I attended a session recently about radicalization which focused on how youth are pulled into terrorist organizations. We watched a recruitment video, and it was stunning to me how clearly they were appealing to each of the basic needs. When people find ways that they can meet all their needs, they become committed to the behaviours which satisfy them so effectively.
The narrator began by talking about how he had been raised in Canada, and described his childhood as a typical one that anyone could relate to. He very effectively tried to connect with the viewer and give a sense of belonging– “I’m just like you” was his message. He then showed pictures of the community he lived in – showing the wonderful life that you could have if you joined his community. Pictures were flashed of children playing innocently in the streets, and of families laughing and having fun together.
He then talked about how we in Canada are bound by industrialization – how we are caught up in commercialization and consumption, and have lost our way. He showed how joining their group would break you from these chains of greed that bind us. Pictures of people raising flags as they fight for this freedom were flashed across the screen.
Power was next on the agenda. He talked about the feeling of being part of something important, and of doing something that is really going to make a difference in the world. Images of strong men armed with powerful weapons were displayed.
We also watched a video that told a story of a young man and his journey from main stream society into belonging to a terrorist organization. Every step of the way, as people saw signs that he was becoming more interested in radical ideas, instead of reaching out to him, people pulled away from him. While this is totally understandable – people felt he was weird, or scary, and didn’t want to be around him – I thought about how ironic it was that the path he took started to look like the only way for him to meet his needs. As he lost his friends, became estranged from his family, and his ideas were rejected by the religious leader he reached out to, the only place he found any belonging was with this group. Every time he experienced judgement for the colour of his skin or the clothing that he wore, he felt more and more that he didn’t fit into this society. When he could no longer see the opportunity for a successful life in Canada, he was being offered the chance to be part of a group that he saw as powerful and really making a difference in the world.
As an educator, it makes me wonder… for those vulnerable, alienated kids we all see – is there anything we can be doing to help them see another way that they could meet their needs more effectively?