What is the anatomy of an Islamic State Jihadist?
I don’t mean physically – they come in all shapes and sizes just like the rest of us – male and female.
I mean, what emotional and psychological state turns people, often with a mild, quiet background, into fanatical, ruthless, cold-blooded killers?
After almost 35 years working as a counsellor and psychotherapist I guess I know a little about why people behave the way they do, though I have worked mainly with the victims of extreme behaviour, rather than the extremists themselves.
What I am certain of though is that no baby is born as an extremist, a torturer or a murderer with no regard for the value of their own life or anyone else’s.
All of that is learnt behaviour and the big questions are how, why and where?
It is not straightforward, there are at least 6 different types of Jihadists.
1. First there are the religious fanatics. These must be distinguished from the genuine religiously pious who can be found in all faiths, not just Islam.
It’s one thing to be believe deeply in your God, your faith and its religious practices and try to live a good and honest life even if others do not share or understand the depth of your commitment.
It’s very much another, when you start to believe that anyone who does not share your God, your beliefs and your commitment is an “infidel”, opposed to you and your faith and “God” or “your prophet” commands that they be converted to your faith or destroyed.
There are plenty of examples of cults in the West that have almost gone that far, regarding “outsiders”, non-believers as less worthy human beings and a threat to the core structure of the “faith” or organisation.
2. Secondly there is a large body of people who feel disregarded, rejected by their family and those around them and the society in which they live, and for whom feeling lost and of little value is a prospect that is likely to haunt them for the rest of their lives.
People like this can be found in all cultures, within all religions or with none and in all countries. It comes mainly from poor child rearing, the breakdown of family support and structures and a lack of love, attention genuine support and guidance.
Children who are loved, respected, nurtured and encouraged to be themselves and to find and explore their abilities, do not become mass murderers.
Mass murderers are made from people with a grudge, a giant flaw in their being left after years of unloving or neglect, humiliation or suppression and a feeling of powerlessness.
It has nothing to do with intelligence. In fact, the more intelligent a mass murderer is, the more dangerous he is.
Many of these may have similar backgrounds to Group 2, but they also may be have been emotionally and psychological damaged while growing up (or even physically damaged at birth), resulting in an immaturity, a lack of awareness and/or an inability to think for themselves, and difficulty in independently distinguishing right from wrong and make balanced value judgements.
Normally such people would be cared for, shielded and guarded by family members or by professionals who will look out for their needs.
However, in the hands of manipulative fanatics who quickly recognise their vulnerability and know how to use this and “befriend” them, they quickly become cannon fodder.
A recent example was seen in a video a few months back of an Islamic State suicide bomber, probably 17 or less, who was persuaded to drive his vehicle bomb into the opposition lines.
Despite “encouragement” and promises of some mysterious and unprovable heavenly reward to come, he was in tears and clearly afraid and unsure.
But there was no way out and he carried out the task anyway.
4. The fourth group is perhaps in many ways the most dangerous.
It consists of the disillusioned and the morally lost, who can both be well integrated into society seemingly leading useful lives or at the other end of the spectrum are jobless, hopeless and turning to drugs, alcohol and petty crime to get by.
Either way, they are deeply disappointed with the society/world they see around them and with their role in it. They do not see that they have the power to change it and are drawn to a religious philosophy that says they can live in a different world and raise their families and children in it.
For the jobless and those who have turned to crime, or alcohol or drugs as a way of coping and feeling a smattering of control and “power”, the Islamic State’s strict philosophy of living offers a path to redemption and forgiveness tied to their childhood religious roots.
The wealthy, more middle-class recruits perhaps are disappointed with extreme materialism and the corruption it often engenders. IS offers another solution.
“Follow the rules and we will give you authority, respect and rewards both in this life and the afterlife to come”.
Many foreigners and converts to Islam coming from outside Syria and Iraq will fall into this category. They are given free housing and money when they arrive in the Middle East and as we have seen in Paris, the UK, the USA and elsewhere they wreck murderous havoc on a large scale.
This group may well include intelligent foreign women who are attracted by the “glamour” of following a cause, marrying Jihadists and escaping perhaps the “restrictions” of their own family life back home. They are undoubtedly in for a rude awakening.
5. The fifth group are the politically and tribally motivated, especially Sunnis who see the Sunni aligned Islamic State (IS) as some sort of bulwark against the Shiite dominated government in Iraq and the Shiite associated Alawite sect of President Assad in Syria.
One of the reasons the Islamic State was able to spread across Syria and Iraq so quickly was because of these tribal alliances – IS knew how to tap into resentments and perceived injustices inflicted, as the locals saw it, by Iran sponsored Shia policies.
Indeed, the very core of the Islamic State when it started in Iraq was probably created by ex-Saddam Hussein military officers, Sunnis, who had lost their status, power and jobs after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Some tribes are now regretting their allegiance to the Islamic State – but backing out has turned out to be a bloody and vengeful business both for the tribes and individuals who have changed their minds.
6. And lastly, the sixth group is perhaps the most disturbing – the large number of children that the Islamic State is “educating” and indoctrinating in their awful world view.
Children who will grow up believing that executing people for having the “wrong” faith, world view or sexual preference, or who have transgressed IS rules in some way, is normal.
According to a recent video, IS children were engaged in a gruesome hide and seek game in a castle in Deir Ez-Zour province, hunting for shackled prisoners. Those children who did best were given, literally, “execution privileges”.
One of the young boys involved was a Yezidi, a “slave” taken prisoner when IS invaded northern Iraq, killing thousands of his Yezidi brethren and imprisoning thousands more women as sexual concubines. It shows how quickly young minds can be turned and warped. You can read more about the so-called “Caliphate Cubs”, HERE:
There may well be other groups of potential Islamic State Jihadists that we can describe, but what these individuals all have in common is that they are in need of “new family”.
When your own family, for whatever reason in your view, has “let you down” in childhood then psychologically and emotionally you are programmed to search for another one to which you can belong and become part of. (The only exception to this are those that successfully work through that hurt therapeutically.)
Cults – and IS is nothing more than a cult, if a deadly one – work on that basis. There is usually a charismatic paternal leader and provided you as an individual “follow the rules”, accept and promote the mantra or philosophy and wear the uniform where there is one, then you will be “loved” and accepted.
The Islamic State craftily justifies its actions with the authority of the Koran, Prophet Mohammed and the promise of entry into Paradise if you die fighting for the “cause”.
For many that will be a no-lose situation which makes the Islamic State, along with its stated ambition to conquer most of the developed and developing world, the largest threat to civilisation since World War ll.
That the Islamic State is medieval – as well as just plain evil – is without doubt. They would love to get thousands of US and other western troops to fight them on the ground to recreate another “Crusade” in which they can finally “defeat the infidel invaders” (which is why President Obama is wisely resisting that move).
But this is not 1098 when starving “Christian” Crusaders slaughtered 8,000 inhabitants in Ma’arat Al Numan (currently an Opposition-held town in Syria’s Idlib province) and ate them after pot-boiling the adults and spit-roasting the children – Islamic fighters would have some justification in wanting revenge for that.
This is the 21st Century, when the rights of all individuals and religions that reciprocally respect others must also be respected.
The Islamic State, and the individual Jihadists that choose to make it their home, ignorantly fail to do that, leaving us no choice but to fight them to destruction.
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