Assistant Professor of Sociology Jesse Wozniak has lived off and on in Iraq, studying the reconstruction of the Iraqi police force. Some of his more recent research has include the ideology of how the Islamic State recruits its members.
Managing Editor Jennifer Gardner spoke to Wozniak about some of the interesting key points of his research.
Q. What are some topics you have more recently been interested in?
A. I’m studying the reconstruction of the Iraqi police force, so looking at how that’s being implemented and sort of what’s being emphasized, what’s being left out, what the effects of that are and then my other line of research is looking at the Islamic State, the organization that is causing a lot of trouble in Iraq, challenging the state. They actually put out a semi-monthly magazine called “Dabiq,” where they try to recruit people from America to come join the Islamic State. My other line of research is analyzing this public outreach magazine they have and try to look at how a terror organization is trying to “sell itself,” for lack of a better word.
Q. How is it that the Islamic State has risen to such power?
A. I’m more interested in this sort of ideology of how they’re doing it and the way it ties in with the studying of the police is that essentially the modern state has two requirements. It needs legitimacy in the eyes of people, so that people see that it has the right to enact laws, it has the right to do what it does, and then also importantly needs to deliver things; it needs to keep the roads paved, electricity flowing, it needs to provide some kind of crime control, you need to be able to walk down the street and not worry about that sort of thing.
Q. How has the Islamic State been effective in Iraq?
A. Actually the sort of larger argument of my work is that one of the reasons the Islamic State is so effective or has been so effective is that the current (leaders) in the Iraqi state doesn’t really have either the legitimacy or effectiveness, that is, many Iraqis don’t see themselves as Iraqis, they’re more likely to identify with family or a religion or a clan, something along those lines and that the Iraqi state is incredibly ineffective.
Q. How is it that the Islamic State is able to attract people who do not feel as though they identify as Iraqi?
A. One of the ways that the Islamic State has been effective is partially their brutality—they’re very violent, but it’s also because they do a lot of providing what (Iraq) is supposed to, but doesn’t. For people within the area they control, they give them living stipends, they provide generators and clean drinking water, and they also provide a form of crime control that the state doesn’t. In many ways, the rise of the Islamic State is very similar to the rise of gangs in modern urban America, in that when the legitimate government pulls out of an area or isn’t able to provide the things it is supposed to, then somebody else will arise to provide those things, and they usually have an ulterior motive. So the Islamic State has been able to build power by coming in and doing those things the government is theoretically supposed to do.
Q. How is the Islamic State able to attract foreigners then, whose governments do provide the fundamentals, like electricity?
A. A lot of times they very much try to play up the divide, like racial divide in America. In one of their most recent issues, they actually had an article that was like “Islamic brotherhood against American racism” and it has all of these pictures of Muslims throughout the world of different races, smiling and holding hands and getting along compared to in America where they talk about Islamophobia and things like the travel ban. President Trump’s recent travel ban is a huge boon for the Islamic State, they are big fans of the travel ban and have been promoting it a lot. A huge part of their message is they want to eliminate what they call the “gray zone”, which is essentially multiculturalism, so they are trying to paint a world that the west and Islam can never get along—they’re fundamentally opposed and the west will “never accept you” and that’s why you need to “come home” to the Islamic State. And so ironically, they’re actually really big fans of President Trump because they see him as doing sort of the same thing, kind of stoking the anti-Islamic fears. That’s really good for their recruitment because their message to westerners, especially Americans is that Muslims will never be accepted in American society, so “leave it behind and come home” kind of thing.