US intelligence says more than 100 Americans have gone to Syria to join ISIS or have tried thus far – they are young and not just male.
Three girls from Minnesota left the US recently to join ISIS. One teenage US female who converted from Christianity to Islam, was arrested trying to fly to Syria to fight. Hundreds of teenage girls, many still underage are leaving their homes in Europe to join ISIS. In Austria, two teenage girls 15 and 17 fled to join ISIS in Syria and 12 others are believed to have done the same thing.
Update: The FBI said that it’s investigating the possibility that three girls from the Denver area tried to travel to Syria to join Islamic State extremists.
The real answer to the uncovering the success of ISIS in recruiting American and other Western youth is to approach it with a multi-layered analysis.
Age: Young – teens to mid 20s
Education: high school graduates and college students (in Europe, the females are college graduates)
Recruitment: self-recruited online via social media and web (not via former radical Imams at Mosques)
Ethnicity: South Asian, East Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern and African-American descent
Identity – Unable to identify with American culture – identify more with Middle East and Islam
Emotions – Anger & frustration: Angry at society and the perceived immorality and filth; frustrated by feeling of displacement, feelings of being second-class citizens.
Emotions – Helplessness and betrayal – believe that the West is killing their people – killing the Muslims; Grievance of mistrust of government and US authorities for spying on Muslims; desire to achieve something
Emotional needs – lack sense of purpose and belonging, lack of self-perceived significance; youth seem disengaged from community – outsiders, loners.
Future goals: Western girls are being enticed with marriage proposals
The appeal to emotional needs is probably the most critical factor in the success of the recruiting of youth by ISIS. Its emotionally arousing videos appeal by offering sense of purpose and significance ‘to combat and destroy the enemy’, to right a wrong, and to build a nation.
ISIS’ propaganda videos display solidarity, strength, power; the videos seem to offer something more than just a religion – they offer a supernatural intention and objective – to serve God via sacrifice; the videos promote extreme honor in death, unparalleled brotherhood and unity and even try to offer the remedy to individual depression by fighting for a cause, living with honor and becoming a hero.
The greatest danger is the potency of the ISIS propaganda videos which can appeal to youth who don’t necessarily have an interest in religion but are isolated, angry, lonely and have a sense of revenge against society and the establishment – the government. These are the ones who could easily become terrorists in the US rather than seeking to travel to Syria to fight.
Finally, it seems that ISIS has found the Achilles heel of some Western youth – the general malaise – a sense of being lost, disillusioned, disconnected, without any purpose or meaning to life, seeking a cause and a leader.
Patrick Wanis PhD
Human Behavior Expert