The Islamic State targets high school and college kids with Jihadist recruitment campaigns using social media and propaganda. Why do they seem to be succeeding among young people in the West and will things get worse?
Sweden’s security service announced last week that up to 150 people have left the country to join the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) terrorist group in the Middle East, AP reports. The service further announced that 23 of them were killed fighting as members of such terror groups.
Similar alarming reports are coming in from the U.S., Canada, Australia and many European countries. Germany has announced a ban on activities supporting IS, and Britain is prosecuting at least 50 British citizens who have returned from Syria.
A CIA report indicates that about 2,000 Westerners are estimated to have joined fighting in Iraq and Syria, with at least 500 from the UK, and more than 700 from France.
The atrocities committed by IS have produced horrifying headlines, propelling the terror group to an infamous place as a key threat to Western civilization. Furthermore, a fear that terrorists who have gained experience while fighting with IS will return to their countries of origin to establish grassroots terror networks concerns many security agencies around the world. Mehdi Nemmouche, a French citizen who had fought with IS and shot four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014, provides a stark warning of the potential terrorist threat to the West by people “just like us”.
The Economist writes that the war in Syria has become bloodier and more sectarian, and those drawn to fight there are increasingly radical. “Since IS declared a caliphate on June 29, recruitment has surged,” the article says. “Syria has drawn in fighters faster than in any past conflict, including the Afghan war in the 1980’s or Iraq after the Americans invaded in 2003.”
What Draws Young Westerners to Become ISIS Terrorists?
The wave of young Western people flocking to fight with this notorious organization begs the question – why are they leaving behind comfortable lives of privilege to join one of the most violent terror organizations in history?
Christopher Dickey, a foreign editor of The Daily Beast, recently said on CNN that many recruits are young men in their teens and 20s. What draws them into the fight is a combination what he calls “TNT,” which stands for Testosterone, Narrative and Theater.
They are “almost all young guys,…they passionately identify themselves with some oppressed people,” and “they want to project themselves on the world stage,” he explains.
Their drive is a deadly combination of youthful fantasies and aspirations to “be someone.”
The Christian Science Monitor elaborates on the reasons why young Westerners would become attracted to an Islamic terror group:
1. Appeal to sense of identity and place – According to news and FBI reports, IS typically preys on Western youth who are disillusioned and have no sense of purpose or belonging. Much like criminal gangs, IS offers disaffected teens a chance to join a group that gives them purpose and meaning.
IS offers structure and a defined place in the Caliphite society they have created. Such a surrounding can be appealing for someone who feels he is adrift in the world.
2. Appeal to a sense of religious obligation – IS appeals to a sense of religious duty and a youthful desire to express religious sentiments that make people feel connected to each other.
Many of these young people are new converts to Islam. Fighting a Jihad with IS serves as a proving ground for their new beliefs and, if they survive, a confirmation of the new “higher power” at their extremist fingertips.
Furthermore, IS’s publicized successes and their declared aspirations to dominate the world and impose Sharia law appeals to these young religious zealots.
YouTube Utopia: Glamorizing the Terrorist Lifestyle
IS has developed a sophisticated propaganda machine which they operate through social media. By depicting a perfect world which can be obtained through Jihad, IS lures these youngsters who are in search of a place they can call their own.
One good example of this is the “Ginger Jihadist,” a boy from Australia who is now the star of IS’s YouTube propaganda clips (see below). Clad in bullet belts, toting an AK-47 and hanging out with his Muslim “brothers,” the Ginger Jihadist portrays an image of cool defiance in the face of overwhelming odds, openly challenging the West to send their armies against IS.
Teenaged rebellion of some sort, a common and natural phenomenon most young people experience in their search to find out who they are and where they fit in the world, takes on a whole new level of risk when confronted with glamorized depictions of terror groups. With studies that show one in three American teenagers experience bullying at school, the appeal to break through isolation and find acceptance becomes all the more real, even if it means adopting extremist ideologies. Kids who feel lonely and unimportant are prime targets for terrorist propaganda, and IS welcomes them to join the cause, promising them unity, strength and more meaning in their lives.
The number of recruits is still comparatively low, and yet it appears that these ripples may become a tidal wave. What can the West do to stop this worrisome phenomenon?
By: Aryeh Savir
Staff Writer at United with Israel
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