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In the attempt to explain radicalization, all too often the discourse revolves around issues of poverty, marginalization, discrimination or identity troubles within specific ethnic or religious communities. However, the profile of jihadi supporters might not quite be what we expected.

It actually turns out that many break the stereotype of the misintegrated violent fanatic fighter, brainwashed into promoting extremist ideologies as a belief-gone-wild form of empowerment. Religion is actually merely an instrument to voice out deeper issues that don’t really have to do with spirituality in itself, not even with a low life standard that might leave youngsters with no other option than to turn their attention to radical groups.

In 2014, a group of anthropologists led by Dounia Bouzar from the Centre de prévention contre les dérives sectaires liées à l'islam has come to some interesting conclusions. First of all, radicalized discourses seems to be bursting forth. Secondly, the targets have diversified. Apparently the highest likelihood of affiliation is to be found inside the middle class, therefore an environment that is not cut off from educational possibilities. Most of those who express a growing sympathy for such movements are very young, under 21 and very few have a history of violent behavior. Noteworthy is however the fact that depression plays an important part in the choice:indoctrination seems to have a far-reaching impact on grounds of hypersensitivity, which also implies existential crises and reflections on the meaning of life, on the necessity of some order. Moreover, the majority of recruits do not belong to profoundly religious families. The centre conducted research among more than 150 families last year and 80% were not regularlypractisingIslam.

The major problem in the radicalization story is the intimate character it has nowadays. Youngsters get recruited online by propaganda masters who create a sort of virtual community that offers a sense of belonging, a reason-to-be and a degree of sacredness compensating for its absence in real life. Once entered in this germinal space, one could be driven far away, just about to the Syrian border. Daesh discourses are pretty refined and know how to appeal to youngsters in search of some sense in their lives, a search that reaches its peak precisely in this delicate timespan of self-discovery. They present a worldview that dwells on individualism, authoritarianism, elitism and the idea of a rebellion with a cause.

Like other radical movements, Daesh also utilizes political myths in order to come across as a perfectly legitimized movement. Such myths include:the figure of the warrior or hero, the higher purpose that needs to be fulfilled, the worthy leader in search of a worthy company of heroes, the call of duty translated into the possibility of attaining earthly and heavenly glory. Hypersensitivity increases the chance to identify with characters and causes, that is why videos presenting battles or all kinds of subliminal messages expressed in strong visual content do have a great chance of drawing the public into the game. Conspiracy theories also tend to fanaticize isolated and fragile youths who, as suggested before, become radicalized in their own homes. These range from Zionist conspiracies to the Coca Cola logo which reversed means No Mecca in Arabic…and however illogical these might seem, people are still drawn out of the intrinsic need to feel part of a greater, more meaningful story.

So poverty triggering resentment to those who own more and ignorance that makes people more susceptible to manipulation and indoctrination are not the key of the phenomenon, since there are much more recruits with a middle class and decent educational background. Extremist narratives are appealing because they insist on their possibility to offer order, a better order than the old one perceived as weak and corrupt and consequently has to be destroyed by violent action, engaging in a fantasy of the perfect state and social structure. Pretty much like any other totalitarian ideology we’ve read about.

To counteract radicalization, more vigilance is needed from parents, teachers, psychologists and more efforts are to be joined so as to promote and engage youngsters in activities focusing on moderate values, on pluralism and tolerance. In the same time, this type of discourse romanticizing terrorists and turning them into heroes fighting for justice and freedom has to be counteracted by raw, authentic information about the type of activities and lifestyle they are actually promoting, showing that their so-called just cause only brings about more death and destruction and has no constructive value whatsoever. In the same time, those in charge of religious teachings also have the chance to make a difference, by giving up the narrative of martyrdom and heavenly rewards and instead openly condemning acts of terrorism at face value and preaching moderation. However counterintuitive as it might sound, an adequate religious education actually can help prevent the development of extremism. 

The mentioned report can be consulted HERE