The transformation of jihadism in the Netherlands Swarm dynamics and new strength.
Hard to count, hard to profile The true size of the jihadist movement in the Netherlands is difficult to assess. Not everyone openly propounds their ideology, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between jihadists and non-violent Salafists and internet personalities may be misleading. One individual can assume multiple jihadist identities online, and some of those who espouse jihad on the internet shy away from it in real life. However, the AIVD estimates that there are several hundred core adherents in the Netherlands and a few thousand sympathisers. Moreover, the movement’s appeal to some is so strong that they evolve remarkably quickly from followers at home to hard-core fighters on the front line in Syria, where they are prepared to take part in atrocities such as summary executions, mass murder and the beheading of opponents.
It is impossible to present a standard profile of the “typical” Dutch jihadist, or of the “typical” Dutch fighter abroad. The movement’s members vary widely in age, ethnic origin, educational attainment, employment background and home situation. Although the majority are men, many are women. A large proportion are in their twenties or thirties, but plenty more are older or younger. Some are minors. Relatively speaking, Dutch Moroccans are overrepresented (the majority of those identified by the AIVD as Dutch fighters abroad are of Moroccan origin). But ethnic Dutch converts to Islam are also found in the ranks of the movement, as are people of Somali, Antillean, Afghan, Turkish and Kurdish origin. Some lack even a basic educational qualification; others are university students or graduates. Many are out of work and living on benefits, but others hold down a variety of jobs. Some come from radical families that share their jihadist ideology, others from secular or moderate homes.
The widely-held view that they tend to deradicalise once they marry and have children does not always hold true. Several of the fighters now in Syria are husbands and fathers, and some have even been joined there by their wives and children. That is in defiance of mainstream religious leaders, who stress that jihadist fighters are in breach of Islamic teachings in respect of family obligations – for example, a child’s duty to obey their parents and a parent’s responsibility for their children.