I think the linked article hits a few common themes about why this might happen:

  • Sunni Islamist groups manage to convince some Sunni Kurds that the "Sunni" part overrides the "Kurd" part, at least while there's a good opportunity to gang up on a more-hated outgroup.
  • Broadly, an Islamist group will claim that they represent the larger and true community of cooperators, and so defection is presented as the true cooperative move.
  • The defining feature of culturally foreign recruits has been low-status, while only a weak Islamic heritage seems to be required. It's possible that literally no mainstream group wants some of these people, while a terrorist group will promise them status. Radical groups are often unwittingly assisted in this by a foreign media which dramatically exaggerates the seriousness of these groups. (This is connected to the oft-cited effect that media coverage has on encouraging school shootings).
  • The community is unable or unwilling to punish defection. Bluntly, most recruits come from communities where they can expect at least ambivalence, if not some support, for actions we would describe as terrorism. Think of Saudi Arabia. Given the official ideologies, one has to resort to game theory (signaling) to explain why there aren't more recruits, and to things like Reason as a memetic immune disorder to explain who acts and who doesn't.
  • The few recruits who can genuinely be described as defecting from the entire local community are more puzzling. My best guess still involves low status, the law or large numbers, and (at least sometimes) a pathological inability of the host society to respond to defectors who don't defect in culturally familiar ways, as in the recent Australian terrorist attack.

I rather clearly shouldn't have included the link about the Kurds-- it's a distraction from the question I'm more interested in, which is why organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS exist and are able to recruit worldwide.

Unless I've missed something, most eras don't have anything comparable.

Open thread, Dec. 15 - Dec. 21, 2014

by Gondolinian 1 min read15th Dec 2014309 comments


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