Becoming and Leaving Terrorism
American Military University
This paper will provide a brief overview terrorism, radicalization, de-radicalization and the role the internet plays in this process.
Keywords: Terrorism, Terrorism, Radicalization, De-radicalization, Communication
In recent years, the words terrorism and terrorist have flooded the news channels and social media. The United States has been on heightened alert ever since the reality of the terrorism-hitting our soil on the 11th of September 2001. Terrorists had used aircraft as a “deliberate use of violence and intimidation directed at a large audience to coerce a government into conceding politically or ideologically motivated demands” (Krieger & Meierrieks, 2011). Terrorists utilize these violent acts to accomplish their short-term goals of gaining media and public attention, government destabilization and damaging economies. However, the long-term goal of “redistribution of power, influence and wealth” is what is desired. (Krieger & Meierrieks, 2011). In order to accomplish these goals, people are needed. But how do these organizations find these people who are willing to commit these atrocious acts? The following paper will examine terrorism and reasons why people radicalize to the terrorist lifestyle and de-radicalize from it.
Terrorism has been around for centuries; however, improvements in technology have expanded communication around the globe allowing the populace to be more aware. Even with the digital connectivity a lot of these terrorist activities are not made aware to the general public. For instance, in 2016, over 105 countries experienced a terrorist attack resulting in over 25,000 terrorist incidents. That is an extraordinary amount; however, it was not enough to grab the attention of the media as “only 8.5 percent of attacks resulted in more than five fatalities” (Global Terrorism Index, 2017). Relatively recent terrorist activities on the home front have questioned the stability and security of the world. In the United States, the World Trade Centre, Pentagon events spurred a stream of security measures and changes in immigration and security procedures. Offshore the incidents involving Bali, London, Madrid, and Australia tightened connections with different states to rethink global security measures. Terrorism has been such an influence that Australia now has implanted its own Homeland Security agency. This recommendation was made by former President Bush; however, was deemed unnecessary by the Australian government. The recent terrorist incidents have changed this thought process though, and now Australia has the Department of Home Affairs. Fortunately for Australia, the majority of terrorism occurs elsewhere in the world. The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) reveals the majority or terrorism occurs in countries that have an armed conflict or a high level of pollical terror. The GTI established the data to show 96% of all attacks and 99% of all the deaths from terrorism occurred in countries that fit into the categories mentioned above (Global Terrorism Index, 2017). Revolutionary organizations such as Al-Qaida choose to utilize terrorism as it is a reliable form of achieving the desired response. For example, the suicide attack at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon convinced the U.S. to withdraw its troops in 1983. More recent 9/11 attacks saw the U.S pull its troops out of Saudi Arabia after two years later. Al-Qaida also influenced the Filipino Army to withdrawal from Iraq after a truck driver in the Philippines was kidnapped by extremists (Kydd and Walter, 2006). Terrorists utilize modern technology to find people to join their cause.
Communication and Recruitment
Terrorist organizations have access to the same technology as everyone else. However, they have to be more diligent of the way they communicate due to the monitoring of their interactions with government, security and law enforcement agencies. Terrorist organizations such as ISIS rely on the internet so much that they refer to themselves internally as the “Islamic State Electronic Army” (Greenberg, 2016, pg. 2). The utilization of Smartphones and the secured internet had become the preferred method to plan and implement attacks resulting from the improvement of encryption technology. This increased trust has also seen an increase in the number of extremists who have decided to join the cause. The internet has established methods for broadcasting messages and terrorist activities in real time streaming from all over the globe. The internet has many tools at the disposal of these individuals and organizations. Lone wolfs can organize cyber exploitations anonymously in the privacy of their home. (Global Terrorism Index, 2017). Terrorists are becoming smarter and more adaptive. They can seek out individuals who follow the websites of extremists by utilizing metadata. Also, online games such as World of Warcraft, or Call of Duty according to the National Security Agency are being used to recruit and communication. These online platforms are labeled as target-rich communications networks allowing terrorists to communicate in plain sight (Gross, 2013.) Utilizing platforms like this and social media, ISIS bluntly targets the youth for recruitment purposes. This approach allows for worldwide recruiting with a large audience and low price. Because some societies have access to technology at an earlier stage than others, ISIS recruitment campaigns are aimed at a younger audience in the United States; who have experience with “platforms ranging from email to the partially encrypted platform KIK” (Greenberg, 2016).
