In recent decades, the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia have resulted in an increased number of violent and a significant increase of young people from Europe have travelled abroad to join extremist groups. Since 2010 it is estimated that at least 5,000 of people from outside the conflict zones have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the jihadists. In Scandinavia, for example, Muslim immigrants from Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Malmö, Oslo, Stockholm and elsewhere have abandoned their schools and sports clubs for the recruiting ground of radical militants.

Why do foreign fighters travel from the western world to fight in Iraq and Syria? Is Islam the strongest factor behind foreign fighters joining these extremist groups? Are Muslim immigrants prone to crime and terrorism? The best answer probably can be found in the remarkable research conducted at the Combating Terrorist Center (CTC) in New York, which published their findings in early 2016. “From Cradle to Grave: The Lifecycle of Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria” is the title of this fascinating research study. In this lengthy report, Arie Perliger and Daniel Milton suggest some of the most important psychological factors behind jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria. The authors broke down the experience and lifecycle of over 1,200 foreign fighters into three stages: pre-departure, battle and return. This report concluded that the militants were mainly radicalized young people from western Europe with almost no military experience. They tended to be more comfortable at the conflict zone in terms of socioeconomic, martial and other commitments. Most importantly, the report found that the religious figures in their home communities played only a minimal role in process of recruitment. The fighters were largely isolated from the Muslim community in their respective homes. They were radicalized in three ways, either by: 1) community jihadi recruiters; 2) online recruiters; or 3) friends. Almost all of them had no formal religious education and did not follow Islam for much of their lives. Most of them were born and raised in Europe, ethnically belonging to families from Afghanistan, Algeria, Central Asian republics, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.

The above report gives us some insight into the attitudes and behavior of young Muslims as well as their reasons and motivations behind radicalization. What we can conclude from this report, as well as the presence of foreign fighters on social media, is that the foreign fighters generally came from migrant-dominated communities in western Europe. Many held parochial notions of preserving perceived cultural values which in turn created uncertainty about their lives in Europe. Collectively, they had a sense of loyalty and set of norms and values associated more closely with their own ethic group, rather than religion because they simply did not practice Islam for much of their lives. They generally valued commitment, especially with relation to marriage, family, social bonds, political affiliation, religious denomination, and ethnic identity. They were less attached to social and welfare benefits, free housing, cohabitation, online gambling, the Eurovision Sound Contest, nightclubs, and other social entertainment. They were not interested in drinking beer, taking drugs, eating fish and chips, and listening to music or watching football. From this study, we can conclude further information is unnecessary to understanding the inner desire of these young Muslims; very simply put, the material lifestyle of western Europe did not satisfy their needs. This brings us to the realization that our social welfare model needs structural reform when it comes to the integration of immigrants. It also reveals a key point behind young Muslims joining extremist groups, and that is their ethnicity, rather than their religious affiliation played the greater role. Therefore, we need to look at the function of tribalism. To put this in precise terms, tribalism is the motivating factor as to why young immigrants join extremists. Tribalism and ethno-sectarian war go hand in hand. This begs the question: how is it that tribalism can cause an epidemic of ethno-sectarian warfare in urban western countries?

The oil-rich Gulf states, as well as the impoverished nations of Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and many modern Asian and African states are caught in contentious ethno-sectarian conflicts within their existing social structure. Tribalism is a feature in every ethnic group, and it is largely responsible for all ethno-sectarian violence, past and present. Almost every aspect of private and public life in these societies operates in a competitive environment, run by tribal groups. The extremists use social media like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to recruit individuals around the world...

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