Combatting ISIS with truth might be more effective

Bold Ideas - Dorothy Dobbie
Bold Ideas –
Dorothy Dobbie

ISIS, sometimes called ISIL, is terrifying the world with its determination and ruthless brutality. This is the latest group to say they alone represent the religious ideal of Islam. In the name of their self-serving cause, which is to create an Islamic state according to their extreme views and to suppress all others, they are recruiting young people from many unlikely corners of the world.
At first glance, it is hard to understand the appeal of these groups to young people, who grew up in free and open societies. Yet, unlikely as it seems, the freedom and openness of our society may be partly at the root of their interest. Here is why.
Democracies are based on the survival of the fittest with an obligation to help those who are ill-equipped to help themselves. For the strong, the intelligent, the determined, this is an ideal system because it allows for unlimited self-expression and opportunity. But what if you are unsuited to that kind of competition as many are, yet you still have aspirations which you are sure you could achieve if only the world followed rules that make sense to you?
Authoritarian, fundamentalist groups such as ISIS offer purpose, peace and security to these people. They hold out a promise of absolute certainty that the path they follow is the right path. It is a black and white world where there is one right way, one right answer. There is no grey, no uncertainty, no need to question, only the imperative to follow a comforting code that removes all questions.
If that imperative offers you the promise of everlasting life, all the better. It is easy to shuck off your mortal cloak and kill the infidel when you know that this opens the door to eternal happiness on the other side.
The leaders of these extremist groups probably fall into two categories: those who came together because they believe in the path, and those who know how to exploit the believers. These leaders, as is often the case with fundamentalist and extremist groups, are often sociopaths whose existence depends on their ability to manage and manipulate others. Notice that it is not they who offer to blow themselves up for the good of the collective.
These leaders are frequently charismatic and well-versed in the habits, needs and motivations of their prey. They are very good communicators and employ propaganda effectively to intimidate their followers and their detractors, both.
In the case of ISIS and extremist Islamic groups, their story is that they have a better understanding of Islam than anyone else; that the reason life isn’t perfect is that the law has been followed imperfectly. “Follow our noble cause and all pain will disappear for the good of the world,” they say. This is an illogical lie, but who can prove it?
These people fear only one thing: demonstrable truth. Since their world is built on a lie, the truth is their profound enemy. If their followers are exposed to the truth in a way that is clear and reasonable, the leaders lose their power.
Ironically, fear of the truth is a weapon they use to keep their followers in line. When their mantra is threatened, it causes mental and physical anguish to the very followers who will kill to avoid it – think of someone going na-na-na-na-na and holding their hands over their ears because they don’t want to hear what is about to be said. Even to the most well-balanced among us, the truth can sometimes hurt.
Looking for a better life
Among the fundamentalists will always be a scattering of the poor and disaffected, people who are just looking for a better life and willing to believe the best offer they hear. These folks ultimately discover the truth, but by that time, it is too late. They are already under the brutal thumb of the budding regime, which has no more compunction about torturing and killing them that they did about doing the same to the “enemy.”
So what is to be done? How does modern society deal with this phenomenon? Can you “go in there and bomb the hell out of them” to solve the problem as Obama has suggested?
It sounds simple and effective, but it is neither. First of all, in today’s world, these movements spread like amoeba, so the targets are widely dispersed among populations and there are lots of leaders in waiting if we do manage to destroy the current one. Just like ant eradication, we may get the queen, but the colony will quickly nurture a new one.
To government and the media, I would say that our best hope to discourage and ultimately destroy the power of these groups is to use their own weapon: propaganda. Tell the simple truth and back it up with evidence. Point out the obvious discrepancies, the double speak, and the palpable lies in what they are claiming and saying.
Call a spade a spade: they are murderers, thugs, criminals. Don’t dignify what they do by using the names they claim for themselves because that is their way of asserting their legitimacy. Stop using euphemisms for murder. A beheading is a murder, plain and simple. Stop celebrating their atrocities. Report a murder in the driest of language. Use words of contempt in speaking of their deeds if they are to be spoken of at all.
They will attempt to outlaw access to information that exposes their lies – it is up to us to make the truth ubiquitous. Meanwhile, continue to squeeze them by reducing their options. The war against extremism will not be won easily and we can no longer rely on governments to do all the work. The leaders of ISIS are exploiting youth, and betraying their innocence for their own purposes.
There is no one-step gateway to the highest level of paradise. It is up to all of us to help take the truth into schools and places where vulnerable youth live.

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