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Combating ISIS Influence in the West Through Entrepreneurship

ISIS Fighters

No country is safe from the Islamic radicalization process. On November 13, 2015, three coordinated teams of gunman and suicide bombers attacked the busy streets of Paris, France. 130 innocent people were left dead, hundreds others were injured, and the Western world was left shaken. Although not the first incident, it was the largest scale ISIS attack on the West since the formation of the caliphate in 2014. Other ISIS linked terrorist attacks have followed, striking the countries of Germany, France, Belgium, and the United States. What is most startling is that these attacks were not conducted solely by Middle Eastern men and women jihadists, but by those born and raised in the West.

ISIS is able to manipulate the minds of individuals through targeted campaigns appealing to the weakness and desires of the most susceptible. The United States, as well as other international governments, have enacted programs that are designed to try and limit the influence of ISIS propaganda on those in Islamic countries. Little attention, on the other hand, is given to enacting policy to combat the radical message of ISIS in other Western states. However, based on the Suffran Groups statistics, Western countries have the largest proportion of Muslims joining ISIS compared to that of the rest of the world. While Western countries are combating the threat through their own domestic programs, there is still a need for international assistance. The threat of ISIS is of international concern, thus no country should have to combat the message alone.

ISIS and their recruiting techniques in the West

The Islamic State, or ISIS, is a Sunni Muslim jihadist group, whose main goal is to establish a sovereign, utopian society rival to the Islamic empire that stretched across the Middle East during the days of Mohammed. The establishment of said state is vital in the preparation for the Day of Judgement, or the end of the world, brought about through a great war with the West. Their membership is made up of foreign fighters and cells of supporters living remotely who have pledged themselves to the new caliphate. Without a constant flow of devout followers, the organization is unable to sustain itself. Gathering devotees from the Western countries only solidify the ISIS’s claim to legitimacy.

ISIS Flag.png

There is no one motivation or a way to measure all the reasons for joining ISIS. There are, however, common similarities that can be assumed to have an effect. Despite popular belief, data gives evidence that the majority of foreign fighters do not join ISIS necessarily because of poor economic conditions, but rather from the feeling of alienation within a community. As a result, many of these fighters come from Western countries, since Muslims make up the minority of the population and often discriminated against. The growing fear of radical Islamic terrorism in the recent decades leads to increased anxiety from the non-Muslim population, only increasing the divide between the two cultures. ISIS is able to exploit this weakness in Western society through all platforms of media; including newspaper and magazine prints, social media, blogs, texting apps, and videos. The desire to belong to something trumps reason. While counter messaging and censorship of ISIS material is important, focusing on helping the targeted audience has greater long term outcomes.

Entrepreneurs programs against ISIS

In order to combat the Islamic State’s influence over the West, focus needs to be on closing the societal gap that leaves a population alienated. One of the best ways in doing so is through entrepreneurship promotion. Success in entrepreneurship is not based on culture, but on the ability to exploit the needs of a general population. As a result, an emphasis is on finding similarities across cultural and socioeconomic standings. The United States Government has done lots of work in promoting entrepreneurship on both the global and local level.

The largest scale entrepreneurial event that the United States plays a major role in producing is the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). This annual event began in 2009 during the Obama administration with the goal of supporting individual economic opportunity around the world. Here participants can showcase their creations and ideas, gain investors, learn from experts in the field, and develop relationships with fellow self-starters. While this program is important in connecting the general global community together economically and socially, it falls short in connecting the divided society at the state level. The program also supports over 1000 smaller scale initiatives and programs globally to help projects get funding, but the large majority of these programs are for, and located in, developing countries. Western countries are often excluded because there are seen as comparatively economically established. As a result, Western citizens are missing the cultural and societal implications participating in entrepreneurship programs can have.

The U.S. Embassy in France is one of the few United States State Department run programs designed for developing entrepreneurs in the Western world. With the support of French business INCO,   the program “Yes Oui Can,” was created. It provides the opportunity for young adults that have been marginalized in France for their lack of education to learn the tools in becoming successful entrepreneurs through a fun, social camp. The free two week long camp takes on twenty participants, aged 18-25, that have a business idea but lack the formal education and societal opportunities needed to get heard. Through an equal mixture of workshops and sports led by leading French and American experts, participants push themselves to their limits. When the camp is over, they enter back into French society with the means of combatting the cultural and societal division with confidence in themselves and a well-established goal.

Although these programs are considered successful, they are far from perfect. The greatest problem is that there are a limited number of people who can participate compared to the population that hopes to attend. Therefore, there is an overall limited influence had on a larger scale. Just knowing that these programs and events exist is not enough. The Islamic State is able to reach anyone that has access to the internet, which is well over the majority of the western population. Therefore, that is where the focus should be.

There is great material out on the internet teaching entrepreneurship, but because it isn’t heavily publicized, it is often overlooked.  Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are courses taught online by prominent universities aimed at unlimited participation and open access information. These courses range in length, price, and amount of time per week. For the novice entrepreneur, there are beginner classes taught by United States schools such as  MIT and UPenn, but also international universities like IIMB. There are also more advanced classes that help with the launch of a product or learning more about impact investing.  Although these classes can be useful, the majority are taught solely in English. As a result, the Muslim population either in Europe or the Middle East that only speak Arabic, or any language besides English, are at a disadvantage. In order for these entrepreneurship programs to be most effective, the State Department should work with these online course providers and adopt them to global Muslim population.


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