ISIS – ‘The World’s Biggest Gang’


ISIS – ‘The World’s Biggest Gang’

By Perry Sinclair.

Perry Sinclair writes on the connection between crime and radicalisation, and how families can work to counter this.

In the recent episode of Channel 4’s ‘Extremely British Muslims’ two young men, Waseem and Naveed spoke on why they thought young men want to join ISIS. The two called ISIS ‘the biggest gang in the world’ and explained that for many, who may already be tempted into crime or a gang life, ISIS seems appealing in similar ways.

This insight is nothing new, but to see it on national TV enabled a conversation to take place around a topic that usually is strayed away from. Within the CVE community, this ‘Crime-Terror Nexus’ is not unknown. As we know, Jihadist recruiters such as ISIS are more likely to successfully recruit young men who are vulnerable.

Perhaps they don’t feel like they belong in their community because they have experienced racism, or they don’t feel at one with their family due to high expectations that they feel unable to meet. This lack of belonging is at times often one of the key reasons cited for a person’s radicalization. Similarly, gangs try to sell a family like structure and a sense of belonging that exploits these grievances.

‘They try to appeal by offering a sense of power, respect, adventure and a community or family that understands them’ .

The ISCR explains that Jihadist narratives spewed out by groups like ISIS are ‘suprisingly well-aligned with the personal needs and desires of criminals’. Jihadists try to sell a path of greater meaning to criminals. The ICSR dub this the ‘redemption narrative’ in which criminals find a sense of redemption for their previous crimes whilst also satisfying their personal desires.

Jihadists excuse accumulating funds through petty crime and illicit means through warped scriptural justification. Theft – or any form of crime – is equated with ghanimah, which translates as ‘the spoils of war’. Jihadists use criminals as their pawns to raise funds and shields to carry out dangerous activities that those behind the scenes will stay out of.

‘Up to 40 per cent of terrorist plots in Europe are at least part-financed through ‘petty crime’. 

Those with a criminal past or those who have been involved in violence from a young age are more likely to fall victim to the narratives of recruiters. Knowing this, prisons are a particular high-risk area for radicalisation. In the ISCR Crime-Terror Nexus study, they found that 27% of the radicalised individuals examined who were incarcerated prior to their radical conversion, were radicalised inside prison, and many became more extreme after their release.

What can be done?

In reality, we cannot stop all crime from being committed so prisons are the intersection at which we should intervene. To ensure prisons do not become a radicalisation hotbed, we should make sure they are not seen as easy targets for recruiters.

Measures to take:

* Train staff properly in counter-radicalisation so they are able to spot the signs and reverse the effects.

* Avoid overcrowding and prisoner abuse.

* Implement quality education and provide Moderate religious guidance.

* Post-release follow ups, especially those flagged for radicalisation.

With measures like these we can make the recruiters job a lot harder.

In the same way that some ex-gang members reform and become involved in youth organisations to counter gang recruitment and messaging, we need similar individuals in the CVE community. Often, because these reformed gang members understand what it’s like for many of the young people involved in crime, they are listened to with greater respect compared to the local police or other institutions that commonly are distrusted by those who are at risk.

Reformed ex-extremists who are now working to counter terrorism can work in a similar way for countering radicalisation. With their understanding of many of the grievances felt by those at risk of radicalisation and a shared link through theology and culture they can provide positive role models. Instead of allowing charismatic extremist recruiters to fill the void in a disgruntled individual, we should be providing positive alternatives.

Coming to a head

The recent Orly airport attack in France highlights how we should aim to improve the information sharing and intervention methods of prisoners who have been known to be radicalised. The perpetrator of the attack, Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had been imprisoned several times on various offenses and was flagged as being radicalised whilst in jail in 2011-2012. The attack has now brought to the forefront ideas surrounding ‘Crime-Terror Nexus’ and questions are arising of how he slipped through the net?

What can families do?

Gangs, as well as Jihadist recruiters take advantage of young people who may not have strong family connections and who feel like they don’t belong. Their need to belong to a group can be provided by families in a positive manner.

Families, are the closest individuals to a young persons life, and so have their finger on the pulse of that persons activity and behavior. As we have discussed earlier, recruiters in very similar ways to gangs try to exploit vulnerabilities in

people. They try to appeal by offering a sense of power, respect, a community or family that understands them and adventure.

Families can provide all of these things, but in a far more positive and truly rewarding manner. They should make an effort to show their children that they are accepted for who they are, and create a sense of belonging in the family structure. This could be achieved by creating opportunities for discussion, listening about their interests and supporting their positive endeavors where they can.

As well as this, families can sometimes expect too much and set unrealistic high standards for their children. This can lead to children feeling like failures constantly, by not achieving goals and reaching the expectations set by their family. Of course, we should all push those we care about to achieve greater things, but not at the expense of their self-confidence or stability. It’s good to recognise the smaller achievements as well as larger ones.

By offering more positive activities to get involved in such as: sport, music, dance, photography and lots of other creative outlets, families can provide children with a sense of achievement, build their confidence and a sense of belonging.

We should stress that being part of a gang or involved in crime may of course not necessarily lead to radicalisation. Though families should be aware of how recruiters exploit vulnerabilities of people who are involved in crime. All young people experience some kind of grievances growing up. Being young, especially in today’s world, can be a very confusing place and so it’s normal that many young people are unsure where to look for guidance.

By implementing the type of training FATE provides however, families can be given the knowledge and support needed to ensure these very common feelings growing up are understood and turned into a positive outcome.

Check out FATE Online Workshop ‘Introduction’ here.

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