[October 28, 2014] Explanations on why so many people are attracted to extremist and terrorist organizations have been advanced by Western civilians for decades. The usual explanation is they are recruited to extremism due to poverty and if we were only to provide them with a safety net and means to live our citizens would not be attracted to such organizations. Turning conventional logic around is what one author does in a recent article called, The Joy of Killing for Allah.1 Ralph Peters does that in giving another explanation of what misfit citizens are attracted by Islamic extremism over what Western society has to offer them.
Creative, out-of-the box thinking is a must for leaders. My personal favorite professional readings are those that make me think … think differently and to see a line of reasoning that maybe I had not considered before or had rejected. There are those who turn logic on its head and run counter to conventional thought. Leaders need to remain open to alternative explanations of why people act the way they do. This helps in the understanding of people and makes leaders better.
Peters is known for taking the opposing and unconventional view and making it seem like a mainstream idea. Explaining why certain Western citizens do what they do to support and join extremist Islamic organizations, Peters says:
“Take the profoundly un-Washington step of suspending our cultural vanity to consider what jihad offers the young and adrift, the failed and embittered, or the simmering convict. Then weigh that ‘Allah wants you!’ package against our pathetic counter-bid.”
Peters lists those things the misfit citizen gains from Islamic extremism. Comparing what Western society has to offer, is hardly a fair comparison. For example, by accepting jihad they gain acceptance for the first time in their life, a sense of belonging, power and purpose, revenge and respect, and the prospect for fame. He posses the critical question, “What do we hope to offer … A job stocking shelves at Wal-Mart.” Ouch! Peters’ argument is persuasive. Many say that he has a biased view of non-Western cultures. Peters makes the same argument on why we, as Westerners, fail to see the attraction if Islamic extremism.
“Islamic fanaticism offers the powerless, bitter, and hopeless license on earth and luxury in paradise. We’re scolds who offer minimum-wage jobs. Is the terrorist recruit truly irrational?”
Peters offers us a convincing alternative explanation.
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