A question came to mind recently as I began a bit of introspection and I wondered, “Why does someone willingly, even eagerly, rush to join up with the Islamic State.” I got caught up in a bit of my own hubris when I realized the answer.
The first part to understanding is that the individuals who rush to join view the world through a vastly different moral lens than we do. I understood that because I have said it before. Morals are a construct made in cooperation with the rest of society. It is only logical that a society raised on different value structures will have different morals in appearance from what we recognize.
The idea of beheading a child is repugnant to me. However, if their society has embraced the idea that they must use force, then what is immoral to me can be quite moral to them. Perception of reality is a nasty bitch.
In order to understand, I had to remove the values and see the idea from their point of view. In doing so I came up with an answer that, as I said, put a spoke in my wheel of moral indignation.
A fighter for ISIS is joining up for the exact same reasons that I joined the Army.
There are outside viewpoints that focus on the negative reasons but the reality, when you stop disagreeing with the moral viewpoint and just accept it, is that the individuals, men and women, who are running to Syria to be part of the Islamic State are doing so for valid reasons.
They want to belong to a winning team. That is not a hard concept to understand. When was the last time an Arab army was victorious in anything? So the Islamic State is currently the shining example of martial prowess on the battlefield and that is going to attract many who want to feel pride in their culture but who have few heroes to reach for in present day.
By joining up they become someone to themselves and their families. This is not to be taken lightly. You can be a fan of the winning team, but actually being part of it, serving and fighting alongside warriors just like yourself, that is some serious status upgrade to people who are generally the lowest of the low and who have no ability to step up.
The leaders of the Islamic State are playing the recruitment angle well. Think about it. U.S. Marine commercials are typically the sexiest out there. The Marine fighting the dragon was a big hit. In their culture, Jihadi John standing with the real severed head of an enemy he just vanquished is a major statement of power. Burning an enemy alive is a dominant act of supreme power and lack of fear.
We all want to accomplish something in life, to belong to something, to feel that we have made a difference. The people signing up for the Islamic State want exactly the same things. We may not see martyrdom as a valid occupation, but we are looking at it through our own cultural lense.
This is why organizations like the Islamic State are so hard to isolate and control. We face a choice where we must annihilate them and all around them or continue to watch them grow. And even a scorched earth campaign will not eradicate the idea. You cannot kill an idea with a bomb or even accurate rifle fire. You can only kill it with a better idea.
Thinking about this and trying to understand it gave me a different solution. The better idea is to make a counter to the Islamic State. We need to back the formation of a new nation friendly to our own and put an equal on the throne, equal not a puppet because unless the establishment is equal in value, it won’t work.
This is a dangerous tactic because we could end up creating the very thing that we fear but there are benefits to the situation. If a Caliphate is formed by the Islamic State and a recognized leader established, much of the violence in the Islamic world could be focused where now it is indiscriminate. The Caliph would have much the same power as the Pope in the Catholic Church while also having secular power as well.
The establishment of a true caliphate would be the most dangerous entity created since the atom bomb.