Bridging the Gap: The Case for Talking to Foreign Fighters

Stream: Panel 48 - International Relations: Security and Violence by Non-state Actors 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 4.00 pm – 5.30 pm


There is an often cited gap between International Relations research and practical policy-making. In the case of foreign fighters, it is argued that this is exacerbated further through a ‘hands-off’ approach to research and a misrepresentation within radicalisation literature that conflates ‘causes’ or ‘risk factors’ with motivations, ultimately misguiding policy-making. Much of this existing literature relies on studies of terrorist organisations, whereby foreign fighters are problematically grouped within this terrorist category. As a distinct category, foreign fighters are not only overlooked, but are misrepresented through this vast radicalisation literature that focuses on secondary profiling to theorise behaviour. This literature is not only outdated, but also lacks engagement with the very individuals it seeks to understand. This paper argues that talking to foreign fighters and developing an understanding of their distinct narrative is both helpful in comprehending the contemporary pheonomena, but also in encouraging stakeholders to move beyond stale radicalisation theories that often simplify and misconstrue the complexity of individual motivations within the foreign fighter category. The current response to foreign fighters mirrors that of pre-existing radicalisation and counter-terrorism discourses, emphasising a hardline approach in the focus on preventative and repressive measures. If policy-makers wish to stunt the growth of the foreign fighter trend and to undermine such motivations, primary research engaging in fieldwork and interviews are critical in guiding future policies.


Lizzy Ambler (Presenter), Griffith University
Lizzy Ambler is a PhD candidate and tutor within the Department of Government and International Relations at Griffith University. Lizzy's research explores how contemporary Islamic foreign fighters are radicalised, with a particular focus on the context of Syria and Iraq since 2011. Lizzy obtained her MA in International Relations specialising in International Security from the University of York, and her BA (Hons) from the University of Leicester.