During the ongoing Syrian crisis socio-economic factors have been mistakenly considered the main drive leading people to join violent organizations. NGOS in this part of the Middle-East, both local and international, relied on this flawed approach as they address recruitment and mobilization into extremist groups. Two basic fallacies resulted: a. failing to acknowledge cultural aspects related to the specific society; b. neglecting psychological factors leading certain people, rather than others, into extremism.
The latter fact deals with psychological preparedness. It is the reason why some people joined extremist organization while their siblings, for example, did not join. Social variables that were mistakenly considered reasons for such a behavior are actually facilitators. This pilot study skimmed into those facilitating factors while applying cultural relativism — it is the study of a culture from within (emic study) while trying to understand this culture based in its own standards rather than on those of the researcher.
Through a qualitative methodology, the study explored psychological factors related to the upbringing of people in Deir Ezzor that pushed them to join ISIS or HTS under the socio-economic circumstances of the Syrian crisis affecting this specific Syrian subculture.
From childhood up, reasons behind getting into an extremist organization where examined during interviews. Participants were found to be inhibited by their families when they were children. They were not allowed to be proactive in their decision-making process when they became adolescents, and their experience within the household often included witnessing conflicts between parents, lacking the required authority of the father, and having strong attachment to the mother.
Furthermore, most of the young men studied had a sexual inhibition — their relationship with female peers succumbed to tribal prohibition. This is one of the important reasons making such males easily exploited by extremism. Violence becomes essential to those people lives, both from a psychoanalytic perspective of conflicting internal drives as well as from a religious approach promising them with mermaid-like creatures in the afterlife. Identity confusion is noticeable in adult subjects who were studied. The participants had severely flexible ego. Their conscience was distorted by the tribal context which reinforces hatred of those who are not of the same subculture. Others are wrong and deserve annihilation. This made it easier for extremism to manipulate such people to join.
Based on the findings, it is recommended to expand the pilot study to a quantitative research ensuring statistical significance. It is also recommended to approach female subjects and compare prospective findings with those of the pilot study. In addition, a comparative study is requested to check reproducibility of findings in areas like Raqqa and Hasakeh. Finally, it is recommended to apply an alternative approach to prevent further involvement of people in extremist organizations by mirroring the latter through what could be called “non-violent sleeper peace cells”.
For reading the full pilot study, please contact us via: [email protected]