(CNSNews.com) – Religion does not necessarily play a role in radicalization of Muslims, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday night, citing political repression and denial of rights as relevant factors, along with the lure of “regular meals [and] companionship.”
In a speech at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, Kerry acknowledged that “you don’t have to be poor or repressed or receive special training” to become a recruit of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh).
“You don’t even have to be religious,” he added, citing as an example a reported case of two young British men who went to join ISIS in Syria in 2014, but took with them the books Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies.
“Daesh recruiting videos include a religious narrative but also point to an idyllic picture of Daesh families having picnics and going to amusement parks,” he continued.
Kerry said while “we still don’t have a fully satisfactory answer” as to why some people fall under terrorism’s spell, “we’ve got some pretty good clues.”
“For example: Multiple studies show a correlation between political repression and the rise of violent extremist organizations,” he said. “People are more likely to become radicalized when they have directly experienced corruption or violence at hands of the state.”
“Denial of fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom, deprives people of voice and dignity,” Kerry said. “And it tends to force legitimate religious and political activities underground, and it fills many with an anger that makes them far more susceptible to terrorist recruiters.”
Recounting having heard that terror groups are actively recruiting children with a long-term strategy in mind, Kerry said, “the lure of extremism can be hard to resist my friends if you are a child with nothing in your stomach and somebody offers you regular meals, companionship, and an upside-down world view in which you have a place on center-stage.”
Noting the youth bulge in many developing countries including the Middle East and North Africa, Kerry called for the creation of “hundreds of millions of new jobs each year.”
The arguments about factors driving terror recruitment are not new ones for Kerry.
In 2014, he said that ISIS terror was not linked to Islam, and instead cited poverty, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and climate change.
That same year, Kerry spoke – in the context of countering terrorism – about the need to provide “better alternatives for a whole bunch of young people who today live in places where they feel oppressed, where they don’t have a lot of opportunity, there’s not enough education, they don’t have jobs.”
President Obama has also spoken of the need to address “the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism – from North Africa to South Asia,” including poverty, repression and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Some studies have challenged the notion of links between terrorism and poverty.
Hours before Kerry spoke in Houston, a once-radicalized Muslim told an event in Brussels that radicalization was the result of an ideology and theology that must be uprooted – not poverty or Muslims’ foreign policy grievances.
‘Part of the social fabric’
Kerry also used the speech – whose theme was the relationship between religion and U.S. foreign policy – to speak out against Donald Trump’s rhetoric regarding Muslims – although without naming the Republican presidential frontrunner.
“There are troubling indications here in the United States, where some have urged a ban on Muslim visitors and where false stories about large numbers of Muslim-Americans supposedly celebrating the 9/11 attacks have been willfully disseminated by people who don’t bother to check their facts,” he said.
Kerry said Muslims have lived in the U.S. since its founding, had fought in all of its wars, and made their homes across the nation.
“They are part of the social fabric that defines and binds our country together.”
“Efforts to smear them collectively for the actions of a few are despicable – and no more logical than it would have been in the 1990s to hold all Christians accountable for the atrocities committed against Muslim populations in Bosnia and Kosovo.”
Trump called last December for Muslims to be temporarily banned from entering the U.S., following the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. by a couple inspired by ISIS.