Guardian: ISIS jihadis are searching for their ‘identity’

Jihadi John successfully finds his identity

…What is it that draws thousands of young Europeans to a brutal, sadistic organisation such as Isis? “Radicalisation” is usually seen as a process through which extremist groups or “hate preachers” groom vulnerable Muslims for jihadism by indoctrinating them with extremist ideas. Some commentators blame western authorities for pushing young Muslims into the arms of the groomers. The advocacy group Cage UK claimed last week that Mohammed Emwazi had been driven to Syria by MI5 “harassment”. Others stress the “pull” factor in radicalisation. The problem, they claim, lies with Islam itself, a faith that, in their eyes, legitimises violence, terror and inhumanity.

Neither claim is credible…

…What draws most wannabe jihadis to Syria is, to begin with, neither politics nor religion. It is a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for “belongingness”, for respect. Insofar as they are alienated, it is not because wannabe jihadis are poorly integrated, in the conventional way we think of integration. Theirs is a much more existential form of alienation.

There is, of course, nothing new in the youthful search for identity and meaning. What is different today is the social context in which this search takes place. We live in a more atomised society than in the past; an age in which many people feel peculiarly disengaged from mainstream social institutions and in which moral lines often seem blurred and identities distorted…


If there is nothing peculiar about Islam, why do only Muslims have this mysterious identity problem? Or why do non-Muslims suffering an identity crisis become Muslims and commit crimes?  

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