The destructive ideology
It is satisfying, but ultimately misleading, to believe that perpetrators possess certain inborn pathological traits. Rather, their motivations are not so different from our own: The desire for community, respect, and security, and the fear of standing apart from the crowd. So how, then, do people become perpetrators?
Specifically, in light of the current crisis in the Middle East, how did the phenomenon of Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters come to be?
The IS emerged out of the instability and conflict in Syria and Iraq. So why do some westerners travel thousands of miles to fight in a conflict to which they have seemingly little connection?
IS is currently comprised of around 35,000 fighters, of which approximately a third are foreign fighters. These foreign fighters can be very roughly divided into the fanatical and the naïve. This is evinced by the many IS defectors, as well as by the naiveté of the questions posed by would-be foreign fighters on the online networking site ask.fm, such as whether their cellphones need to be switched off during battle.
Most IS fighters are men under the age of 40, but IS is attracting far more women than other militant movements (10-15 percent of IS foreign recruits are women). These women are part of a kind of “matrimonial jihad” — often being married off to IS fighters.
IS is more sophisticated in its foreign recruitment strategies than any other militant group.
In order to gather recruits, IS makes extensive use of social media, often directing its messages at a western audience through the use of pop-culture-savvy colloquial English.
The reasons for joining IS are diverse. Many IS recruits are actually not very religious, or at least not religious in the traditional sense. Rather, they have rejected their parents’ Islam — which they see as “too soft” and “tainted by western culture” — in favor of a self-taught form of radical, violent, romantic militancy.
There are many recruits who join for irreligious reasons. Some recruits are merely bored and seeking adventure, while others are motivated by a religious nationalism, rooted less in faith and more in the urge to protect their kin in Syria and Iraq from “foreign aggression.”
There are also those who are driven by narcissism. They have suffered narcissistic wounds — experienced as discrimination, marginalization, or the sense that they are not being respected in the way that they deserve. To such people, IS represents an opportunity for increased status.
Terrorist groups sometimes say that civilians are not primary targets (or at least not ideal targets), but that the harm they experience through acts of terrorism is an unavoidable by-product of war. They also sometimes argue that the targeting of civilians is a justifiable response to the killing of civilians by western states. Indeed, terrorist groups contend that asymmetrical warfare is the only means they have to counter the overwhelming force of powers like the United States.
Both terrorism and genocide involve acts of cruelty against innocent victims. The primary difference between these types of violence is the role of state power. In genocide, the state itself encourages the commission of crimes. Thus, perpetrators of genocide are placed under significant social pressures to join in the campaign of violence. In contrast, terrorist groups like IS are formed of individuals who choose to join.
Both terrorist groups such as IS and genocidal organizations like the Interahamwe (in Rwanda) embrace ideologies that endorse the use of violence as a means of achieving “purity” within the community.
Although most IS foreign fighters, like most other individuals who participate in mass violence, are arguably “normal” people, the ideology that they practice is genocidal in its implications. This destructive ideology necessitates a response of humanity as a collective.
In partnership with The Mark News.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view