The Psychodynamics of International Terrorism: How Far Right Extremism is Adopting the ISIS Global Model


The Monster Under Your Bed

On May 12, 2003, we received a phone call at 5 in the morning that changed our lives forever. Everything was quiet that night. Even the subtle crickets I used to hear before I fell asleep had hidden away. I looked at the stars that night in envy, longing to leave this World behind and join them, free from the shackles of fear that bore me to the ground.

It was just like any regular school day in fourth grade. We were supposed to have art class in the morning, math and french right before recess, english composition, and then gym class. I was looking forward to finishing my art project before the year ended. It was a replication of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers; a painting that invoked life in its most attractive and unattractive subtleties.

My mother and father rushed to our bedroom that night, fear driving their conscience. Our safety was their priority, and if the incident had held off for two hours, my sister and I would not have come home that day. Our parents held us close that night and moved us to their bedroom, praying the worst of the ordeal was over.  

My father returned that day with a 24 water bottle pack, boxes of canned food, a box of granola bars, a first aid kit, and flashlights.

“Dad, what are you doing?”, I asked.

“We need to be prepared.”

“Prepared for what? Are they coming here?!” I started to panic.

He held me firmly and looked me straight in the eyes. “Seyma, calm down. No one’s coming here. You’re safe, but we need to make sure we have enough resources to survive.”

I could see the nervousness in his eyes, but I believed him. It was my first memory feeling vulnerable. Our safety was threatened and our lives were feared for. The following months felt restless. I was paranoid, hypervigilant, anxious, and generally scared out of my mind.

The Root of Evil

Terrorism, in its most common and vilest form, is the unlawful use of violence to achieve political gains. The term “terrorism” came into play in the late 18th century, however the act itself has existed for nearly a thousand years. Its history is as old as the human race’s willingness to manipulate political power through violence.  

The earliest terrorist group in history are The Sicarii. The Jewish terrorist organization was founded in the first century AD with the goal to overthrow the Romans in the Middle East. Judas of Galilea, their leader and a large influence of the Zealots, believed that the Jews should be ruled by only God and that resistance through violence was the only way to overthrow them.

The Sicarii were skilled assassins that murdered their enemies and those who believed were traitors or betrayed their cause by hiding their small daggers (sicae) in their cloaks to stab people in crowds. When they fell, the murderers would fall with them and join their cries of indignation, with that, avoiding discovery.

Similarly, the Hashhashin, whose name today has been coined as the English word “assassins”, were a secretive Islamic sect, known as Shi’ite Nizari Ismailis in Persia, that were active between the 11th and 13th century AD. The assassins were led by Hassan i Sabbah, also known as “Old Man of the Mountain”, and were trained killers that challenged the Fatimid and Abbasid Empires. By the directions of their leader, the Assassins killed Sultans, Viziers, Caliphs, Patriarchs and Counts. Their notoriety widely known because of their lack of armor and their choice to kill in broad daylight.

The word “terrorism” was instigated by Maximilien Robespierre in 1793. As he became one of the twelve heads of the state in France, his thoughts were fuelled with the idea that violence within the state would ensure a better system. While the motives to characterize the state with terrorism faded, the idea of terrorism as a means to attack an existing political order remained. His transformation of the monarchy into a liberal democracy made history.

ISIS: A Global Model for Terrorist Organizations

Joining a terrorist organization has never been easier before. With the use of different social media platforms, the World has become much more interconnected. Why, then, would an individual join an organization that invokes hate, induces terror, and performs malicious acts?

Individuals who join ISIS, for example, have been flourished with promises, such as joining a movement and being part of something grandiose, meaningful and powerful. They offer anyone filled with hatred, loneliness or boredom a place in Paradise that others will be strictly denied from upon their death. Their perspectives invariably persuade individuals that the highest form of worship is to sacrifice oneself performing an act of suicide through the use of explosive bombs.

ISIS’s hostile approach to lure individuals to join the terrorist organization and use them as weapons primarily utilizes a theory called Mileu Control. Lifton’s theory employs a thought reform by controlling communication, information, and the environment resulting in an isolation from society at large and changing their cognitive behavior. Using the term hijrah a word meaning “migration” promotes a religious justification and omits any type of communication or influence from one’s family, friends, or the World outside the terrorist organization.

