The central cause driving Islamists, as they have repeatedly explained, is their desire to implement their version of sharia. They have used several different narratives in the course of recruiting for this purpose.
In the 1990s, Islamists like al-Qaeda used the suffering in Bosnia to draw in people who had originally been motivated by humanitarianism, before radicalising and deploying the same individuals in terrorism against the West, justified on the grounds of lack of intervention to protect Muslims. That this came shortly after the West had rescued Kuwait from occupation and annexation and was concurrent with Western intervention to alleviate famine in Somalia did not matter, because Western policy was merely a tool that could be used toward the Islamists’ aims, it was not their real motivation.
In the case of the Islamic State it is even clearer that it is motivated by its own Islamist ideology. Founded in 1999, the Islamic State is not a reaction to the 2001 operation to remove the Taliban nor the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The Islamic State itself has explicitly stated this. In the fifteenth edition of its English-language magazine Dabiq in July 2016, the Islamic State wrote:
“We hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers; you reject the oneness of Allah … and you indulge in all manner of devilish practices. … Furthermore, just as your disbelief is the primary reason we hate you, your disbelief is the primary reason we fight you, as we have been commanded to fight the disbelievers until they submit to the authority of Islam, either by becoming Muslims, or by … living in humiliation under the rule of the Muslims. … We hate you because your secular, liberal societies permit the very things that Allah has prohibited …
“[W]e’ve made it our mission to fight off your influence and protect mankind from your misguided concepts and your deviant way of life. … What’s important to understand here is that although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary … The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam [our emphasis].”
The Islamic State killer in Manchester, Salman Abedi, often found Western policy congenial. He supported the Western intervention in Libya that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi, and had been sheltered in Britain from the depredations of Gaddafi’s regime. Abedi still chose to make war on Britain, because it is not governed by Islamist precepts.
The Henry Jackson Society’s Executive Director, Dr Alan Mendoza, said:
“ISIS is quite clear in its public pronouncements that it would attack us regardless of our foreign policy. It has used both examples of Western intervention and Western non-intervention for radicalisation purposes. Given ISIS is so open that the basis of its terrorism is a hatred of our society and belief system, why do we have such trouble believing its own words?
“This is about their belief in Radical Islam, not about us.”