Lasting and Expanding: An Analysis of the Islamic State's Incentive System

By Isabelle Canaan
Cornell International Affairs Review
2016, Vol. 10 No. 1 | pg. 3/3 |

Conclusion

The study of the literature and the application of incentive systems scholarship to the Islamic State makes evident that there are many different motivations that push participation at both a local and international level. The Islamic State's slogan is baqiya wa tatamadad, which translates to "lasting and expanding."159 The only way that Islamic State can fulfill this objective is to continue to motivate participation. In confronting the collective action problem, the Islamic State adapts previously identified incentives, orienting them differently towards each audience

In this study, I have attempted to present a more complete picture of why local Syrians engage in, at the least, basic complicity with the Islamic State. Yet, I want to reaffirm a note of caution that I sounded in the introduction. For all intents and purposes, Raqqa is an unknown quantity. The information available is limited at best and any information is biased either released by the Islamic State itself or by defectors who, because of feelings of complicity or personal guilt, have incentives to manipulate their narratives. Hopefully, the situation de-escalates soon. When this occurs, on-the-ground dynamics should be re-assessed.

The wide global audience (made even wider by the Internet and social media) is a large population of untapped potential for the Islamic State, but with it comes a unique burden and challenge to the mobilization narratives and incentive system. In response to the questions "Why should I fight and die for you? Why should I join you when the costs of participation are so high relative to the tangible costs of non-participation?", the Islamic State must fashion a new answer.160 The Islamic State mobilizes individual level incentives, tapping into personal grievances, local motivations and networks, and presenting itself as the most worthwhile alternative to a boring life. It promises not only salvation in the afterlife, but also salvation from the malaise of current life. In this paper, I aimed to present an overview of mechanisms pushing participation at the international level. However, more work must be done in this regard. The intentions of these adolescents who leave safety to fight and die are unknowable and impossible to generalize.

Regardless, the simplistic narrative about ideological radicalization must be avoided. A simplified understanding and hardening of the "us versus them" sentiment reinforces the in-group bias being socialized within these disenfranchised teenagers. For these foreigners, reasons for mobilization are often grounded in their experience back at home – in Belgium and in the rest of the West. I encourage further research into how historical tendencies in Belgium, as well as the nation's initial response to the alarming rate of Belgian foreign fighter transmission, have impacted mobilization.

With this project, I hope to demonstrate that no part of the Syrian conflict is static. Terms like "membership", "culture", and "order" fluctuate and are re-defined as conditions change. An incentive that may function one day in one capacity may be rendered unimportant the next. Therefore, I urge other scholars to maintain a constant study of the mechanisms at play for they are constantly in flux.

Finally, while this project focused on the Islamic State, the active role and continued brutality of the Assad regime should not and cannot be ignored. The emergence of the Islamic State and the incentives to which it appeals were not created in a vacuum. Especially in Raqqa, the regime is responsible for many the openings of which the Islamic State takes advantage. Building off of what I have tried to do in this project, future studies must address the role that the state plays.

The death toll in Syria is placed as high as almost half a million, with the rate of killing escalating each year (Taub 2016).161 Brutality and anarchy has hollowed out the country, with nearly 5 million Syrians displaced externally (Taub 2016).162 This conflict is not isolated to the region; it has entangled the world. Understanding the Islamic State's ability to last and expand is one of many steps necessary to effectively respond to the conflict.


