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Injustice may turn an outlaw into a ‘hero’

Jun 04,2017 - Last updated at Jun 04,2017

To win over radicalism, it is important not to forget that this battle is much deeper than a social media campaign or the promotion of certain rhetoric and narratives.

It is also important to understand the psychology of radical groups and why their leaders enjoy widespread support.

In his book “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS”, Joby Warrick tackles the life of Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist who gained international notoriety and laid the foundations for Daesh.

It is interesting to consider how these terrorists are viewed amongst different groups.

Despite being violent and enemies of the state, many still see them as heroes.

Promoting the narrative that the state is an enemy of its own citizens fuels feelings of hatred towards the state, its institutions and representatives.

Zarqawi was seen as a strong leader by his followers, partly because of his strong positions against the states and its representatives. 

He was also seen as a protector of his followers: “Despite his harsh manner, he won admirers because of his fearless defiance of prison authority.”

This arouses further questions about the underlying reasons terrorists are seen as heroes.

Members of these groups enjoy impassioned solidarity, as the group provides elements to their lives that general society did not.

When states fail to uphold social justice and national identity, people can often seek these comforts elsewhere.

The sense of brotherhood fostered by these groups replaces the members’ failure to integrate in society.

These groups tap into the feelings of exclusion, oppression, humiliation and violation of human dignity.

According to the book, Zarqawi appeared to be caring and a defender of his fellows’ rights and protector of their dignity.

In one story, he appeared to fight for a sick man named Jahaline to receive not just proper medication but also respect.

The following extract is an illustrative example of the role Zarqawi played for his followers: “One evening, while Sabha (the doctor) was visiting the cell, Jahaline suffered one of his occasional meltdowns, a screaming fit that usually required treatment with antipsychotic drugs. Sabha grabbed a syringe and was preparing to administer the shot when Zarqawi stepped forward to block him.  Without a word, Zarqawi took a blanket from one of the beds and draped it over Jahaline’s lower body. 

He held the blanket in place with one hand, and with another tugged at the elastic waistband of the disabled man’s trousers, exposing a narrow crescent of skin. Then he motioned to the doctor. “Just make sure it’s in the right spot,” he commanded. When it was done and Jahaline was resting quietly, Sabha looked up to find Zarqawi watching him with a look of satisfaction.”

The point is that in our deradicalisation and anti-terrorism strategies, we must consider how these groups work on the psychology of the people involved.

Being an outlaw has always had an attraction for certain people, and outlaw groups have for centuries leveraged the sense of protecting members from social injustice and failures of the state.

Robin Hood, the hero that we all admire, was in reality an outlaw. But in the story, he is only an outlaw because of injustice in the system, so the people saw him as a hero fighting for their rights.

To be effective in the deradicalisation process, there is need of justice, protection of human dignity, and giving people the chance to live a better life and participate in building their future.

 

 

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