The Islamic State refers to jihad millions of people around the world, using the currently most powerful tool on the planet, the web, for the advertising, dissemination of news, to claim the shares and proselytism. Abu Bara’a al Hindi addressed messages to the “brothers” who live in the West that leave no doubts: “I know how you feel, you feel depressed. The Prophet said that the best cure for depression is jihad for the cause of Allah. You feel like you have lost the honor. my brothers, come to jihad, and you too will feel the honor we feel. You feel the happiness that we feel”.
The Islamic State provides invaluable feedback and rewards to those who need certainty: the meaning of life, the level of heroes and martyrs in the history of the struggle against the infidels. The Isis is legitimized by religion, but the deep reasons of its strength are psychological. It builds on despair of those who live in degraded areas, creating opportunities based on the dream of revenge, makes alternative welfare for the satisfaction of the here and now: brings electricity in the villages, open canteens and fix roads, vaccinating children, pays families of suicide bombers. The leaders are working by subtraction: al-Baghdadi appears very little in the media, no one knows exactly who are his lieutenants. This increases their air of mystery, the image of warriors and saints who challenge the evil, the paranoia of the militants. Resulting in facilitating recruitment and radicalization.
The Daesh offers women to fighters, uses social networks to make propaganda, uses music to create identity and strengthening the collective imagination. Score for viral images that cause excitement and outrage (especially those who are suggestible), excites the feelings of injustice, humiliation and redemption, excites the need to belong, it transforms the profane into the sacred.
Mainly refines the psychological manipulation to recruit foreign fighters, then understand the psychology of this it is essential.
These fighters are not “crazy”. Enrollment prefers reliable people, discard those who give signs of imbalance. There are no universal criteria to define the psychology of a terrorist, but we can identify some of the characteristics and mechanisms of common thought.
These are young, single, smart and ambitious, not always from poor families, often of average education, indoctrinated in schools that teach the Jihad, with trauma such as the death or injury of family members, camouflaged in the hated Western culture . The terrorist is motivated, disciplined, tolerates stress, has ability to concentrate on the fixed objectives and strong expectations of redemption and social growth.
The extremist accepts responsibility. He believes that these are necessary, minimize the suffering of the victims, dehumanizes the enemy, represses moral scruples and inhibitions creating justifications he believes blindly. It has an unconditional faith in the Qur’an that accepts without criticism: the Islamic fundamentalist does not think, because the precepts of the Qur’an think for him. It is obsessed with an idea, influenced by charismatic figures, no compromises: it has an organization of fanatical thinking, which is the extreme in those who choose to blow themselves up.
The commandos move in planned strategies, incompatible with serious mental disorders. The suicide bomber exacerbates thoughts that are not exclusive to a patient, such as the ability to view the Paradise. Cancel his life: it is certain that that is the noblest way to reach the afterlife, faith and nation are the only road to salvation and is sacrificed on their behalf because it considers them to higher values of life itself. He brings his suicide martyrdom for the faith of Islam. To prepare military operation focuses on the operational aspects in order to avoid the emotional, neutralizes the negative feelings with dissimulation.
The attacks have psychological effects on the victims' families, of those who were present in the places of the ambushes, on the general population. They must create anxiety, fear and insecurity, and they will have time affecting families, on social contacts, on the sense of belonging.
Although most people do not suffer serious psychological consequences, the population can have emotional reactions (anger, anxiety, panic, fear, sadness, depression, etc.), Cognitive (disorientation, confusion, impaired concentration, etc.), somatic (insomnia, fatigue, headache and other disorders), behavioral (tearfulness, alarm responses, etc.).
Maybe the psychological problems will not be the main issue to be addressed after the various massacres, but we must keep them in high regard in order to reduce the perception of vulnerability and restore the sense of daily life in a civilization struck in the mind.
The Daesh appeal has very little to do with theology regarding the recruitment of combatants, be they Arabs or from traditionally non-Muslim geographical realities. That is why the battle that pushes some people to risk life and limb is not constituted by the purely sense of belonging or accession to any religious belief.
In a psychological perspective, in fact, the charm which can exercise a violent religious extremism originates from the intelligent use of two basic human needs: the need for “cognitive limitations” like the one of “personal meaning”, in a wider view than the self-affirmation which is the primary motivational boost.
The closing needs equivalent to the quest for certainties and exclusion of ambiguities; It is, in essence, the desire to feel secure for the future, to know what to do and where to go.
