Imagine you belong to a club. I use the term “club” in a wide sense here. The club you belong to may be a country, a religion, a sport, a multinational or even the bird watching community. Belonging to a club gives you a sense of identity. It enables you to meet and talk with people with something in common. By mixing with people who hold similar views, you actually reinforce your own beliefs. You believe even more feverently in your passion. You start to believe your country is better than other countries. Your religion is better than other religions. Your sport is better than other sports. Maybe even bird watching is better than most other leisure activities.
But what if those fanatics believe their way of existence is threatened by someone who is not part of the club. A German fanatic who believes refugees will destroy the German way of life. A Jew who thinks Islam will destroy Israel. An amateur sportsman who thinks professionalism will destroy the sport they love. An environmentalist who believes logging will destroy the ecology. They are convinced they are right, and believe they must act to stop something happening.
In days gone, it would be a letter to the editor, or a protest march. A visit to the local member of parliament. A door knocking campaign to alert others. Ads in the paper to protest the movement. The problem now is we have reached media saturation. Yet another letter will probably never make it to the letters page. In any case who reads it? The local member will provide tea and platitudes but do nothing.
Then there is the Internet. Social media campaigns occasionally have some impact. The can stir the pot as letters to the editor once did. They can cross geographical boundaries, and reach out to like minded people. They can invite action be it adding a comment, forwarding, or becoming part of the club. They are a seductive attraction to those who feel lost and are looking for a club.
But clubs are stratified. Within each club, there will be a range of believers. Some will be fanatical, and others just ‘dabblers’. Those who are fanatical will want to gather as many members as they can and make them equally passionate about their belief. They can be the person at a party you avoid like the plague because they will get you in a corner and try to make you an Amway distributor.
Even traditional clubs have radical and moderate groups. As an example, think of the Republican party in the USA. They managed to spawn a group as radical as the Tea Party. People well removed from the Republican mainstream who have radical ideas and solutions. Their faith in their own views, regardless of the fact they vary significantly from the majority view, justifies whatever extreme steps they feel they need to take. Whilst they may be called a group within a group, they are really an extreme offshoot. They have moved into the territory usually considered that of terrorists.
There are a number of forces in play to make a person get to this point.
- A basic belief system that aligns with the general values of the club
- A willingness to accept whatever you are being told, even if it involves being talked into a certain idea
- A need to belong to a group. In other words a need to have some identity or belong.
- Willingness to accept authority. The club leadership must be obeyed.
- Rejection of alternatives be they religious, social, ethnic or variations on the theme
- An enemy to drive you further into your club and make you dependent on the other club members for your survival
Typically there will be a charismatic figure, or figures in the leadership. People who can inspire you, and who you can aspire to be. People of power. People who have the answers to all your questions. Leaders who inspire belief through some form of vision. Osama Bin Laden was one. Hitler another. Then there was Stephen Jobs, Nelson Mandala and Mother Theresa. Not all extreme clubs are bad, but they do require subsuming your own beliefs and adopting the group belief.
So we come to terrorists. In most cases, they are breakaways from Islam. They have distorted Islamic teachings to create a belief system that no longer resembles the mainstream Muslim world. They take people looking for a club, and offer them membership. Camaraderie. All this but also they demand blind obedience. However you need an enemy. Manchester United may have Arsenal but what does a radical Islamic group have?
There are two possible “enemies” for groups like ISIS. Look at the Republican Party to see how it works. The Tea Party seem to hate equally the Democrats and the GOP moderates. Islamic radicals hate both the non-muslims and the moderate muslims. Shias hate Sunnis and vice versa. Clubs within clubs.
In the First World War, the machine gun changed everything. A charge from the trenches was a recipe for death. Yet time and time again, the Generals ordered troops to charge the enemy only to be mown down in their thousands. The Generals failed to learn. It was not until the invention of the tank, and aerial bombardment that the enemy could be pushed back and losses minimised.
Clubs have learnt the lesson of adaption. Terrorism uses fear as a weapon. If danger is everywhere, the enemy must be strong. If the enemy is strong, they must be attacked. This is precisely the outcome ISIS and Al Qaeda are looking for. A war between Muslim and Christian. If a small group of Muslims can provoke most of the Christians to attack them, it will force the moderate Muslim world to choose sides. From the viewpoint of ISIS, this will bring on a struggle that will dwarf WWII. A nuclear holocaust. All the Christian world versus all the Muslim world. If you are part of a group like ISIS, you believe your god will ensure you destroy the part of the world that is not Muslim.
And it is so simple to provoke. Terrorism is the easiest and laziest way to strike fear into the enemy. Think of the Malaysian Airways aircraft that disappeared over the Indian Ocean. Imagine a capsule of anything from a poison gas to chloroform was placed in the air conditioning unit. It was designed to explode when the air pressure dropped to the level of a normal cruising altitude. Suddenly everyone is asleep or dead and the plane flies on autopilot until it runs out of fuel. You only need to release the gas in the cockpit for it to work. The capsule may only need to be the size of a cigarette lighter. Mechanics, cleaners and caterers could easily slip the capsule into the system and nobody would ever know. How easy is that?
If you want to scare parents, no need to attack a school with suicide bombers. Put a bomb in a McDonald’s birthday cake. Much more impact. How would you feel if every time you went to McDonald’s you had to go through a scanner and a security check?
How can authorities ever screen every possible opportunity to kill people? It is impossible. Most security checks happen after the event rather than before. Since airport security has been strengthened after 911, how many bombs have been discovered? The terrorists just move on to another modus operandi.
Can anything be done? Unfortunately the answer seems to be not much. The most promising path seems to be to stop people joining the club in the first place. We need to address the vulnerability of potential candidates. Give them another club to belong to. Help them into more moderate clubs. Prison seems a place where many are radicalised. Should we be providing resources to more moderate Muslim groups or Christian groups to provide another club to join? Create some competition to radicalisation.
Since the majority of radical groups are Islamic, denunciation of the radical group by mainstream Islamic religions is critical. Imagine the impact on ISIS if a million Muslims were to hold their own march in Paris to denounce the radical’s interpretation of the Koran. To say “We are Muslim and we don’t support club ISIS”. It would have far more impact than a million French marching to support club France. It would isolate ISIS. It would push it to the fringes and damage their justification for existence.
Clubs will always exist. In the current century, they can have dramatic impacts on the world around them. If the focus is on security and prevention of damage, they will always win. There are a multitude of ways to commit a terrorist act and draw attention. The path most likely to succeed is to challenge the rationale of the terrorist club. To undermine membership – both existing and potential. To offer an alternative to the club. To progressively dry up the blot on humanity that these terrorist clubs are.