What Is The Appeal Of Radical Islam (to Young People)?

I was reading about the (large) numbers of young people in the West, who travel to Syria/Iraq to joint ISIS.
The appeal seems (to me) to get in on the start of the new caliphate-and kill the enemies of ISIS.
However, this also means accepting a very radical form of Islam-which means no more Western music, no freedoms, and a very restricted lifestyle. I do not understand why anyone would want to do this, but assume (for debating purpose), that a young person wants to do this-what is their fate? Do they expect to be killed, or do they think that they will become part of a new movement, and rise in the hierarchy.
Or do most of them find that they have signed on to a brutal organization, that delights in killing? It sounds to me that these people have undergone some kind of “barinwashing”-who would want to become such a monster?

I’ve wondered that, too. I guess lost people have always drifted to cults and charismatic leaders. But there’s nothing charismatic about ISIS. No accounting for taste. I’m equally curious about the appeal of CrossFit–I get wanting to belong to something, anything…but surely there’s got to be something less horrific.

If you get the chance, you should read Scott Atran’s "Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists ", where the author interviews Islamist terrorists and looks at the process by which people join terrorist groups.

Look at this big elephant in your room.
It’s called religion.
With all the talk of peace and the countless muslims that lead peaceful lives, Islam does have this seed of evil ingrained in it.

Christianity has it too. If an actual crusade were to be called, there is absolutely no doubt that huge numbers of christians would flock to it, in likewise manner.

It’s step by step, never 0-100.

People are tricked into thinking they’re going out there to help people, and then asked to do something heinous to prove their loyalty, but it’s ok, because it’s for the good of the cause, the cause to help people (Or OUR people, as they’d say)

It pisses off their parents. As MAD magazine pointed out some time ago, Tupac and Dr. Dre’s kids are going to have to do something that pisses *them *off… and there you go.

Don’t be so naive…everybody has seen the ISIS videos of beheadings, etc. The westerners who leave home to join ISIS know full well that they will soon be doing heinous things…That’s what attracts them in the first place.

Rolling Stone did a good article about some Muslim teens in Chicago who were caught on their way to join ISIS. They (ISIS) have quite a social media show going on. The kids are being duped.

For a typical 18-year-old male, the mind is a nest of strong emotions, not yet controlled by reason. There’s the sex drive, the power drive, the be-tougher-than-everyone-else drive, the change-the-world drive. There’s also a certain attraction to violence for its own sake. There’s a reason why movies aimed at young males feature so many huge killer robots, huge killer dinosaurs, huge killer space aliens, and the like.

Political movements that can harness the energy of a such minds will find a large body of willing, enthusiastic recruits. Marxist and communist movements in the 20th century got large numbers of young men to march with them. So did the Nazis and other fascist movements. The appeal is to the desire for power, the desire to be special, the desire to be among the elite. “We are the small group of human beings who understand how the world truly works, and are on our way to ruling the world. Join us and be a part of it.” That’s the message.

They were being duped by the US. I don’t know that they were being duped by ISIS.


Human beings, especially young human beings, especially especially idealistic young men, long for meaning and purpose and a mission. There is a reason nonprofits are usually staffed by 20somethings, & a reason why support for wars is nearly always highest among young people (including Vietnam, look it up). ISIS offers something that the postchristian postmodern posteverything West doesn’t. What most of us experience as comfort, safety, peace, and freedom, some experience as meaningless nihilism.

To paraphrase a great man “Say what you want about the tenets of ISIS, at least it’s a ethos.”

And ISIS isn’t particularly out of line historically. For thousands of years, young men who wanted to go to war wouldn’t have had a particularly difficult time doing so. The extended period of peace we currently enjoy is historically anomalous and unprecedented. At best in the past, you had a safe and stable core territory with constant low-level warfare on the frontier, providing an opportunity for violence to anyone who desired it. Nowadays, a typical Westerner would have difficulty finding combat even if he sought it, which is very atypical.

As our culture becomes more feminized and androgynous, we’ve lost outlets for young men to express their masculinity in a pro-social way. And consequently, our citizens are running off to the middle of the desert to stone infidels, sell slaves, and conquer territory, because they have desires that western society can no longer fulfill.

Crossfit has largely the same appeal, providing an outlet for people’s competitive drive. This is amplified with the fast pace and movement of large and heavy weights. It also acts as a sort of “gym class for adults” that attracts people whose inhibitions would prevent them from entering a traditional gym.

So you’re saying that people are looking around and thinking, “Remember the days when we used to be cannon fodder–wasn’t that awesome?” What next, people rejecting pasteurized milk and vaccines for deadly diseases…oh wait.

Are that many of our citizens really “running off” to Isis, anyway? A few, but it hardly seems like this is really that big of a draw.

But they were forced to do that to show their enemies fear, it’s all justifiable you know, you can spin the atrocities anyway you want, doesn’t mean they’re not tricked.

Religion can be used but I don’t think that’s the bottom line. Charles Manson got college-attending women to perform some pretty heinous acts.

You’re conflating technological advancement with social ‘progress’ and attributing moral connotations to a factual argument. People aren’t viewing the world using your progressive frame-of-reference but rather see war as a proving ground of masculine virtue.

Some people are born to fight (in both a figurative and literal sense), whether modern-day liberals like it or not. Our society either needs to provide constructive outlets for violent individuals or watch them join institutions like ISIS that are not of our design and not under our control.

What is the appeal of gangs to young people? The motivations are pretty similar. If you are interested, here is a video (short) on YouTube on the appeal of ISIS to women that gives some insights.

How about the massacre in Tunisia-how does someone reconcile that kind of mass murder with any notion of religion?

It’s the women they recruit that I find really incomprehensible. I can’t get my head around how anyone could conclude being an ISIS woman is a good deal.

I read the article. I don’t understand your comment. Can you expand on that?