In an unsurprising discovery a recent study of Internet postings about ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) found that 7.6 percent of messages from people in from Syria supported ISIL. Support for ISIL was much higher among Internet users farther away. Thus in Qatar 47.6 percent, Pakistan 35.1 percent, Belgium 31.0 percent posts were pro-ISIL, while in Britain it was 23.8 percent, in the United States it was 21.4 percent, in France it was 20.8 percent, Germany 15.7 percent, Canada 15.3 percent and Israel (where about twenty percent of the Internet users are Moslem) 13.4 percent. It’s long been known that violent revolutionaries are less popular the closer you are to their activities. Thus the IRA (Irish Republican Army) had more supporters in the United States and other countries where millions of Irish had immigrated over the last two centuries than in Ireland itself. Communism was much less popular in countries run by communist governments than in the West, where many idealistic people idolized the published goals of communism and ignored the ugly reality.
Pro-ISIL posts rarely mentioned the violence and oppression this group indulges in. Instead 37.5 percent of posts praised how ISIL was defending Islam while 26.2 percent admired how ISIL spread Islam (ignoring the reality that this was often in the form of demanding non-Moslems convert or be executed, often by beheading). Many (17.4 percent) of posts even praised ISIL efforts to build a better (Islamic) government. Among the anti-ISIL posts 32.8 percent criticized ISIL for mixing Islam with politics and 28.9 percent criticized the violence. Only 17 percent of the anti-ISIL posts criticized ISIL attacks on personal and religious freedom. Only 8.3 percent of the pro-ISIL posts praised ISIL’s outspoken war on the west and even fewer (4.7 percent) favored the ISIL use of terrorism.
Considering all the above it is no surprise that so many ISIL supporters who agree to go to Syria or Iraq to join the group become disenchanted. Despite many of these disillusioned ISIL recruits returning home with sad tales of how ISIL reality differed with idealized perceptions (from afar) of ISIL, many of those far away continue to think the best of ISIL. Changing those attitudes requires some fundamental cultural changes within the Islamic community. These changes have to come from the inside and so far that is not happening.