To some, it may seem inconceivable to join a terrorist organization; however, there are many reasons people make this decision. There has been a vast amount of research on this topic but at the end of the day, no one fits into a perfect mold. Joining a terrorist organization has been associated with joining a gang. Individuals seek a sense of belonging. Maybe their basic needs in life were not being met and they saw the group as security and life progression? Research has revealed, “individuals whose expectations for social mobility and economic welfare have been frustrated are at a greater risk of radicalization” (Global Terrorism Index, 2017). Individuals who have experienced a significant loss such as divorce, humiliation, or even disrespect may choose the path to becoming a terrorist. Psychologically, the person feels that they will gain from the experience. This could be in the form of a “place in history, and the status of a hero or a martyr in the eyes of one’s group or financial security for their family” (Kruglanski et al, 2014). When people are lost in life, sometimes this despair can be used against them. This is a terrorist recruiters dream. According to Canter (2009) when examining why people join it is important to consider the psychological satisfaction of being rewarded as this is a significant motivating consideration, not only as far as initial recruitment is concerned, but in terms of sustainment of commitment to the revolution. The path to radicalization commences with “arousal of the quest for significance, which motivates the search for or attention to the means of significance” (Kruglanski et al, 2014). When analyzing the different models of radicalization there are a few discrepancies. The majority however shared that a trigger was the initiator on the path to radicalization. All the models attempted to uncover a root cause. Each model described factors such as emotions, social influences with the right settings, can lead someone to radicalize (King and Taylor, 2011). Interestingly, the role of religion impacting people’s radicalization is present in some models but not others. The identity crisis is another significant factor in all of the models. A loss of faith or life crisis has occurred. Why is it some people decide to become a terrorist and not others when the same emotions and psychological factors are present? Once someone has chosen the lifestyle, there are many reasons why they may decide to leave it.
It is human nature to have a change of heart and mind. A person may not have realized what exactly they were getting into or disagreed with their daily routine and activities. The may not feel safe and their life is not progressing. There are a plethora of reasons why someone would decide to leave. According to Canter (2009), people find themselves in a situation where they feel trapped, “facing the realization that they have made quite a substantial investment but have still not yet achieved their expected goal”. When this happens, retreat may feel like the only option. Psychological disengagement could occur resulting in a behavioral change. This could occur when someone has a change of priorities such as marriage or birth of a child, or maybe simply does not agree with protocols or use of violence. They also may feel they are getting nothing in return for their investment. Physical disengagement can be in the form of a forced role being thrust upon them or even been removed from the organization; however, this may not make one stop believing in the cause. Leaving the organization may be a thought process that occurs over a long period of time. It could be as simple as being burnt out.
The global war on terrorism has cost the world countless lives and billions of dollars. In order to fight terrorism, it is important to understand that there is not a one size fits all approach to combating it. Radical Islamist extremism has become the world’s most potent global revolutionary force and terrorism has become a constant threat inside and outside our societies (Global Terrorism Index, 2017). Recruitment campaigns are essential to capturing new members, however, moral and opportunity are equally important for them to stay with the organization. What is important to remember is each member is an individual. Personal thoughts and situations change their life. This can either exploited for recruitment purposes; however, the same logic can be used in reverse; They simply just had enough. Tackling the issues with radicalization and suppressing communication methods utilized to recruit is essential in making a dent in this multi-billion dollar a year problem. We all deserve to live in a safe world.
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