The Islamic State is well known for its savvy use of social media to attract naive young recruits but the terror network is particularly successful at recruiting young Brits. The phenomenon has torn apart families and caused extreme terror in Great Britain where cases of people leaving their friends and families to join ISIS have been regularly plaguing the British media.
In February, two teenage girls fled Great Britain to marry men approved by ISIS authorities. In June, three women along with nine children traveled to Syria in order to join the terrorist group. And just last week, a mother of four children was arrested upon entering Britain due to fears she had traveled to Syria along with her four children. Stories like this are becoming extremely commonplace, and there is no sign of it ending any time soon.
Despite public displeasure by the majority of the British Muslim community they are still being heavily recruited by ISIS.
According to the de-radicalization program of the UK government, 467 people were referred to the program in 2010. Last year, the figure increased to 1,281. The internet counter-terrorism unit is working hard to remove roughly 1,000 pieces of propaganda promoting terrorism on a weekly basis. Additionally, 43 women and girls are believed to have fled to Syria in order to marry ISIS members since July 2014.
According to London-based think-tank ICSR, it is estimated that somewhere between 600 and 700 British Muslims are suspected of traveling to Syria. This is a stark increase from the 200 to 300 that the group estimated last year. Meanwhile, in America, the FBI claims that only around 200 American Muslims have tried to go to Syria or Iraq in total throughout the conflict.
Many of these 200 American Muslims did not even succeed in reaching their final destination, while others went for purposes outside of joining ISIS. Making this more alarming for the British is that there are approximately 500,000 more Muslims in America than in the United Kingdom.
There are several explanations as to why so many British Muslims are joining ISIS.
One concerns the history regarding Muslims in Great Britain. There have been several figures in the past who have supported the idea of traveling abroad to fight and defend fellow Muslims and the hope for a caliphate, or a successor to the Muslim prophet Muhammad. British Muslims are often convinced that it is their duty as a Muslim to fight for their religion.
Another issue is that Muslims in Britain who express anti-extremist ideology are frequently shut down by other Muslims. Some even experience hostility and abuse from their peers. The sensible Muslims become shut out, and extreme messages become widespread. Extreme Muslims often believe that they are the “authentic” voice of the Muslim community. This can lead to confusion about which group truly represents legitimate Muslim principles. Many Muslims hear these extreme messages, and they feel compelled to act.
However, a major issue is that ISIS promises British Muslims an identity, something that is highly coveted by human nature. Young millennials searching for a purpose in life are attracted by a prospect that offers personal significance and glory. People want meaning in life, and ISIS promises that very thing. British Muslims aren’t as comfortable with their identities as American Muslims. In America, religious expression by Muslims is seen as more normal and accepted. In Britain, it is seen as more unusual, and British Muslims feel restricted as a result.
ISIS is rather dangerous for Great Britain since it provides Muslims with a sense of purpose while being coated in a glorified Islamic history. Plus, British Muslims do not have to travel as far as American Muslims to reach Syria.
It is important to remember that most British Muslims are not reflective of ISIS ideology, and that generalizations about the British Muslim community should not be made. Nevertheless, the situation looks particularly troubling for Great Britain and its Muslim community with no easy answers in sight.