How much do young people really know about ISIS?

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In recent months horrifying events have happened with images of Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (IS/ISIL) militants on the forefront of news bulletins in media across the world.

The news of Kassig’s death, the fifth killing of a Western captive by the group, has brought the issue of young Britons travelling to the Middle East to join IS to the forefront of media attention.

But what do we really know about Britons fighting for IS and how much are young people aware of the situation in Syria?

“I don’t know anything about IS organisation. Sorry!” said Shushan, studying ICT programme at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

So much for being the best and brightest, this was definitely one of the least expected answers from a student to the question, “What do you know about the Islamic State?”.

However, the study I carried out showed a handful of students interviewed around universities that were much more aware of the issue surrounding the IS, and so expressed their views.

Elizabeth Brahai, studying MA in Human Rights Law in SOAS, said: “One thing that bothers me is that IS is a fairly one side representation of the conflict. I have never, in the mainstream media, ever heard of an interview of somebody who associate themselves with the IS. Even if I don’t agree with any of their doctrines and methods, I’d like to hear an equal account and a real investigative journalism piece on the issue.”

Bianca Pascal, student at the University of Arts London, expressed her awareness of IS: “The most I learned about IS was from a Vice documentary online, and I was shocked at the intensity that IS indoctrinate children and impose their strict intolerant views on the people and the territory they concurrently occupy.” She added: “Sometimes I think it might be what life would be like if the Enlightenment never happened over here.”

Amarrah Maqsood, a research associate for the ERC-funded project, ‘Tolerance in Contemporary Muslim Contexts’ at the Department of Political Economy, King’s College London said: “IS is a largely Sunni organisation that has gained vast pieces of territory in Iraq and Syria and has lately been a target of bombing by the US based on its activities in the region.”

“There’s a lot of paranoia surrounding the existence of IS. The British press show the biggest problem that Britain faces are fighters going to Syria to join the IS, but actually the number of [those] is pretty minimal. There’s definitely an overstating of the dangers that exist around IS, particularly in relation to what it could do to Britain or the US rather than focusing on what needs doing in the Middle-east,” says Amarrah Maqsood.

Lucie Treacher, studying BA Music at SOAS said: “I’m not clued up enough on IS. I think it’s incredibly complex and the West shouldn’t be getting involved. There’s so many different opinions that the media are throwing at us.”

The last few months have been a very transformational time for the Muslims around the world. One student expressed a more critical view of IS terrorists behind several beheadings of U.S. and British citizens. “They’re brutal in the way they operate, I don’t like them,” says Osama, studying Politics at SOAS.

IS was born out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was formed due to western intervention there. The aim of IS is to start a new state through force.

It is equally true, however, that western neutrality in Syria has allowed IS to thrive and become the dominant force across the country, presenting it with the perfect outlet to shed more blood and destruction in Iraq.

Iraq, which was promised to become a model of democracy and inclusivity, has once again ended up in the gutter as a damaged state, severally debilitated by ethnic and sectarian division.


Fatured image by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann via Flickr

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