In a study by psychologist, J.M. Curtis, inquiries about vulnerable individuals who were joining various cults had increased and hence had recorded a study in which he recognizes certain characteristics that define those who are most susceptible and recruited by terrorist organizations or major cults. That of which include:

“Generalized ego weakness, emotional vulnerability, tenuous, deteriorated or nonexistent family relations and support systems; inadequate means of dealing with exigencies of survival; history of severe child abuse or neglect; exposure to idiosyncratic or eccentric family patterns; abuse of controlled substances; unmanageable and debilitating situational stress and crises; intolerable socioeconomic conditions”

The B.I.T.E. Model is an acronym used to identify the different mind control strategies that groups such as ISIS have taken to persuade and brainwash individuals from around the World.

  • Behavioural Control: Here, individuals are regulated on a daily basis, changing their reality, associations, friends, family, their food consumption and sexuality. The environment eventually changes to suit the needs of the organization and modifies the individual’s behaviours by implementing rewards and punishments. The individual’s behavior is then modified to suit the organization’s doctrine.

  • Information Control: Involves disseminating information directly from the jihadist group and forbidding any type of involvement or interaction with the outside world. ISIS has been successful in creating propaganda by using and distributing Hollywood-esque movies such as Flames of War, using social media platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr to circulate and glorify ISIS.

  • Thought Control: This requires members to internalize their ideals and perceive it as the only truth. As a form of purification, ISIS recruiters require that individuals observe the World as dirty and corrupt and further instigate the idea of their righteous mindset. The jihadists will often persuade members to kill those who differ or disagree with their mindset, and will often use guilt or fear to control these individuals.

  • Emotional Control: Involves manipulating the individual’s feelings. Recruiters often ridicule susceptible individuals for being part of the enemy and persist that reaching true happiness requires joining and fighting in the organization’s frontline. Recruits are often told that overthinking, criticizing or questioning ISIS ideals is not tolerated and forbidden or punished under ISIS rule.

ISIS’s power has deteriorated as their designated fighting groups are performing tasks with no particular skill or ability, such as guarding checkpoints. In 2015, ISIS had lost 25% of the territories it had originally captured in 2014.

“Us Vs. Them”

Today, modern terrorist groups have taken it upon themselves to provide different forms of social media and media platforms to promote their ideals and beliefs. ISIS had successfully captured the full potential of videos, images, magazines and social media outlets such as Twitter as an approach to ‘connect’ with the Muslim and non-Muslim World and present their threat of terror by displaying violence and creating feelings of submissiveness and fear to the viewer.

The 28 year old European- Australian suspect behind the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand justifies his violence behind his terror attack by recognizing the leadership of London’s Sadiq Khan, Germany’s Angel Merkel and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan as perverse and undignified.

His ideology stems from the belief that Western culture is in decline and that the spread of Islam into Western culture will eventually overthrow Christian lands. The shooter’s manifesto, shortly removed from all social media platforms, provides the rationale for his attack by expressing his ironic ideology of growing internationalism from an extremist far right perspective.

I will not further my discussion due to my formal disagreement with these beliefs, as well as avoiding any sort of dispersion of his ideals, however there have been several parallels between far right extremism and extreme Islamism. Similar to ISIS, the Christchurch attacker believes that there are no innocents in their ideology, and that everyone involved in this battle of civilizations is an enemy. Both ideologies underline brotherhood, a bond that embodies an unbreakable trust, unity and empowerment. While the Christchurch shooter builds his identity as part of a global white European race, ISIS highlights its global Islamic identity through its propaganda, ultimately portraying a distorted image of solidarity.

Strength in Unity

On May 12 2003, my school was partially bombed due to two major bombings that took place in residential compounds. 39 people were killed, and over 160 were wounded. The bombings were a brutal backlash to the stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War with Iraq, as well as the slow westernization in Saudi Arabia. Though the Saudi Arabian government issued a warning that Al Qaeda was planning terrorist attacks, it was not enough to stop the insurgencies.

Of those 39 people, only 9 were American.

Terrorism has no boundaries. It has no religion, and it has no borders. It does, however, have a deadly agenda. Terrorism should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group. In all its forms, its activities aim at the destruction of human rights, freedom and democracy, security, and the stability of constituted governments.    

At this point, it is our duty and our government’s duty to reinforce conflict prevention, negotiation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding in order to successfully prevent unresolved conflicts. We must provide dialogue, tolerance and understanding among civilizations, cultures, people and religion to strengthen respect and prevent the defamation of different religions.

Seyma Kokash3 Comments