Sunday, November 23, 2014

Importance of Belonging to Something Special

Stories about 13 or 14-year-old girls from France, Britain, or Austria flying to Syria to marry jihadists and live "Disney-like" life are mind-disturbing, though have become a common narrative when it comes to the discussion on the Islamic State (IS) and its destructive activities in the 'Middle East+'. 
Today, the numbers of recruited by IS young representatives of the West and Asia have reached 4,000 (IS united about 40,000 people), with almost equal split between the targeted regions. The United States, British, and French governments warn about over 100, 500, and 700, respectively, citizens joining the terrorist group in its jihad against the world, not necessarily non-Islamic. Only Central Asian (five countries, but mainly Tajikistan) youth represent another 1,000 young fighters in the Levant. Local leaders, both state and spiritual, warn about the arithmetic progression the recruits are falling into while accepting the sister- and brotherhood that the IS offers.
Analysis of the reasons for following extremism portrait a paradox: on the one hand, unemployed or 'bored' with school life youngsters seek a venue for 'enriching' themselves and providing with better economic stand, on the other - they intend to find own niches in the complicated world of powers. Some research conducted by think tanks (i.e. Carnegie Endowment, the Middle East Institute, the Eurasianet) claim major five incentives for youth from across the world joining the terrorist group: (1) poor (domestic) education,(2) economic instability, (3) bad governance, (4) ideological polarization, and (5) no trust in the West (Asia). One could admit the rationale, if only.. if only the issues raised were somewhat exclusive and not global. It is hard to imagine that the Islamic State offers more than French Government does, for example. However, with time and long-term investigation of the matter, it becomes obvious that the IS remains being more marketable due to the ever-winning commercial of representing "something special" -- a war against injustice and a war for declaration of caliphate ruled by brothers and sisters.

Psychologists would support an argument that the teen ages are the most crucial when it comes to building individual's identity: sense of belonging to something of importance and bigger, better than standard pre-programmed path that the contemporary governments offer -- education, work, family, etc. But, at the same time, the question of how the IS is able to advertise itself as something more promising than the formal track in the West or Asia keeps triggering analysts' minds across the globe as the issue continues to rise. Social media and other psychological instruments (i.e. pressure on "making the choice of being pro- or against the democratic (unjust) principles") seem to lead the IS recruiters to success, given the emotional and ideological imbalance the youth between 13-30 often represent. "Brainwashing", in such circumstances, occurs momentarily as the video and audio sources designed by IT-savvy jihadists attract the audience and drive immature minds to take actions. Wanting to be part of the "change", even young adults are ready to take arms and embrace the feeling of belonging to the "union of global importance".

American, European, Central Asian reformists and general public blame the national governments for lacking responsibility to counter the Islamic State and prevent inhumane recruitment by 'psychologically ill' extremists. However, the opinions do not offer feasible actions that would guarantee success in the counterterrorism programs. Therefore, complaints are generally ignored and, in addition, responded back with unenthusiastic rhetoric from the governments, emphasizing the importance of joint actions which happen to turn into an even more complicated process. Improved social welfare or economic opportunities might or should bring positive outcomes in the long run; but, organizations, like the IS, are flexible enough to fill in any opening socio-economic-political vacuum with the brand that, apparently, makes many happier than democratic states could.

Since the issue is really about pleasing the psyche or offering the space for belonging to something special, maybe, the Western and Asian states should re-orient themselves into targeting those imbalanced minds via relying on marketing strategies while offering the 'standard path'. And, instead of simply stopping prospective members of the IS in Chicago or Paris or Jalal-Abad airports, raise awareness about the long-term (personal) threat joining the terrorist group causes. Obviously, the "awareness" should be raised using exactly the same tools that the Islamic State successfully exploits, if not even more attractive (for youth) venues. Understanding the youth and pinpoint targeting the youth' wants seem to be essential in winning the psychological warfare that religious extremists unveil online, sharing 'glamorous' stories from the ground. 

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