Film Commentary 09: The History of ISIS – Struggle for the Soul of Islam

The history of the ISIS, particularly in the area of forces in which it derives its strength, exhibits a lot of the concepts on depersonalization, social cohesion, and conformity. All of which are discussed as primary effects of the psychosocial theory that explains terrorism. In the history of ISIS, Sunni communities in both the areas of Iraq and Syria experienced a sense of alienation by the branch of Islam adhering to Shia, the Shiite. In light of the situation, the ISIS was successful in mobilizing these disposition of feelings, in order to paint them as victims. Furthermore, from the sense of victimhood, they were influenced with the feeling of finding solace and control in different forms of violence. More so, by being able to manipulate the interpretation of Islamic beliefs, the ISIS was successful in paving the way for empowering the disenfranchised youth as human “weapons” in their “artillery”.

This particular factor of disenfranchisement pushed the strength of the ISIS through social cohesion. In social cohesion, the collective identity shared by members of a terrorist organization creates a strong positive relationship among the members. Hence, establishing cohesion and cooperation amongst the terrorist group members. Extracting from the disenfranchisement of people, the people, especially the youth, were mobilized through the narrative of being victims. By instilling the feeling that they were victims, they sought “refuge”, meaning, and purpose in the ISIS, through a twisted understanding of Islam. But, nevertheless, bringing them that source for camaraderie, and unity in the group. Hence, allowing them to achieve social cohesion through a positive outlook that what they were doing was right for their belief, and for their group.

Now, depersonalization can be primarily perceived as to how these individuals who seek “refuge” and meaning in ISIS detach themselves from their personal life, and abides in total with the organization’s personal interests and goals. Through the acceptance of the twisted Islam ideas, as well as the contribution of disenfranchised youth joining the infamous organization, there is great reduction to disobedience and challenge, since all of these joiners seek some sort of “peace” in their participation in the ISIS. Hence, establishing a strong form of conformity amongst all of its members.

Interestingly, I believe that the ideas surrounding social cohesion and depersonalization in the ISIS movement is something that highlights how the group is able to mobilize, not just collective rebellion through terrorism, but also individual rebellion. Firstly, it is important to never forget that a big motive and inspiration for people to join the ISIS group is to actually find a sense of meaning and empowerment by being part of it. It is perceived as a group that does ‘what should be’. Hence, inviting and motivating a lot of individuals to fulfill this sense of purpose and need in life through the hold of certain “Islamic beliefs”. Now, through this, the ISIS is perceived by some to be a group that is oppressed  by the normal order power all over the globe. Thus, some individuals are motivated to show support of the ISIS by acting in terror. For instance, the ISIS has been successful in subjecting different forms of terror beyond their own territory. This is because they have inspired some sort of “lone wolf” members or sympathizers of the ISIS. Specifically, for example, in the month of October 2015, a bomb was detonated in a Russian airline, killing everybody on board. Another example would be the various suicide attacks in Paris that have reports of killing 129 civilians. One can see that these lone wolf actors are interestingly inspired and motivated by the sense of cohesion found in the ISIS. Thus, this opens up new ideas for discussion given that social cohesion is not actually just rooted on membership of a terrorist group, but maybe on just the mere feeling of “sympathizing” or “understanding” a group.

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