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Endnotes

  1. Isabelle Canaan recently graduated from the University of Chicago and is now pursuing an MPhil in Comparative Government at the University of Oxford. She is focused on radicalization, extremism, and local-level politics.
  2. Ben Taub, "The Assad Filed", The New Yorker (2016).
  3. Stathis N. Kalyvas and Matthew Adam Kocher, "How "Free" Is Free Riding in Civil Wars?; Violence, Insurgency, and the Collective Action Problem." World Politics 59 (2007): 178.
  4. Jeremy M. Weinstein, Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006), 42.
  5. Kalyvas and Kocher (2007), 211.
  6. Ana M. Arjona and Stathis N. Kalyvas, "Rebelling Against Rebellion: Comparing Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Recruitment." Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security, and Ethnicity (2009), 13.
  7. Ibid, 12.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Macartan Humphreys and Jeremy M. Weinstein, "Who Fights? The Determinants of Participation in Civil War," American Journal of Political Science 52, no. 2 (2008), 449.
  10. Kalyvas and Kocher (2008), 186.
  11. 11 Ibid, 191.
  12. Eli Berman, Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism (Boston: MIT Press, 2011), 83.
  13. Weinstein (2006), 9.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid, 10.
  16. Lars-Erik Cederman, Kristian-Skrede Gleditsch, and Halyard Buhaug, Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 21.
  17. John Mueller, "The Banality of ‘Ethnic War'" International Security 25, no. 1 (2000), 43.
  18. Timur Kuran, "Now Out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989." World Politics 44, no. 1 (1991), 21.
  19. Roger D. Petersen, Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 16.
  20. Ibid, 15.
  21. Ibid, 22.
  22. Sarah Elizabeth Parkinson, "Organizing Rebellion: Rethinking High-Risk Mobilization and Social Networks in War." American Political Science Review 107, no. 3 (2013), 419.
  23. Weinstein (2006), 10.
  24. Nichole Argo, "Why Flight?: Examining Self-Interested Versus Communally-Oriented Motivations in Palestinian Resistance and Rebellion", Security Studies 18, no. 4 (2009), 656-657.
  25. Lisa Wedeen, Peripheral Visions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 156.
  26. Anthony Vinci, "The ‘Problems of Mobilization' and the Analysis of Armed Groups", Parameters 36 no. 1 (2006), 51.
  27. Ibid, 52.
  28. Avi Asher-Schapiro and Sam Heller, "How Five Years of War Has Fractured Syria Into Four States." Vice News (2016).
  29. J.M. Berger and Jessica Stern, "ISIS and the Foreign-Fighter Phenomenon", The Atlantic (2015).
  30. The Soufan Group, "Foreign Fighters: An Updates Assessment of the Flow of Foreign Fighters into Syria and Iraq (2015), 4.
  31. Andrew Higgins and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, "In Suspects' Brussels Neighborhood, a History of Petty Crimes and Missed Chances.", New York Times (2015).
  32. International Crisis Group Special Report, "Exploiting Disorder: al-Qaeda and the Islamic State" International Crisis Group (2016), 29.
  33. Ibid, 11.
  34. Ibid, 22.
  35. "The Failed Crusade", Dabiq 4 (2014), 4.
  36. Berger and Stern (2015).
  37. Richard Barrett and Joanne J. Myers, "Foreign Fighters in Syria" Lecture (2014).
  38. Robert Smith and Stacey Vanek Smith, "Episode 667: Auditing ISIS", NPR Planet Money (2016), 6:30.
  39. Jonathan Littell, Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising (Verso: 2015), 207.
  40. Ibid, 163 and 165.
  41. Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War (London: Pluto Press, 2016), 138.
  42. Ibid, 106.
  43. Kalyvas and Kocher (2007), 185.
  44. VICE News, "The Islamic State (Full Length)", VICE News Show (2014), 6:30.
