Today the sound of the unsheathed scimitar gives rhythm to the videos produced by ISIS. Watching the videos’ merciless acts we ask ourselves “How is it possible a human being can generate such level of horror? How is it possible a person with a family, with dreams and skills has come to the point that the life of another human being is worth nothing?
News headlines and television clips provide ample evidence of the military side of the ‘war on terror’: bombing raids against Islamic State fighters in Iraq, special forces incursions in Somalia, or ground operations against Islamist rebels in northern Mali. The killings of civilians by such insurgents generally provide the justification for forceful action.
The heat of battle and the atmosphere of urgency often seem to leave government officials and military commanders little time to ask a fundamental question: Can terrorism be defeated primarily through arms?
‘Pop-jihad as a lifestyle’, so the Dutch Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism opined, when expressing his worries about the appeal of jihadist symbols to young Europeans (1)
. Starting in 2012, many thousands Europeans have travelled to join jihadist groups in Syria, in particular the so called Islamic State (aka ISIL or ISIS). Numbers vary from 3,400 to 5,000. By July 2015, from Belgium alone some 440 individuals have gone to the region (included are the 50 or so who never made it to Syria). But looking into the motivations and backgrounds of this relative large group from a small country might help to shed a light on the journey of Westerners to “a country they do not know, in a culture they are not familiar with, and where a language is spoken that they do not understand(2)
We remain fascinated by terrorist acts and how seemingly normal people transform into cold-blooded killers. We have certain preconceived notions about who becomes a terrorist and why. Much of the conventional wisdom and preconceived notions are more conventional wisdom that empirically based on reality and facts. Mohammed Emwazi previously known as ‘Jihad John’ an educated middle class British citizen who became notorious for beheading Western aid workers and journalists in Syria surprised many who saw an educated Westernized person with no history of radical views(1)
. The stereotypes about terrorists include faulty assumptions about sanity, a history of anti social behavior, poverty, or drug and alcohol abuse(2)
. More often than not, terrorist groups use these assumptions to their benefit. Among the many assumptions about level of education, wealth, and ethnic background inevitably has also been that of gender.