The Phenomenon of Youth Radicalization

In this April 3, 2018 photo, prisoners work in a handicraft workshop at a Kurdish-run prison housing former members of the Islamic State group, in Qamishli, north Syria. After defeating IS in battle, Syria’s Kurds are now eager to show they can bring justice against the group’s members. The emphasis is on leniency and reconciliation with the aim of extending bridges to the Arabs they now rule and winning international legitimacy. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

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Terrorist Groups Provide Highly Emotive & Simplistic Solutions – Giving An Illusion Of Purpose

By Adil Rasheed

Modern extremist and terrorist groups have become quite adept at preying upon psychological vulnerabilities that most young people face while growing up. Young people, particularly adoloscents, are psychologially prone to being impulsive in their behavior and in making life choices and display problems dealing with authority figures.

In the struggle to develop their own identities they often clash with existing social and political hierarchies and conventions. The proverbial ‘rebels without a cause’ purposely make unconventional fashion statements, even develop counter cultures and alternate political and religious ideologies in order to upset the socio-cultural applecart.

Intrepid, idealistic and often overconfident, young minds are generally more prone to taking extreme action without thinking through the consequences — the very qualities terrorist organizations require of their members.

Youth from conservative households

Many social scientists and activists have pointed out that young individuals coming from ultra-orthodox and conservative households generally have a hard time navigating their way in a society built on liberal values. Some claim this is particularly the case with young men raised in most Muslim households.

Alyas Karmani, the Co-Director of STREET-UK (Strategy to Reach, Empower And Educate Teenagers), posits that Muslim households around the world generally face problems in raising adolescent children.

Having inherited a culture that previously married off children early in life, these parents lack requisite skills to manage the transition of children into adulthood.

Thus, young often unemployed adult children continue to stay on within the confines of their overbearing patriarchal households.

As orthodox Muslim families try to insulate their children from the more permissive values of modern society, their children start questioning double standards their parents display while themselves interacting with the outside world. This leads to tensions between parents and children, as the latter become increasingly estranged from the family. The young even start upstaging their overbearing parents at their own game, proving to be more ardent and punctilious believers. “Bizarrely,” says Karmani: “Violent jihad is a form of personal expression (for these youth)”.

To a mind riddled with confusion and doubt, terrorist groups provide highly emotive and simplistic solutions that give the illusion of certitude and purpose to confused young minds.

“Salafi jihadists offer a  really clean, simple answer: If you want to achieve paradise, you must defend your fellow Muslims against persecution, and that means you have a personal obligation to take up violent means to do that,” the sociologist professor avers. “I’ve read this literature. It’s very persuasive. It’s easy to imagine how an angry 18-year-old could find it very convincing.”

Identity crisis and ‘death wish’

Other noted psychologists and sociologists posit that young radicals often suffer more from personality disorders and identity crisis and have very little understanding of even their own religion or the complexities of politics.

Over a century ago, French sociologist Emile Durkheim highlighted the absence of an alternate ideology to Western capitalism that he blamed led young people to develop radical ideas, even suicidal tendencies.

In his seminal work Le Suicide written in 1897, Durkheim looked into one of the most inexplicable conundrums of his times that as countries become wealthier and more industrialized, the rate of depression and suicide also increased.

Even today, many Nordic countries with highest indices of ‘happiness’ have ironically very high rates of mental illness and suicide rate, particularly in the age group between 16 to 24 years.

Durkheim found several factors that lay behind the unhappiness of people in modern societies and their reversion to religion and pre-modern ways of living.

According to him, the breakdown of social structures and families in a highly competitive environment and rise of individualism creates sense of insecurity in the population, particularly among the    young.

The failure to achieve professional success and financial prosperity weighs heavily upon minds, as it is believed capitalism makes it easy for anybody to be economically successful. Durkheim contends that education and intelligence does not always provide the comfort and solace that religion, mythology and strong familial and tribal structures do.

Thus, according to Durkheim, religious groups have always “established strong community ties of thought and action, virtually eliminated individual divergences, and thus achieved a high degree of unity, solidarity, and integration,” than rationality-driven individualistic societies of the modern age, which promotes free enquiry and thereby creating confusion and existential angst.

The Dark Web

According to some modern social scientists, young people are moving towards religious ideologies and atavistic social structures as nation-states are weakening in a globalizing world and as part of the post-modern rebellion of the millennial generation against 20th century neo-liberalism.

Here it is also noteworthy that terrorist organizations are fully alive to the addictive almost obsessive compulsive appeal the millennial generations have with the internet and therefore have invested heavily in reaching out, identifying, inveigling and radicalizaing vulnerable young minds across the globe through the Internet by means of their seductive messaging.

Notwithstanding their obscurantist and atavistic discourse, jihadist organizations make full use of the Internet for a variety of purposes.

For one, they have a strong presence in the called ‘Dark Web’ (part of the World Wide Web not indexed by Web search engines), which provides the perfect ‘breeding ground’ for sowing the seeds of radicalisation among young and impressionable minds.

Several empirical studies conducted worldwide show that online radicalization is the most important means for starting the radicalization process of individuals in order to involve them into the process of violent extremism. As a medium of communication it allows anonymity of identity and can improve bonding opportunities among individuals with similar extremist agenda across the globe.

Online radicalized individuals can be both active (those engaging in violent action), or passive. Passive radicalization is found among individuals that do not have the intention of turning into violent jihadists, but contribute to spreading the message on the Internet.

Thus, the following steps could prove crucial in stemming the tide of youth radicalization in society. There is a critical need for launching counseling programmes for parents over the raising of their adolescent children, need for opening help lines for psychological counseling of the adolescents and youngsters, enhanced career guidance and employment oriented courses, greater inter-community sporting and entertainment events, stronger counter-radicalization narratives — both religious and political — both on normal search engines and dark web to provide alternative view to youngsters, etc.

Having said so, we must acknowledge that there is no silver bullet in combating youth radicalization and one can only be more active and attentive while raising youngsters from a falling into the trap of radicalization. Shakespeare himself appeared cynical in while discussing the propensity of adolescents and the young to create mischief:

“I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty,

Or that youth would sleep out the rest;

for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.”

@Adil Rasheed, Ph.D Research Fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and author of the book ISIS: Race to Armageddon.