Wounds of war in a street of Kirkuk, IraqTheir faces turn up time and again on the pages of newspapers and become no less shocking, leaving us speechless. They are close-ups of very young “normal” boys and girls who we meet in everyday life, who one day decide to go join the jihad in Syria or Iraq in the Caliphate's black flag-waving army, ready to blow themselves up or slit innocent people's throats to gain their place in Paradise.
Technically they're known in Italian as foreign fighters as if labelling them in English could bridge the gap we can't come to terms with: it's not Chechens or Afghans using Kalashnikovs but teenagers or people not much older, most of whom grew up in Western countries and were educated in our schools – i.e. formally “integrated” – who at some point decide to leave everything and head East. All they need is a low cost flight to Istanbul where they're met by those who lured them there and taken across the border into the new Caliphate they dreamed of going. But what happens before take-off? The process of recruiting these young people is cleverly managed, using effective, sharp, technological propaganda which reaches these youths when they are alone. In most cases contact is via Internet: fascinating groups are created online full of people praising a heroic life, putting forward a radically different life path. Videos put together like works of art, copying the Hollywood format perfectly, are put on display to persuade their viewers.
French anthropologist, Dounia Bouzar, has examined 400 families affected by the tragedy of a child jihadist and deconstructed the process of “depersonalisation” of the very young and their reduction to cannon fodder for Isis. Skilled jihadi emirs touch the minds and hearts of young people with a key message: “That sense of discomfort that you feel about your peers, your family, and society does not mean you're the one at fault, not at all. It is a sign that you are “chosen”. You have been chosen by God, God has revealed the truth to you which others may not see. Follow us”. This persuasion happens in conjunction with a range of other suggestions: that the world is dominated by conspiracies and lies, the only path that can lead to truth and justice – which the new followers strongly aspire to – is the path of Islam as put forward in Isis' violent, terrorist interpretation of the faith. And this process of radicalisation, contrary to what is usually easy to think, does not only happen to the poor or uneducated or marginalised children of Muslim immigrants. It also happens to middle class, well educated young people. In France it happens to children from wealthy families in 60% of cases and from atheist families in 40%. What does this tell us? If economics, sociology or religious faith can't explain the range of cases, what's left? What are the young jihadists really looking for? Fabrice Hadjaji, a French philosopher, tried to answer and openly provoked the west by saying they're looking for a cause worthy of dedicating their lives to. They're looking for meaning: Bouzar supports this too, when she writes that “engagement and combat gives meaning to their existence”.
They go looking for that meaning in the East, in a bloody war. Why? Why can't they find it elsewhere? Here, in Europe, where they grew up?