. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Balkan Anschluss (Purdue University Press, 2008). He is the associate editor with the Nationality Papers, and is currently coordinating the North American segment of the research project on Active Citizenship and Direct Democracy: The Case Study of Bosnia and Herzegovina (KIAS. University of Alberta).

Faruk Arslan

Title: The Young Muslim Members of ISIS: Origins and Motives

Abstract: Since the Arab Spring, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has recruited militants from at least 80 nationalities and introduced a violent brand of political Islamism. ISIS attracts remarkable numbers of young Muslims because of the emptiness, unemployment, alienation, marginalization, humiliation, fear, hatred and hopelessness experienced in their lives. Why is ISIS so attractive to some Muslims, but not to others? ISIS offers openly attractive worldly benefits, including a solid monthly salary, free land and polygamy. In terms of other-worldly benefits, ISIS offers guaranteed eternal life in heaven, since its members are supposedly carrying out Jihad against colonizers, pro-western local puppets, and cruel Arab dictatorships, and thus countering neo-colonial local and international imperialist oppressors. A large number of non-Muslims are sympathized among young population the range of age in between 18-34. The anger and humiliation that drives political violence in the Middle East, Muslim Asia, and the Arab world clearly stems from weak, corrupt, and failing non-existent democratic states, but it also stems from strong or “over-developed” dictatorship states which are the product of Western hegemony and colonizers. Environmental conditions alienate young Muslims in Western nations and these factors of alienation are clearly being capitalized on by ISIS and the use of apocalyptic imagery as a recruitment tool. Not only some desperate young Muslims, also many well-educated and intelligent Muslim youth are interested, because of their own geopolitical, socio-cultural, economic and religious circumstances. “Sexually holy war” put all women at risk; ISIS follows the “Neo-Takfirist” Salafi doctrine, while dictates Sharia war law for legalizing rape and womanizing. In this research, I will examine who the young Muslim members of ISIS are, where they come from, and what type of economic interests, values, and offers attract them and play a role in their decision to join this heretical sectarian praxis.

Bio: Faruk Arslan is a Turkish-Canadian independent scholar, columnist, broadcaster, social activist and the author of “Mason Bektashism” and “The Wolves Valley of the Caspian”, among others. He received his university degrees from York University, Canada and Azerbaijan University, Azerbaijan. His work has featured in multiple broadcasted TV and radio news coverage. Arslan is a socially and politically engaged scholar; he is very active on social media. He is currently doing his PhD in Human Relations Behaviour at Wilfrid Laurier University.