Why Are Westerners Joining ISIS?
Why would Western young adults, 15 to 20 years of age, go and join ISIS? Take, for example, the recent case of three British girls who authorities believe traveled to Syria to join ISIS. According to NBC News, the girls, ages 15 and 16, ran away from their U.K. homes on Feb. 17th, and London authorities said they have reason to believe that the teens were on their way to Syria to join ISIS. Their families had no idea about what the girls intended to do.
Some of these young adults are not Muslims either. They even come from well-to-do families. So this is not a manifestation of their economic or social deprivation.
The answer for me rests upon a quote I saw, that is sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill, along the lines of: “If someone younger than twenty is not a communist, something is wrong with him. If he stays a communist after twenty, something is wrong with him too.”
This was at the time when communism was in vogue, but it made the point: young people NEED an ideology, something that justifies and propels their need to revolt against the older generation.
I believe the appeal to Westerners to join ISIS is a piece of a larger pattern, namely, a reaction to the vacuum they experience; they miss an ideology, a compelling vision that drives them.
The market economy model, materialism, is not attractive to the younger generation any longer. Communism and socialism ran their course, disenchanting the true believers. There is a search, now, a need, for something new that stirs the blood and elevates the dreams of today’s young people.
I believe ISIS is a part and parcel of the same pattern to which the hippie movement belongs. In this case, the “religion,” or ideology, is to renounce materialism along with achievement orientation. Or the drug culture, a total surrendering to hedonism. Religious revivals are another piece of the same cloth. Like Scientology.
As a civilization, we are going through a major change in values, ideologies, and belief systems. Man cannot live without embracing some mega ideology or faith. Something that propels him forward because it is charged with meaning.
As old systems of values become dysfunctional, materialism for example, it is destroying the environment. The world is ready for and seeking the next Jesus, or Buddha, or Karl Marx. Or whatever. And for some, ISIS provides that vision and the clear propelling values they seek.
What is the answer?
For a good answer, we must have a good question, the correct diagnosis.
If I am right that ISIS is attractive to some because it provides a system of values they need and thus seek, the answer is not bombing ISIS out of existence. Another “ISIS” will be born. Like ISIS replaced Al- Qaeda. The Muslim uprising did not end with the death of Bin Laden.
There is a need for a new compelling vision. New compelling ideology. One that promotes integration. Quality over quantity. Quality of life over standard of living. Humanism rather than materialism.
When there is demand there must be supply. And if there is no white market supply, a black market will develop. And that is, I believe, what is happening for some young people in the Western world.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes