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We Will make you Zero To Hero: This is how Jihadist ISIS Lures Western potential Recruits

The Chicago Project on Security and Threats has concluded that ISIS often targets Western recruits with heroic outcomes

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ISIS actively Lures Recruits from the West for its Jihadi Agenda
FILE - Fighters from the Islamic State group parade in Raqqa, north Syria, June 30, 2014. VOA

Beyond the slick, Hollywood-style cinematics, the Islamic State is targeting Western recruits with videos suggesting they, too, can be heroes like Bruce Willis’ character in Die Hard.

That’s the conclusion of The Chicago Project on Security and Threats, which analyzed some 1,400 videos released by IS between 2013 and 2016. Researchers who watched and catalogued them all said there is more to the recruitment effort than just sophisticated videography, and it’s not necessarily all about Islam.

Instead, Robert Pape, who directs the security center, said the extremist group is targeting Westerners — especially recent Muslim converts — with videos that follow, nearly step-by-step, a screenwriter’s standard blueprint for heroic storytelling.

ISIS targets Western recruits with Hollywood style heroism
Islamic State is recruiting Westerns by using Hollywood-style cinematics, like that seen in the story of “Wonder Woman,” in which a character learns his or her own powers through the course of their reluctant journey to be hero. VOA

“It’s the heroic screenplay journey, the same thing that’s in Wonder Woman, where you have someone who is learning his or her own powers through the course of their reluctant journey to be hero,” Pape said.

Heroic storytelling

The project at the University of Chicago separately has assembled a database of people who have been indicted in the United States for activities related to IS. Thirty-six percent were recent converts to Islam and did not come from established Muslim communities, according to the project. Eighty-three percent watched IS videos, the project said.

Bruce Willis in movie Die Hard 4.0
FILE – U.S. actor Bruce Willis poses for the photographers during a photo call for his new movie “Die Hard 4.0” in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2007. VOA

The group’s success in using heroic storytelling is prompting copycats, Pape said. The research shows al-Qaida’s Syria affiliate has been mimicking IS’ heroic narrative approach in its own recruitment films. “We have a pattern that’s emerging,” Pape said.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials aren’t sure the approach is all that new. They say IS has been using any method that works to recruit Westerners. Other terrorism researchers think IS’ message is still firmly rooted in religious extremism.

Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks messaging by militant groups, agrees that IS makes strong, visual appeals resembling Hollywood movies and video games, making its media operation more successful than al-Qaida’s. And IS videos can attract hero wannabes, she said.

“However, these features of IS media are only assets to a core message it uses to recruit,” Katz said. “At the foundation of IS recruitment propaganda is not so much the promise to be a Hollywood-esque hero, but a religious hero. There is a big difference between the two.”

Promise of martyrdom

When a fighter sits in front of a camera and calls for attacks, Katz said, he will likely frame it as revenge for Muslims killed or oppressed somewhere in the world. The message is designed to depict any terror attack in that nation as justified and allow the attacker to die as a martyr, she said.

The promise of religious martyrdom is powerful to anybody regardless of whether they are rich or poor, happy or unhappy, steeped in religion or not at all, she said.

Pape said he knows he’s challenging conventional wisdom when he says Westerners are being coaxed to join IS ranks not because of religious beliefs, but because of the group’s message of personal empowerment and Western concepts of individualism.

How else can one explain Western attackers’ loose connections to Islam, or their scarce knowledge of IS’s strict, conservative Sharia law, he asked. IS is embracing, not rejecting, Western culture and ideals, to mobilize Americans, he said.

“This is a journey like Clint Eastwood,” Pape said, recalling Eastwood’s 1970s performance in High Plains Drifter about a stranger who doles out justice in a corrupt mining town. “When Clint Eastwood goes in to save the town, he’s not doing it because he loves them. He even has contempt for the people he’s saving. He’s saving it because he’s superior,” Pape said.

“That’s Bruce Willis in Die Hard. That’s Wonder Woman. … Hollywood has figured out that’s what puts hundreds of millions in theater seats,” Pape said. “IS has figured out that’s how to get Westerners.”

12-step guide

Pape said the narrative in the recruitment videos targeting westerners closely tracks Chris Vogler’s 12-step guide titled “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.” The book is based on a narrative identified by scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama and other storytelling.

Step No. 1 in Vogler’s guide is portraying a character in his “ordinary world.”

An example is a March 25, 2016, video released by al-Qaida’s Syria branch about a young British man with roots in the Indian community. It starts: “Let us tell you the story of a real man … Abu Basir, as we knew him, came from central London. He was a graduate of law and a teacher by profession.”

Vogler’s ninth step is about how the hero survives death, emerging from battle to begin a transformation, sometimes with a prize.

In the al-Qaida video, the Brit runs through sniper fire in battle. He then lays down his weapon and picks up a pen to start his new vocation blogging and posting Twitter messages for the cause.

‘Zero to hero’

Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says it doesn’t surprise him that IS would capitalize on what he dubs the “zero to hero” strategy because the organization is very pragmatic and accepts recruits regardless of their commitment to Islamic extremism.

Heroic aspirations are only one reason for joining the ranks of IS, he said. Criminals also seek the cover of IS to commit crimes. Others sign up because they want to belong to something.

“I’ve never seen a case of radicalization that was 100 percent one way or the other,” Levitt said. (VOA)

Next Story

FGM is Embraced as a Traditional Practice in Indonesia: Research

Study: Indonesians Embrace Female Genital Mutilation as Religious, Traditional Practice

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INDONESIA FGM
Indonesian girls with their mother leaving a school-hall-turned-clinic after the daughters were circumcised in Bandung. The Indonesian government has come under fire after the UN General Assembly in November passed its first resolution condemning female genital mutilation (FGM) which more than 140 million women worldwide have been subjected to. Kania was later circumcised. VOA

By Nurhadi Sucahyo

With a knife, a razor blade, scissors or a needle, half of Indonesia’s girls are circumcised, and a new study found that it is a tradition more rooted in family folkways than religion.

“Cultural reproduction occurs in the household,” said Sri Purwatiningsih, a researcher of Center for Population and Policy Studies at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta. “Circumcised grandmothers tend to circumcise their daughter. A mother who was circumcised by the grandmothers will most likely circumcise their daughter.”

Purwatiningsih presented her findings Thursday, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, at the university, where the center refers to the procedure as female genital mutilation or cutting.

Indonesia ranks third in the world, at 49%, for the rate of prevalence of female circumcision, after Mali, at 83%, and Mauritania, at 51%. According to an Indonesian Basic Health Research study from 2013, 51% of the nation’s girls up to the age of 11 have been circumcised. Among them, 72.4% were circumcised at between 1 and 5 months, 13.9% when they were between 1 and 4 years old, and 3.3% were 5 to 11 years old.

INDONESIA FGM
A man shows the logo of a T-shirt that reads “Stop the Cut” referring to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) during a social event advocating against harmful practices such as FGM at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA

UN definition

Female genital mutilation refers to “any procedure involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genitals for nonmedical reasons,” according to the United Nations Population Fund. The most widespread practices worldwide involve partial or total removal of the clitoris, prepuce, or both, and the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. The UNPF found the practice is linked to child marriage and said it “predates rise of Christianity and Islam,” and was practiced as recently as the 1950s in Western Europe and the United States because a clitoridectomy was performed “to treat perceived ailments, including mental and sexual disorders.”

More than an estimated 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, and “the impacts on their health and well-being can be immediate — from infections, bleeding or psychological trauma — to chronic health conditions that can occur throughout life,” according to a U.N. release. It continued to say, “the cost of treating the total health impacts” of female genital mutilation is $1.4 billion globally per year.

“FGM is not only a catastrophic abuse of human rights that significantly harms the physical and mental health of millions of girls and women; it is also a drain on a country’s vital economic resources,” said Dr. Ian Askew, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research on a U.N. website.

Indonesian study

A survey focused on Indonesian girls and women, conducted by the Center for Population and Policy Studies in 2017, found 87.3% of 4,250 households in 10 provinces obtained female circumcision information from their parents. Of those surveyed, 92.7% said they believed the practice was primarily religious and 84.1% said the practice is also traditional. An overwhelming majority of respondents, 97.8%, approved of female circumcision, saying the tradition should be practiced.

The survey also found that traditional Indonesian birth attendants were responsible for 45% of female circumcisions, midwives or nurses conducted 38%, female circumcision specialists performed 10%, and doctors performed 1%.

Hamim Ilyas, a professor at the Faculty of Sharia and Law at Islamic National University Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta told VOA Indonesia that only those who interpret Islam in the most literal way can find justification for female circumcision in its teachings.

He considers the best approach to the issue to be “state based,” meaning families should obey Indonesia’s laws. He used traffic lights as an example, religion never taught a person to stop at a red light, but the signal represents a law that drivers know to obey.

“The minister of health’s regulation has forbidden FGM. … However, the government seems to be hesitant under pressure,” from fundamentalist sectors of Indonesian society, he said. “If the government is determined, if the government is brave, the practice can be eradicated. But the government seems not ready yet [to enforce the law] because the people are not ready yet. We have to change our society, to be a society that anti-FGM. It is through the transformation of religious understanding — not [by] changing the teaching, but changing the understanding of it.”

INDONESIA FGM
Indonesian doctor preparing to circumcise a female child in Bandung. VOA

Indonesian law

Ika Ayu, an activist at the Jaringan Perempuan Yogyakarta, or Yogyakarta Female Network, criticized the government’s indecisiveness on FGM, as even Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the country’s top Muslim clerical body, rejected the practice in 2008.

Despite the Ministry of Health regulations, she said, “The government has not ever been clear in regulating FGM, while we know FGM has been listed as harmful practice as part of [the U.N.’s] Sustainable Development Goals.”

She urged the government to be more decisive and added, “Today, we commemorate zero tolerance for female genital mutilation, but in practice, it is still being done. We should ask, ‘How can a country guarantee the fulfillment of every citizen’s rights?’ Female circumcision violates individual rights because it was done without the girls’ consent.”

Also Read- All You Need to Know About Anti-Semitism and Religious Conflicts

Dr. Mukhotib, a reproductive health activist who, like many Indonesians uses only one name, told VOA that the many reasons to reject female circumcision include the fact that it has no medical benefit, countering traditional beliefs.

“There is no benefit to FGM. It does not make women healthier,” he said. “If there is no medical benefit, why bother?” (VOA)