Radical Islam is hardly the first movement to take advantage of bored young people. Think of all the dreamers who flocked to both sides of the Spanish Civil War, or the utopians who volunteered to fight against great odds to create Israel. Then there was the first generation of holy Muslim warriors and foreign fighters who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Today the big historical draw for many bored young people is the promise of the caliphate. Shiraz Maher, a former member of the global radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir and now a researcher at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in London, told me he joined jihad after 9/11 because he wanted to be part of history. Maher comes from a middle class family in the U.K. and was not drawn to political Islam out of despair. Following race riots in northern England, he decided at age 20 to join a group that looked like it would be on the winning side. “My feeling was that there was a sense we were going to create a new history,” he told me. “We are going to be part of something new.”
Looking back on his time inside the organization, he thinks the group is relatively tame compared to the Islamic State. “They are actually achieving a caliphate that we were only philosophizing about,” he said.