ISIS and Radicalization

It would be easy to find people willing to condemn ISIS as evil. They would also prosecute people who are beginning to be radicalized to prevent them from supporting the terrorist organization.

However, that quick leap to judgement is not helpful in eliminating terrorism. Once you label an organization as evil, you can get lazy.

By focusing on the evil of ISIS, you don’t need to understand them. In addition to defeating them militarily, we need to combat the political themes they promote. Without understanding why ISIS is attractive to some people, we can’t deny them the thought-virus that they spread.

I never see the grievances and concepts that nourish the ISIS movement. The public message is that they’re evil and that’s all we need to know. We want to prevent radicalization, but don’t try to understand the process as it develops.

When the news reports someone as being radicalized, we can get lazy again. We don’t have to understand what they believe or how they arrived there. We don’t have to see the reasons that they embraced violence and hatred–there’s no reason to see that because we’ve already cast them out. But that’s too late in the process to make a difference.

David Talbot in “Fighting ISIS Online” (MIT Technology Review. Nov. 1, 2015. v. 118, no. 6) describes that contacts from friends and peers can help the propaganda create new recruits. But he also describes that friends and peers can be persuasive in pushing back. It can take a small intervention to be beneficial. The article describes how one-on-one contact was able to reverse a transformation that the FBI was watching from a distance, yet impotent to change.

Working with friends to help them see a different perspective doesn’t let you release sexy rhetoric about our war with ISIS. However, it does help combat the organization one person at a time.

A sympathetic ear and supportive encouragement can work where the pronouncements of the powerful are failing miserably.