What is the appeal about joining an Islamic extremist organization such as ISIS or al Qaida if you live outside of the Middle East? Friends and family members of those that travel to Syria and other Middle Eastern nations to train with ISIS or al Qaida seems shocked that their family member would be capable of such a thing.
Usually it isn’t until an act of terrorism has been committed that their family and community ever realized something was fundamentally wrong with the individual. Warning signs are overlooked or simply ignored. There is a unique group of individuals that fall prey to the trolling of Islamic extremist recruiters and their propaganda. Generally these vulnerable people are young (both male and female) between teens to early thirties, semi-assimilated second or third generation within a western country, feel socially out-of-place (out-of-place with both their Muslim community and western community), and Muslims with only a general knowledge of Islam.
Within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, these individuals have had a solid foundation of needs met simply by living in first world countries. Physiological needs such as food, shelter, sex, and sleep generally have never been an issue for them. Security and safety are also irrelevant within the western countries in comparison to their first generation Muslim family members that sought refuge from oppression and violence. It is the upper tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy that are left unfulfilled by either environment or age. Maslow’s upper tier needs shape identity. These needs give them a sense of right and wrong, morals, self-worth, and goals.
Within Europe or the United States, most Muslims have created smaller communities that are often cut off from their larger surrounding non-Muslim population. These communities have been named Muslim Ghettos by the media. The name carries negative connotations such as being a potential breeding ground for radical Islam. Cutting off outside cultural influence and being semi-assimilated can leave these at risk individuals socially inept. They cannot relate to their Muslim community or the larger surrounding non-Muslim community. This lack of belonging is the key characteristic that makes this group so susceptible to influence. Islamic extremist recruiters are targeting this high-risk group by offering a greater sense of belonging through a romanticized version of Islam, giving them a purpose in a luke-warm life, and chance to reconnect with their homeland.
What’s does this mean for combating the spread of terrorism? As you know the funding sources, recruiters, and those already recruited are being targeted by intelligence agencies across the globe. However, how do we prevent those at a greater risk from being lured by Islamic extremists? It is basically a call of action to their moderate Muslim communities and families to guide them in developing their sense of self-worth and identity. Most recruiting is done through social media so be more proactive and involved in their lives. Cast out those individuals within the local Muslim communities that are spreading an extreme view of Islam. Without understanding these vulnerabilities we cannot counter the efforts of Islamic Extremist groups recruiting efforts outside of the Middle East.