Radical jihadist movements like ISIS, al Qaeda and Boko Haram attract young people with mental problems–men and women who are subject to addictions and delusions, drawn to hatred, with access to guns, bombs and other weapons, according to author Mark Bourrie, "The Killing Game: Martyrdom, Murder and the Lure of ISIS" (2016, HarperCollins).
Canada's Bourrie helps us get not only an international perspective but also the historical and scientific context of homegrown terrorism while dissecting the family dynamics of turncoat terrorists.
The international perspective is timely in the wake of recent rampages in Nice, Orlando, Brussels, Baghdad, Bangladesh, Somalia, Turkey and Afghanistan by ISIS-inspired killers.
Today at least 80 people are dead in Kabul after a jihadist suicide bomb attack, and ISIS claimed responsibility.
Recruitment of terrorists has deep roots in history.
Great Britain helped the Confederacy recruit Canadians to fight in the U.S. Civil War. During the Spanish-American War young men from Canada fought in the Spanish Republican Army because they looked "to fascism for solutions to their personal problems and economic messes..."
|Haj Amin al-Husseini and Adolf Hitler on 28 November 1941|
Today, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) and related extremists use sophisticated ways to reach, teach and recruit young people worldwide. They employ new media, promote video games and develop apps, pushing their message of hate and violence on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms. When it comes to ISIS, or ISIL, "No other organization ... set out to find brutal ways to kill and novel ways to publicize atrocities."
"So much of ISIS's war-porn propaganda is directed at ... bored young people who aren't engaged by the consumer ethos of their own society and who feel that adventure is passing them by. They want to step into the video games that have become so important to them and be the heroes that they play on the small screen. As Abu Sumayyah al-Britani, a British fighter with ISIS, posted on Twitter, war is the ultimate in virtual reality."According to Bourrie, young people grow up playing violent games so routinely that they are "desensitized to the sight of killing."
This affects–and effects–parts of the brain.
Bourrie notes that researchers in China studying the impact of Internet addiction have found that excessive online gaming leads to depression, irritability and impulsiveness and can affect the structure of the brain.
"Anyone who can tap into the minds of young people and connect with their desires and insecurities can exploit them," Bourrie writes. "ISIS's brand of religion, with its simple answers to complex and disturbing modern questions, appeals to people in shattered societies."
|Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi|
Bourrie reminds us that millions of Americans struggled to give meaning to the attacks of September 11, 2001, "just as they struggled to turn Pearl Harbor into a crusade against fascism and militarism" in 1941.
How can Western nations prevent ISIS recruitment of mentally unstable, deluded or sociopathic young people in their societies?
Can young would-be terrorists be deprogrammed and reeducated? One of the most important keys lies in the Muslim community, Bourrie writes:
"Radical Islam is vulnerable to several counterattacks. The most potent comes from persuasive, learned Muslims who can argue back against ISIS's simplistic and violent interpretation of Islam. This is already happening, but more Muslims need to get involved, and they need the media skills to be able to face ISIS on the Internet. Moderate Muslims also need to ensure that their mosques and social groups aren't dominated or hijacked by radicals. At the same time, authorities in Canada and other Western countries should back these people up and do more than just arrest terror suspects. They need to look at the way European states work with the families of extremists and develop a ... system that provides effective intervention and support for the relatives of people drawn to extremism. Right now, some Muslims feel intimidated by the extremists. They need protection so they can speak out."
|Canada's Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Brian Dickson|
"Hatred is predicated on destruction, and hatred against identifiable groups therefore thrives on insensitivity, bigotry and destruction of both the target group and the values of our society. Hatred in this sense is a most extreme emotion that belies reason; an emotion that, if exercised against members of an identifiable group, implies that those individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect and made subject to ill-treatment on the basis of group affiliation."Hate begets hate. People who fear and hate, for different reasons, cause death and destruction every day. Only a small percentage of violent deaths in the United States are caused by violent Islamist extremists.
|Remembering victims in Nice, France.|
But it's sobering to consider the scale of hatred and killing in the name of Islam worldwide in recent decades, especially in the last few years. Wikipedia publishes a list, which as this gets posted hasn't been updated with the most recent attacks–including today's horrific suicide bombings in Kabul, reportedly part of ongoing Sunni-Shiite hatred.
"It's my view that we're seeing the beginning of a general war in the Islamic world. It may be fought simultaneously, or the fighting may move from one country to another. Internal forces will tear apart Saudi Arabia and continue to threaten the regime in Iran. Shiites, backed by Tehran, push against Sunnis backed by the Saudis. The regime in Egypt, the most populous country in the region, survives because the army still has the ability to suppress Islamism, but time may be running out for Egypt's generals."Meanwhile the radical jihadists and other extremists continue their spew of propaganda, trying to entice young people with promises of sex, glory, kittens and personalized iPhone covers. "One fact ISIS propaganda never mentions is that–if the fates of known Western fighters are any indication–ISIS fighters don't usually live long."
Kudos to Patrick Crean Editions and HarperCollins for the disconcerting cover with blazing blue eyes, remarkably similar to the face of a great folk singer who is the antithesis of hatred and is instead dedicated to understanding, hope and love–James Taylor ("You've Got a Friend" and "Fire and Rain")–which makes the impact of the cover that more powerful.
Here's to "understanding, hope and love" in the real world and in augmented reality now and in the future.