  45. Christoph Reuter, "The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of the Islamic State", SpiegelOnline (2015).
  46. VICE News (2014), 18:29.
  47. Quinn Mecham, "How much of a state is the Islamic State?" Washington Post (2015).
  48. VICE News (2014), 27:53 and 28:43.
  49. Adam Withnall "Isis releases new execution video as it warns of Doomsday attack on UK", Indepdent (2016).
  50. Hannah Strange "'Bring Everything You Want to Us': Australian Teen Runaway Reemerges Online ISIS Video." VICE News (2004).
  51. "The Return of Khilafah, Dabiq 1 (2014), 3.
  52. Stathis N. Kalyvas Book Review of "Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence" by Jeremy Weinstein, Sage Publications: Comparative Political Studies 40, n. 9 (2007), 1147.
  53. Ibid, 1147.
  54. Peter Neumann, "Victims, Perpetrators, Assets: The Narratives of Islamic State Defectors", The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (2015), 3.
  55. Kalyvas (2007), 1148.
  56. Charles C. Caris and Samuel Reynolds, "ISIS Governance in Syria", Institute of War (2014).
  57. Charles Lister, "Jihadi Rivalry: The Islamic State Challenges al-Qaida", Brookings Doha Center Analysis Paper 16 (2016), 27.
  58. Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami (2016), 128.
  59. Lister (2016), 27.
  60. Caris and Reynolds (2016).
  61. Elisabeth Jean Wood, Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 12.
  62. Smith and Vanek-Smith (2016), 14:23 and 14:40.
  63. Ibid, 13:53 and 14:29.
  64. Azadeh Moaveni, "ISIS Women and Enforces in Syria Recount Collaboration, Anguish, and Escape" New York Times (2015).
  65. Smith and Vanek-Smith (2016), 7:18.
  66. Vera Mironova, Loubna Mrie, and Sam Whitt, "Islamists at a Glance: Why Do Rebel Fighters Join Islamist Groups? (The Reasons May Have Less to do with Religiosity than You Might Think) Political Violence @ a Glance (2014).
  67. S.B. "Where the Islamic State gets its money" The Economist (2015).
  68. Smith and Vanek-Smith (2016), 6:30.
  69. Patrick Cockburn "Life under Isis: Why I deserted the ‘Islamic State' rather than take part in executions, beheadings, and rape the story of a former jihadi" Independent (2015).
  70. Ibid.
  71. Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami (2016), 138.
  72. Berman (2011), 90.
  73. Moaveni (2015).
  74. Ibid.
  75. Ibid.
  76. Ibid.
  77. Ibid.
  78. Ibid.
  79. International Crisis Group Special Report (2016), 7.
  80. Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami (2016), 91.
  81. VICE News (2014), 14:44 and 17:20.
  82. Ibid, 28:00.
  83. Petersen (2001), 2.
  84. Reuter, 2015.
  85. International Crisis Group Special Report (2016), 17.
  86. "The Return of Khilafah, Dabiq 1 (2014), 13-16.
  87. Parkinson (2013), 430.
  88. Moaveni (2015).
  89. Ibid.
  90. Ibid.
  91. Weinstein (2006), 10.
  92. Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami (2016), 108.
  93. Ben Taub, "The Assad Files", The New Yorker (2016).
  94. Little (2015), 182.
  95. Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami (2016), 109.
  96. Mironova et al. (2014).
  97. Jason Lyall, Graeme Blair, and Kosuke Imai "Explaining Support for Combatants during Wartime: A Survey Experiment in Afghanistan" American Political Science Review 107 n. 4 (2013), 679.
  98. Ibid, 681.
  99. Lisa Wedeen, Peripheral Visions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 167.
  100. Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami (2016), 26.
  101. Ibid.
  102. Moaveni (2015).
  103. Smith and Vanek-Smith (2016), 7:18.
  104. Mironova et al. (2016).
  105. S.B. (2015).
  106. Smith and Vanek-Smith (2016), 6:30.
  107. Oliver Roy, "What is the driving force behind jihadist terrorism? A scientific perspective on the causes/circumstances of joining the scene" BKA Autumn Conference (2015), 11.
