Could al-Baghdadi’s death spell the end of the Dutch foreign fighter recruitment?

On Sunday the 27th of October President Trump revealed the death of al-Baghdadi during a solemn announcement on TV. After narrating the dramatic events that lead to his death, he concluded with an expression that had been thrown around all day by media experts and military personal: al-Baghdadi had been brought to justice.

It does give a sense of satisfaction seeing a ‘bad guy’ meet his fate, but how much closer to the end of the fight against terrorism does his death bring us? And, how does the death of the Islamic State’s leader affect the fight for the minds of potential Dutch terrorist fighters? After all, a global jihadist movement is only as powerful as its ability to recruit many and globally.

Recruiting will live on

ISIS is the hipster of all terrorist groups. It has competent recruiters, a well thought online campaign with smashing Twitter accounts that advertised the greatness of the Islamic caliphate in Syria, as well as the glory of living and dying for a world where Muslims were no longer invaded, oppressed and humiliated by western infidels.

Through its glossy, idealistic approach the Islamic State was able to seduce young men and women from all over the world in a way that outdated Al-Qaeda hadn’t been able to do in a long time. But does al-Baghdadi take this potential to the grave with him?

Even though charismatic leaders are important specially when it comes to recruitment, not all lives and dies with them in the global jihadi movement. Groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS follow rules and procedures, and have clear divisions of administrative responsibilities and functions, making it easier to survive the removal of leaders. Some will argue that killing leaders is a good counter-terrorism strategy, and it might be. However, it does not spell the end of the ability of such groups to spread their message, fundraise and recruit.

What attracts Dutch-Muslims to become foreign fighters?

It’s important to remember that the potential of a terrorist group to recruit can only be actualised if it finds fertile grounds to plant seeds and reap the reward. A lot of that process is connected with the feelings of empathy that the hardships Muslims face in Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere, spark on their fellow Muslims around the world. Nonetheless, so much more is connected to the lives Muslims live in their own countries. What are the aspects of life in The Netherlands that seem to impact the most on Islamic radicalisation? Integration, integration, integration.

Studies show that second and third-generation Dutch-Muslim immigrants, who are born and raised in the Netherlands, are much more integrated into society than their fathers. They take part in a school system built around Dutch values, speak the language and are Dutch nationals. However, they still encounter social exclusion and discrimination in their daily lives, work place, and sections of the governmental system.

Contrary to popular belief, in certain ethnic Islamic minorities in the Netherlands the most educated are more vulnerable to radicalization. They are more prepared for rising higher in the ranks of Dutch society and, as such, attribute this perceived injustice of social exclusion and discrimination to the prejudices of the established classes.

Torn between two worlds

Other studies carried out with young Dutch Muslims show that they can see themselves under two kinds of threat: a symbolic threat to the Islamic culture, and a real threat to economic status due to discrimination. When this happens they are more likely to see Dutch authorities (and rules) as illegitimate. In extreme cases, they are also more likely to push back, endorsing or engaging in violence.

Personal uncertainty also plays an important role in this process. This happens when an individual is unsure about their identity and/or their place in the world (Who am I? What am I doing here?). Or when their views about themselves and their views about the world are in conflict. That’s why one of the core points of the Dutch government’s counter terrorism strategy is to work with teachers, youth workers, families and religious leaders to avoid and recognise the signs of a radicalisation process.

Unless these issues get addressed effectively, it seems that no matter how many Bin Ladens or al-Baghdadis are killed, some will still find their message appealing. After all, extreme groups and ideas can offer simple answers to their questions and worries. It is comfortable to imagine a big government system can do all the work by surveilling dangerous individuals and avoiding attacks, but it is not enough. As a society we must all work towards the goal of eliminating terrorism by not alienating members of society.

How do you think the Dutch community and government can work together to reduce radicalisation? Give us your thoughts in the comments below. 

Feature Image: Lyncconf Games/Flickr

Maria Rita Reis
Maria Rita is an ex-International Relations teacher on a lifelong affair with the news. She enjoys reading about light topics such as minorities, terrorism, and war. An immigrant, a polyglot and a very curious human, she's always rooting for the underdog. Keeping up with international politics and understanding the power of language are two of her biggest passions. Not surprisingly, a lot of her time is spent drinking obscene amounts of coffee and laughing at silly linguistics memes.

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