'The Islamic State needs doctors and engineers, too'

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Carol Hills: As we mentioned earlier, ISIS has been making gains not just in Iraq but also in Syria, and experts say more and more recruits are joining its ranks every day. They come from all over the world and from a wide range of backgrounds. I checked in with Mia Bloom about this. She teaches at Georgia State University and has written extensively about the so-called Islamic State.


Mia Bloom: The general type of individual that has joined the Islamic State at the outset, which people may have thought were low-hanging fruit, people who, for example, would buy “Jihad For Dummies,” or people who didn’t know much about the Islamic faith, or people who may have had some stint in prison, is a very different kind of recruit that they’ve been seeking since July of 2014 when they formally announced the establishment of the caliphate. So now, in the most recent months, they’ve been deliberately seeking people with expertise. They’ve been going after doctors, nurses, engineers--people with great skills. And so, you’ve got two very different kinds of recruits, and you also have two very different kinds of messages, because what’s going to appeal to the person who has some sort of problematic past is very different from the high-achieving young people that they’re looking to get now.


Hills: What kind of high-achieving young people are being attracted to the so-called Islamic State.


Bloom: They’re using a lot of some of the same tricks we saw al-Shabab use in the United States in 2006 and 2007 when they went after the Somali community in Minneapolis, and specifically, they went after people who were high-achieving and smart. One of the boys, one of the 22 who went to Somalia to be a suicide bomber had just gotten into Harvard. So, these are not losers in any capacity. But what they do is a combination of trying to appeal to an almost altruistic of empathy for people who are suffering in the region, but also playing on their feelings of guilt, that these people are living this wonderful life in the United States or in Canada, and their sisters and brothers in Islam are dying in the region. And you don’t even need the Islamic State to promote this kind of propaganda, because just watching the news or listening to your show, we hear about the horrific things that Bashar al-Assad has been doing to civilians and to Syrian children, and I think that’s why you get a lot of this “you can come here and help children.” And, in fact, (?) Abase, one of the parents of the British girls who went missing in February, basically said, “I know you want to help the children of Syria. You can help them from here.”


Hills: So, where does the whole idea of becoming radicalized come in? And this group that you’re talking about, the educated professional type who are being recruited to Islamic State, do they then become radicalized or do they go and join and feel like they’re fulfilling this humanitarian role without becoming radicalized?


Bloom: Well, it’s a very interesting point. Dr. John Horgan, who wrote the book “Psychology of Terrorism,” basically has found, after having interviewed over 115 terrorists around the world, that a lot of times the radical views and beliefs actually occur after the person has joined the movement and not necessarily as a precursor. And so, it’s very possible that people join for empathetic reasons, or for altruistic reasons, and it’s only once they become involved are they given that very limited radicalized view of the world.


Hills: Mia Bloom is the author of “Bombshell: Women and Terror” as well as other books on terrorism. Thanks so much for speaking to us today, Mia.


Bloom: Thank you so much for having me.