  108. Theodoros Koutroubas, Ward Vloeberghs, and Zeynep Yanasmayan, "Politiacl, Religoius, and Ethnic Radicalisation among Muslims in Belgium" MICROCON Policy Working Paper 5 (2009), 6.
  109. Sarah Teich, "Islamic Radicalization in Belgium", International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (2015), 8.
  110. Ibid, 13.
  111. Michael Birnbaum, "Why is tiny Belgium Europe's jihad recruiting hub?" Washington Post (2015).
  112. Ibid, 11.
  113. Alissa J. Rubin, "Radicalization of a Promising Student Turned Bomb Maker in Brussels" New York Times (2016).
  114. Teich (2015), 18.
  115. Koutroubas et al. (2009), 6.
  116. Rubin (2016).
  117. Abdelkader Benali, "The Anger of Europe's Young Marginalized Muslims", New York Times (2015).
  118. Wedeen (2008), 182.
  119. Rik Coolsaet, "What drives Europeans to Syria, and to IS? Insights from the Belgian Case", Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations Paper No. 75 (2015), 19.
  120. J.M. Berger, "How ISIS Games Twitter", Atlantic (2014).
  121. Don Winslow, "What ISIS Learned from the Cartels", Daily Beast (2015).
  122. Katrin Bennhold, "Jihad and Girl Power: How ISIS Lured 3 London Girls" New York Times (2015).
  123. Ibid.
  124. Nicole Falkenhayer, "The Figure of the Muslim in Europe", Making the British Muslim: Representations of the Rushdie Affair and Figures of the War-on-Terror Decade (Palgrave Macmilan UK, 2014), 169.
  125. Bennhold (2015).
  126. Berger and Stern (2015).
  127. Coolsaet (2015), 17.
  128. Ibid, 18.
  129. Sami Moubayed, Under the Black Flag: At the Fronter of the New Jihad. (I.B. Taurus, 2015), 154.
  130. Roy (2015), 10.
  131. "The Return of Khilafah, Dabiq 1 (2014), 7.
  132. Ibid, 11.
  133. Roy (2015), 10.
  134. Berger and Stern (2015).
  135. Coolsaet (2015), 6.
  136. Steven Erlanger, "Blaming Policy, Not Islam, for Belgium's Radicalized Youth", New York Times (2016).
  137. Ibid.
  138. Alex Schulman, "Stockholm Syndrome: Radical Islam and the European Response," Human Rights Review (2009), 481.
  139. Paul Joseph Watson, "Radicalized Muslim Ghettos Could Be Source of more Terror Attacks", INFORWARS (2015).
  140. Sergio Castano Riano, "The Political Influence of Islam in Belgium", The Open Journal of Sociopolitical Studies Partecipazione e Conflitto 7, no. 10 (2014), 145.
  141. Alex Tickell, "Islamic State and the Paris Attacks: Terror, Culture and Urban Infrastructure", Planned Violence (2016).
  142. Teich (2015), 10.
  143. Coolsaet (2015), 14.
  144. Higgins and de Freytas-Tamura (2016).
  145. James Brandon, "Belgium: Trial Uncovers Europe's Forgotten Jihadists" The Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 8, no. 4 (2015), 1.
  146. Ben Taub, "Journey to Jihad", The New Yorker (2015).
  147. Ibid.
  148. Selina Sykes, "Belgium was warned about Molenbeek extremist hotbed 10 YEARS before Brussels attacks", Express.co.uk (2016).
  149. Birnbaum (2015).
  150. Taub (2015).
  151. Coolsaet (2015), 6.
  152. Ibid.
  153. Erlanger (2016).
  154. Robert Mackey, "A Dutch ISIS Fighter Takes Question on Tumblr", New York Times, (2015).
  155. Adam Goldman, "An American family saved their son from joining the Islamic State. Now he might go to prison" Washington Post, (2015).
  156. Thomas Hegghammer, "The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters" International Security 35 n. 3 (2010/2011), 73.
  157. Higgins and de Freytas-Tamura (2016).
  158. Ami Khan, "Al Qaeda's New Front: Jihadi Rap" POLITO Magazine (2014).
  159. Lina Khatib, "Why ISIS Keeps Expanding" Carnegie Middle East Center (2015).
  160. Vinci (2006), 51.
  161. Taub (2016).
  162. Ibid.

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