ISIS uses religion as an important tool for brainwashing its members and encouraging them to kill people, even their close relatives. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks states in the book Not in the God’s Name, young people are relentlessly searching for identity and sense of belonging within the community. Terrorist groups are speculating on this emotional gap to attract large number of recruits. Sacks indicates that western world is characterized by individualism. The society promoting this notion is a perfect platform for ISIS to attract followers who feel that they are deprived of the chance to seek their identity as well as the meaning of live. For instance, up to 1600 people from the United Kingdom have joined the Islamic State so far. This paper discusses the ways in which ISIS brainwashes people into being part of their agenda.
Religion shapes identity of many people. Although western countries promote individualistic tendencies, they set the stage for identity crisis for most of its young people and children. ISIS uses religion as a convincing tool to make people believe that they fight for a higher purpose and serve the will of the God. In one of ISIS’ manuals used in recruitment, it is stated that they should target less religious people whom they can recruit since inviting already religious people would result in their defeat. The organization seeks non-believing individuals whom they can indoctrinate through manipulation. These are vulnerable people who are seeking for meaning in their lives. In general, people who lack knowledge about Islam are easy targets and are less likely to backslide from the things they have been taught to believe.
Moreover, ISIS is looking for individuals having natural disposition for the faith, for example, students in high schools, colleges, and universities. To illustrate, the manual says, “the university is similar to an isolated region for a period of 4, 5 or 6 years and full of youths imbued with vigor, zeal and anti-government sentiments. However, one must be careful because many spies are sent there by government security agencies.”
Furthermore, ISIS relies on vulnerability to make choices enhanced by western societies as the 21st century has left people with maximum choices and with minimum meaning (Sacks, 2015). Undoubtedly, many people love the idea of serving a greater purpose or doing the will of God, and it seems that only religion can override intellectual knowledge in the decision making process. This explains why some recruits are smart people having lucrative careers, specifically lawyers, doctors, pilots, entrepreneurs, etc. The idea that ISIS gives them an opportunity to serve the will of God and their acts warrants mouth-watering rewards in the afterlife is sufficient reason to abandon logical reasoning and to start killing even their own relatives. As Sacks (2015) warns, “in the post modern world, the greatest threat to freedom is politicized, radical religion.” However, the violence perpetuated by ISIS and terrorists has nothing to do with religion; in fact, it is built on life and identity of people in the group (Sacks, 2015).
This terrorist group also uses propaganda as a brainwashing technique to recruit and push its members into committing atrocities. Within its territories, ISIS promotes propaganda that is almost impossible to escape. It is a common knowledge that the group has had success on online platforms in disseminating propaganda messages to attract westerners and prompt individuals to commit heinous crimes, even without having to establish physical contact with the members of the group. For instance, the recent attack in one of the American universities was executed by a student of Somali origin, whom ISIS propaganda messages turned into a criminal. He followed recent ISIS message encouraging its members to use pocket knives to kill ‘pagans’ since knives are difficult to detect. This case illustrates the success of propaganda messages in brainwashing its members and non-members. Overall, such means are meant to spread fear, hatred, incitements, as well as ‘positive’ side of their intents, on the other hand.
Another function of propaganda is to strengthen ISIS brand. The group distinguishes itself from other jihadist terrorist organizations, like Al-Qaeda, by setting itself in some regions as the legitimate government with the ability to provide important services to the caliphate people.
ISIS also limits access to information, thereby eliminating people’s ability to make sound choices. The Islamic States cut access to the internet, which leads to limited knowledge about the situation in the rest of the world. Most people do not believe in their propaganda. However, with the lack of information, their decision-making ability is impaired. The most affected by this technique are children as they are brainwashed through media platforms installed in public places, which show videos that might convince the children of their agendas.
In conclusion, this essay focused on how ISIS applies various methods of brainwashing potential recruits and members and urging to kill people who oppose their agenda. Individualistic tendencies promoted by western societies provide perfect breeding ground for ISIS techniques. Furthermore, religion is depicted as a powerful brainwashing tool used to justify killings. Besides, propaganda is used to instill fear and excitement as well as convince people to adhere to the ISIS agenda. Thus, with the help of mentioned methods and techniques, ISIS successfully indoctrinates individuals.