Why are Israeli Arabs joining Islamic State?

While marginalization, economic causes and so on could be contributing factors, they usually are not decisive.

By
July 24, 2015 06:12
4 minute read.
ISIS

ISIS. (photo credit: ISLAMIC SOCIAL MEDIA)

 
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Three Israeli Arabs are reportedly in Turkey on their way to join Islamic State, adding to the hundreds from the West making the same decision – to leave a comfortable standard of living in a stable democratic country for jihad and martyrdom in the “Caliphate.”

Earlier this month, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Israel Police announced they had arrested and charged six Arab citizens, including four school teachers, with supporting and spreading Islamic State ideology.

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Israeli security officials say a few dozen Israeli Arabs have left to fight alongside Islamic State in Syria, usually traveling through Turkey or Jordan.

Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) attributed this phenomenon to “living here without a goal and without a strong sense of identity, which pushes them to these acts.”

She added that to take action against this phenomenon, Israeli-Arab politicians must fight to keep such youths from being pushed to the margins of society, “which has become this country’s policy.”

The MK’s statements ignore that there are many young people in the world lacking a strong sense of identity or clear-cut goals in life, but nonetheless do not travel to join Islamic State. The common thread with these recruits is that they are Muslims and have become true believers in Islamist ideology with its goal of expanding its control in the region, and later on the world.

Zoabi blames the state, however, most Israeli Arabs that feel wronged by the government or its citizens do not travel to join Islamist groups. While marginalization, economic causes and so on could be contributing factors, they usually are not decisive.



Prof. Hillel Frisch, of Bar- Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that according to statistics on the origin of foreign fighters in Islamic State, Israeli Arabs are not joining the group at the same rate as those from other countries.

“The real research question is why Israel’s Arab citizens have so much meaning in their lives that they do not join Islamic State anywhere near the proportion they do anywhere else,” said Frisch.

The answer to this, he said, is that “Israel is a land of opportunity to all its citizens, including its Arab citizens, because they enjoy religious and cultural autonomy and complete political freedom and because they know how lucky they are to live on the right side of the border.”

Daniel Pipes, scholar and president of the Middle East Forum think tank, told the Post that Islamic State “offers a compelling body of ideas that many healthy and accomplished Muslims find seductively attractive.”

“Like Communism and Fascism, Islamism offers a powerful vision; like them, it needs to be defeated and marginalized,” asserted Pipes.

Statistics claiming to estimate the number of foreigners that have joined Islamic State are presented as hard evidence, but obviously are very suspect, he said.

“No one knows how many jihadists try or succeed in getting to Syria. The numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt as mere hints of trends.”

The distance from the various states to Syria or Iraq is not the main variable, said Pipes, saying that the key factor is the percentage of the population that is Muslim.

For example, Morocco is no closer than France to the Islamic State front lines, he said.

Even if these figures were accurate, he continued, “there is no correlation between government policies, repression, economic well-being and so on, and the percentage going off to Syria.”

“I reject the vaguely Marxist notion that economics drives politics. If anything does, it is ideas. Their proliferation and resonance are what account for the otherwise crazy-quilt patterns in these statistics,” argued Pipes.

Samuel Huntington summarized in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, “As the pace of modernization increases, however, the rate of Westernization declines and the indigenous culture goes through a revival.”

Zoabi’s ultra-nationalist Balad Party that has voiced support for Israel’s enemies, such as Hamas, is not offering an alternative that calls for coexistence within Israeli society, but an indigenous revival.

In other words, many of the ideological alternatives to Islamic State in the Arab sector are problematic, whether they are Arab-nationalism epitomized by Syrian President Bashar Assad, Muslim Brotherhood style Islamists in the Islamic Movement and its branch in the Palestinian territories, Hamas.

Historian Bernard Lewis, in Islam and the West, described it this way: “It is easy to understand the rage of the traditional Muslim confronted with the modern world.

Schooled in a religious culture in which, from the beginning, rightness has meant supremacy, he has seen that supremacy lost in the world to Western power; lost in his own country to foreign intruders, with their foreign ways and their Westernized protégés; lost in his own home to emancipated women and rebellious children.”

Islamism is the dominant revolutionary ideology amongst Muslims today, which seeks to return the glory of times past, and because of it a small group of Israeli Arabs have sought to aid Islamic State and other Islamist groups in Syria and around the world.

Yasser Okbi and Reuters contributed to this report.

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