Some contexts lead and implement the need to search for certainty in the majority of the people and the historical moment today can reasonably represent such a context. All this generates anxiety, uncertainties inducing anxiety and anxiety in turn implements the unrealistic need for an immediate certainty to believe and throw himself body and soul.
Fundamentalist ideologies are what it takes to meet this certainties spasmodic need; they do it by painting a world characterized by sharp and clear choices dichotomies, a world of good against evil, of the saints against sinners, order against chaos; a pure universe in black and white with no shades of gray.
A fundamentalist ideology establishes clear contingencies between actions and consequences, provides a predictable future and controllable and that prospect is of an irresistible charm especially for young people confused in transitional stages of their lives, sometimes torn by inner conflicts and cultural needs.
Individuals who are most in need of "definite answers" also show behaviors and extreme views like that of marginalizing and isolating those who do not share their opinions by portraying this as a despicable behavior, they feel also morally allowed to destroy them by any means.
ISIS ideology provides its followers an invaluable psychological reward, or the feeling that through the struggle against the infidels can earn the status of heroes and martyrs, thus assuming a greater personal meaning of life itself, so as to allow to earn a place in history.
The search for individual meaning, also, can be inflamed by what can be considered a significant loss, and this is what the extremists communicators depict: the humiliation of Muslims by the West, their sufferings in Iraq, Afghanistan , Palestine or Bosnia. This is described in vivid colors to highlight the insult and dishonor that Islamic peoples all over the world they would be facing.
One aspect that is abundantly considered by social psychologists and political scientists who deal with terrorist phenomena related to religion is certainly one related to the experience of dishonor and humiliation; many scholars in the forensic field, with their works, have emphasized the parallel connection between the humiliating experience, resulting in feelings of shame and the increase of violence (in male subjects).
This is to say that their feelings of humiliation of the Arab population were among the most frequently cited as root causes of Islamic fundamentalism.
The appeal to the sense of trampled identity and degradation representation of a group, may also attract people who might otherwise be seen as well placed and with a promising future.
The search of his “place in the world” is universal; we all possess substantially a need for self affirmation and there is nothing “wrong” with this.
A fast mode to realize a social redemption comes through violence and fighting and it is so since immemorial time. The called of Daesh to arms for the noble recognition of a Caliphate through violence can have an irresistible resonance for some.
Another aspect is the clever use of sex as a form of reward for aggression, which, similarly to violence, has primordial origins; in the animal kingdom, in fact, males often have access to females through their aggressive domination over rivals.
Many young girls find appealing in view of a marriage with someone who “perceive” to be a hero and choose this for raising children as future fighters for the glory of Islam.
Just like the male, females experience tiredness and emptiness of an lackluster existence and see in these marriages a convenient option; they too may be interested to implement the “glamorous” role that the ISIS offers and can enthusiastically embrace the prospect of serving a cause of enormous importance, infinitely greater than themselves.
The terrorist phenomenon of Daesh makes so much leverage on military aspects, than of the psychological ones: The cruelty, severity, and a domain project that extends beyond the boundaries of itself life give a sense of power, are a safe way which offers glory and affirmation for those who bet on his victory.
And in a “war of theology”, the one offering consistency and certainty, promises a supreme significance, and reward his followers with sex, is probably winning.
The challenge, then, is to understand the charm of Daesh proposal and use it wisely in creating a psychologically effective counter-narrative.
Appeals for moderation, tolerance and peaceful coexistence may not be convincing for young people confused and anxious to get noticed, rather, the fight against extremism needs to leverage the same psychological forces that have made the attractive extremism. The counter-narrative must be as simple and unambiguous; must offer the same rewards in parallel, although in another form.
Young men and women might be called to mobilize to defend the honor of their religion, they could be encouraged to express their disgust about the brutal aggression and be asked to provide for a collective effort with a different purpose, but through an equally fascinating history.
The new narrative should be submitted with courage and assertiveness; It should be formulated using charismatic models that inspire and develop pro-social behavior. The "cold cognition" and solid arguments are not sufficient.
The military response at the Daesh is inevitable: the victory over the enemy should serve to destroy the image of invincibility and reveal that adherence can lead to ignominy, a solitary and inglorious death in the desert, but much more needs to be done in terms of interpretation and as regards public communication in order to ensure that the prevailing message is not and can not be to Daesh.
Amedeo Vitagliano Stendardo