In April 2015, Scott Atran addressed the UN Security Council with some of his own insights from social science research. Atran outlined a few conditions that may help move youth from taking the path of violent extremism, but first he explains the motivations for joining violent extremism. The above video is Atran's address to the UN Security Council.
Atran is an anthropologist that specializes in researching how to reduce violence among peoples by trying to understand thoughts and behaviors.
Atran has spent much time observing and interviewing ISIS fighters and sympathizers as well as others who desire violent action for a cause. These include a wide spectrum of peoples; Europeans from Barcelona to France, various people from the Muslim diaspora, and also ISIS fighters.
Speaking about the Iraqi interviewee's, Atran explains why youth take violent action. One must understand the context these youth grew up in and live in. Youth living in a time and place of hellish turmoil; Sadam Hussein’s fall, war, violence, instability etc. have made conditions ripe for ISIS propaganda to resonate.
In Europe, youth who join ISIS or al-Qaeda have different circumstances then the turmoil of those in Iraq. In Europe "“3 out of 4 people who join Al Qaeda or ISIS do so through friends, most of the rest through family or fellow travelers in search of a meaningful path in life”.
It is a misconception to assume the youth that join extremists groups are psychologically marginal. “supporters fall within the mid-ranges of what social scientists call “the normal distribution” in terms of psychological attributes like empathy, compassion, idealism, and wanting mostly to help rather than hurt other people”.
The youth are often in a stage of transition in their lives: “students, immigrants, between jobs or mates, having left or about to leave their native family and looking for a new family of friends and fellow travelers with whom they can find significance”.
European sympathizers are more common than you might think. “1 in 4 French youth have a favorable attitude towards ISIS” And some research from Barcelona shows that of the ISIS supporters that were captured, 5 out of 11 converted from either Christianity or atheism.
Implying that the scope of ISIS propaganda is far larger than one might initially expect, and that we can’t just narrowly blame Islam, or say that people are “evil” or “crazy” to join ISIS. Youth are joining ISIS with grievances that may not be related solely to religion, but rather to more universally shared grievances among youth (i.e. yearning for belonging, transition stage of life etc.) We must focus on these universally shared grievances that we, as humans, can all relate too. People don’t necessarily join ISIS to wage war on the West, but rather they join to find themselves. They are searching for identity affirmation. Searching for meaning in a world that has left them excluded and confused.
So what can be done? What are youth's role? Atran proposes 3 conditions:
1.) “The first condition: offer youth something that makes them dream, of a life of significance through struggle and sacrifice in comradeship”.
2.) "“The second condition: offer youth a positive personal dream, with a concrete chance of realization.”
3.) “A third condition: offer youth the chance to create their own local initiatives.”
A transcript of Scott Atran's address can be found here.
Source: Psychology Today, Scott Atran Ph.D.