The foreign fighter mini-series in Terrorism and Political Violence contains a timely review of the state of the field from established scholars of the foreign fighter issue as well as welcome newcomers with new perspective and insight. The series is a salutary reminder about the potential problem of stove piping. “Intelligence organizations have been characterized by a proliferation of stovepipe collection, processing, and analysis organizations. Stovepipe is a term given to vertical organizations that collect, process, analyze, and disseminate one category of intelligence without integrating other types of intelligence into the final product.” Is the academic community with its disciplines and tribes, at times, equally guilty of not looking across disciplines for work that already exists? It is good to see the work of criminologists – “Shifting Modus Operandi of Jihadist Foreign Fighters From the Netherlands Between 2000 and 2013: A Crime Script Analysis” – included in the issue with interesting observations on foreign fighters and their mobilization.
Malet’s article with references to French nationals fighting in Spain was a reminder that not everything that is being discovered about the Syria and Iraq mobilization is necessarily new and unknown. Skoutelsky in “L’engagement des volontaires francais en Espagne republicaine” on French volunteers in Spain noted clustering of volunteers within France inside certain regions and cities – there was an uneven distribution of volunteers across the country. He also remarked the importance of the role of facilitation structures in channeling volunteers. All of which sounds familiar with the Strasbourg, Toulouse, Lunel and Paris clusters among others as well as the role of prior networks – Artigat – and Internet-based facilitation.
Another French researcher, Édouard Sill, in “La Croisade Des Gosses : Fugues, disparitions et enrôlements volontaires de mineurs français en Espagne durant la guerre civile ” examined the presence of minors amongst the French volunteers in Spain and found approximately 250 cases. Examining their motivations suggests some similarities with those traveling to fight or participate in the Islamic State – a desire to be useful, personal problems, prior links to militant circles of one form or another. Sill points to another issue of interest; the use of their age to be able to leave the conflict without risk where adult volunteers were not able to exit as easily.
Foreign fighting by jihadis has its own culture and specificities but prior mobilizations can provide understanding and knowledge useful to current issues.