Tuesday 5 July 2016

I've seen a number of people talking online about what can be done to prevent young Muslims from radicalizing and joining ISIS. There are lots of calls for moderate Muslims to do something. I was thinking about this and wanted to throw my 2 cents in on the matter.
In any religion, the moderates are not well equipped to do something about the extreme elements, because they are moderates. The name... moderate.  Mediocre.  To a radical, calling someone a moderate Muslim is like saying they are "sorta Muslim". It's hard for moderates to do anything to counter extremists if they are seen as bland, compromising, or sellouts.

The young people who are radicalizing are uninspired by the life they've been offered and want something bigger. They want their life to play out like the adventure - fight the bad guys, be part of a cause bigger than themselves, die for the cause. It's the same basic reason people join radical christian churches, or become radical social justice warriors, or any other extreme movement.

Think about it this way - If you are a young pup looking to prove yourself to the world, do you want to be a moderate or an extreme?

Many young people, especially young men need to feel part of something bigger than themselves. These guys will be dissatisfied with moderate religion, seeing it as lip-service that doesn't mean anything. They think, "Hey I'm just living a normal life but doesn't the book say something about an epic struggle?"  Then someone comes along saying "you're right.  The majority of the religion is just pretending.  We're the real deal. Come be part of the epic struggle" and boom, they are hooked. It happens to Christians, and it happens to Muslims too.

You might ask, why don't radical Christian groups kidnap and shoot civilians, at least not as frequently as Muslims, if they have the same basic mechanism to radicalize?  The main answer is the values of the group.  If the group values self-sacrifice, and evangelism, etc. then the extremists ring your doorbell and ask you awkwardly to come to a prayer meeting.  If the group values fighting the world the extremists join ISIS.

To tackle this, there needs to be a positive extremist movement. The cause needs to include a real personal struggle as well that not everyone would sign up for so that you're reaching the right people.  It has to do with instilling a value that supersedes personal comfort.

Here's what won't be enough:
  • Muslim boy scouts.  Hey it's a great initiative, the beginning of a longer-term solution, and it lays the foundation for belonging and helping.  But it's aimed at kids, and not extreme.
  • Interfaith Dialogues.  The people who attend these are not the target audience.
  • Muslim clubs promoting positive things.  Again, the people who attend these are not the target audience.  
  • More education, poverty reduction etc. Another longer-term solution that will help but doesn't fix the recruiting now.
We find most extremists intrusive and bothersome.  We don't want to talk to the person who insists that we're murderers for eating a hamburger.  We don't want to answer when the Jehovah's Witnesses knock on the door. It's intrusive, we just want to be left alone and not forced to care about someone else's fight.  Truth be told, we don't want them to be extreme.
Well, as uncomfortable as it is, if you want to stop people from joining ISIS, you need a different version of Islamic extremism to exist, to take away the recruiting power and appeal of the group. You need a group of Muslims doing something just as extreme but in a positive framework, seeing it as part of a bigger story. To be successful it should have the following qualities:
  • it has to inspire people
  • it has to be difficult
  • it has to expect and strive toward a grand goal
  • it has to start from within the Muslim community.
  • it has to offer a legitimate interpretation of Muslim scripture that is both extreme, and has positive outcomes. This is probably the hardest part.

No one is going to get rid of this deep-seated need for radical action in the population, especially in the youth.  But the point is that it can be channeled into positive avenues.


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