7 Reasons why Western youths are joining ISIS

7 Reasons why Western youths are joining ISIS

7 Reasons why Western youths are joining ISIS

ISIS – the new online predator

[Update:March 5, 2015 – The FBI and Department of Homeland Security sent a joint warning to law enforcement across the country about the concern over a growing trend of girls and boys wanting to fight with ISIS in the wake of the detention of a 17-year-old Northern Virginia teen last week.]

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.

The profile:

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 radical Imams at Mosques)

Ethnicity: South Asian, East Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern and African-American descent

7 Key Reasons why Western Youth are joining ISIS

1. Identity – Unable to identify with American culture – identify more with Middle East or native country

2. Psychological issues – feelings of being alienated, potential trouble at home

3. Emotional needs – lack sense of purpose and belonging, lack of self-perceived significance; youth seem disengaged from community – outsiders, loners.

4. Unresolved Emotions – Anger & frustration: Angry at society and the perceived immorality and filth; frustrated by feeling of displacement, feelings of being second-class citizens.

5. Emotions and religious beliefs & ideologies – 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

6. Future goals & promises – Western girls are being enticed with romance – marriage proposals, family, love and a home

7. General malaise – Western youth are lost, disillusioned, disconnected; they lack purpose or meaning to life, and are thus seeking a cause and a leader

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.

Why Western youths joining ISIS. Samra Kesinovic in Islam clothing

Why Western youths are joining ISIS. Samra Kesinovic in Islam clothing

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

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