Scott Atran, Hoshang Waziri, Ángel Gomez, Hammad Sheikh, Lucia Lopez-Rodriguez, Charles Rogan, and Richard Davis at the Combating Terrorism Center:
From July to October 2017, the authors conducted in-depth, one-on-one interviews, including evaluation on a series of psychological measures, with young Sunni men just coming out from under Islamic State rule in Mosul, Iraq, and the surrounding region. To a significant degree men like this are likely to shape and be affected by the post Islamic State political and security landscape in the region. The goal was to better understand how people who had lived under the Islamic State perceived: 1) the Islamic State’s rule; 2) the Islamic State’s political and insurrectional prospects following military defeat by the Iraqi Army and allied militia with aid from an international coalition dominated by the United States and Iran; 3) their own political future; and 4) their willingness to make costly sacrifices for their primary reference groups and for political and religious ideals.
The multidisciplinary and multinational team of researchers has been working on the frontlines of the fight against the Islamic State since the beginning of 2015.a In their research with frontline combatants in Iraq (peshmerga, Iraqi Army, Sunni Arab militia, Kurdistan’s Workers’ Party (PKK), and captured Islamic State fighters), the authors employed an initial set of psychological measures to gauge willingness to make costly sacrifices.1 In these frontline studies, whose results the authors’ replicated in more than a dozen online studies among thousands of Western Europeans outside the conflict zone, the authors investigated two key components of a theoretical framework they termed “The Devoted Actor” to better understand people’s willingness to make costly sacrifices.2
The Devoted Actor framework integrates research on “sacred values” that are immune to material tradeoffs—whether religious or secular, as when land or law become holy or hallowed—and “identity fusion,” which gives individuals a visceral feeling of oneness and invulnerability to a primary reference group to which they belong.