I am sure you are all aware of the radical group called “ISIS.” I, myself, have been very interested in following their news stories for the last few months. I have an application on my Windows tablet that allows me to view news stories from a variety of media sites like The Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters, The Guardian and many other international publications. What has interested me the most, and what has kept me interested, is not the military activity related to ISIS. Nor has my interest been because of the various political perspectives of those in the West verses those in other places. Nor also has my interest been because of the many stories coming out about local tribes trying to stem the advancing terrorist forces.
Those are all very intriguing aspects of the ISIS situation (and I am always rooting for the local people who are doing whatever they can to stop this force), but the one thing that truly captures my attention is this: how ISIS is recruiting Westerners to not only become sympathizers, but to have them become radicalized and fly out to Syria to literally join the fight. Perhaps you have heard the stories of those from Canada and Britain who converted to a radicalized form of Islam, fought overseas, and died. Or maybe you have heard of the two girls from Denver whom the U.S. government is currently investigated. Or you may have seen the commercials ISIS has put out in an attempt to recruit more Westerners. No matter what you have heard, I am sure you can share my curiosity in regards to how and why this happens.
I tend to be a people watcher. When I would window clean on commercial jobs I would observe people and be entirely fascinated with how people socialize (or don’t socialize) with others, how they would carry themselves in a store, and how they would act in response to all manner of circumstances. I frequently catch myself zoning out as I pay attention to various situations around me and the people interacting within them. People, to me, are incredibly interesting! I say that to say this: I am not entirely surprised by the fact that people are trying to join ISIS, even if they have little to no personal connection to it.
Some people might blame this on the violence in television, movies, or other forms of entertainment. Others may attribute this phenomenon to a strong distaste towards Western society or anti-patriotism. Others still may view this as the result of a simmering sense of anarchism among youths and maladjusted young adults. It is certainly possible that, in some cases, these may be the reason why non-Middle Easterners are joining a fight in the Middle East. I, however, am starting to wonder if there is another, more easily justifiable reason.
In some other articles I’ve read, it seems clear that one reason people join ISIS is because they are trying to find themselves. Certainly I can sympathize with someone who struggles with their own identity. In fact, I very much admire Socrates’ famous perspective that knowing one’s self is the key to a fulfilled life (although I would add a bit more that). Here is where I think we, as a society, have taken a wrong turn: we continue to tell people to “find themselves” but have neglected to give them so much as a compass or a map. We turn them loose on the world, and whatever path they choose is the path they choose. Obviously, the issue here is that it is not enough to say to someone “just go find yourself.” If it were enough to say that, then we should not be upset or disheartened when people end up joining a terrorist group in their quest for self-realization.
In all honestly, if people are joining ISIS in an attempt to actualize or define their existence, I am not sure I can fault them any more than I can fault those who do far less destructive things under the guise of “trying to find myself.” In fact, how many of us use “compassion,” “enlightenment,” “empathy,” or “sympathy” to mask our own selfish need to define ourselves at others’ expense? Maybe a good lesson to be learned from all this is that we are not all that different from ISIS sympathizers. We simply take different avenues to accomplish our goals of self-improvement for the sake of self-improvement.
Also, how many of us are angry with these people who join ISIS and yet we fully support the underlying motivations for them doing so? It is entirely possible that the real problem here is not ISIS. It seems to me that ISIS has simply stumbled upon one of our society’s greatest flaws and is succeeding richly because of it… “Come join ISIS and realize who you are. Recognize your place in this world, and become who you were meant to be.” Besides the “ISIS” part of that statement, is that not what our culture is motivating people to do? In addition, is not our culture saying this over and over without giving people the proper tools to make wise judgments in regards to how they go about ‘discovering’ themselves?
Forgive me. I forgot that to give anyone some sort of guidance is to impose on their individual freedom and thus attempt to usurp their self-sovereignty by ‘controlling’ the outcome of their quest for purpose and place.
There is something else I would like to say that relates to this topic, but I’ll make that point in part 2 so this post doesn’t get too long.
[Disclaimer: I am not at all a supporter or ISIS or its sympathizers. I don’t know a whole lot about them, but I do know that thousands – if not millions – are having their lives destroyed by this terrorist group.]