ISIL (The islamic state of Iraq and the Levant) is a terrorist group that was initially part of the Iraqi section of Al-Qaeda; but separated due to disagreements. They now both compete for influence and recruits, even though ISIL is currently considered to be the most successful and fast growing radicalised islamic organisation, that presides over pieces of land in Iraq and Syria; as well as controlling parts of Lebanon and Libya.Similar to Al Qaeda, ISIL embraces a violent and hardline version of Islam that it uses to justify their acts of terror against civilians globally. They have been responsible for thousands of civilian death worldwide; most against Muslims in Syria and Iraq.  Like all other organisations, ISIL has “special action structures” carefully formulated to effectively attain certain goals (Nash, 1994),  including the establishment of a worldwide caliphate using various recruitment processes and indoctrination techniques.ISIL’s effective propaganda techniques and exceptionally excessive funds have facilitated it’s growth in power and numbers.

 According to the New York Times report, the CIA estimates “that nearly 30,000 foreign fighters have travelled to Iraq and Syria from more than 100 countries since 2011” (Senguptasept, 2015).Social Media:The unnerving number of foreign fighters joining ISIL highlights the effectiveness of their recruitment techniques; such as those on social media platforms (e.g, Twitter).

They have been fearfully successful at perpetuating violence and spreading fear through the use of modern technology (Gruen, 2006).With ISIL creatively utilising “vicious species of psychological warfare,” to “manipulate their target audiences through the media.” (Post, 1990), they have been successful in consistently recruiting new members. In 2014 an assessment of ISIL was conducted by The Special Operations Command Central.

It concluded that “ISIS effectively juxtapose messages of extreme brutality with care and provisioning, and backup at least the brutal message with action, enabling their messaging to effectively control the population.” (SOCCENT, p.195). A paper by Berger & Morgan examines 20,000 social media accounts of ISIL crusaders and their methods of propaganda and stipulated that ISIL has exploited Twitter, “to send its propaganda and messaging out to the world and to draw in people vulnerable to radicalization.” This skillful exploitation of Twitter is a key recruitment technique, propagating media that nurtures a romanticized picture of life in ISIL-controlled regions. They also observed two primary techniques used to leave a greater impression.

The first being the posting of pictures that promote graphic violence “including the beheading of Western journalists and aid workers and the immolation of a Jordanian air force pilot”. The second technique being the utilisation of social media to “attract new recruits and inspire lone actor attacks.” (Berger & Morgan, 2015). This demonstrates how ISIL has developed psychological tactics to manipulate and recruit members into their organisation.

Masculinity and humiliationThe reasons for joining a terrorist organisation are multidimensional consisting of social, geopolitical, ideological/religious, and psychological grounds. One constantly recurring psychological manipulation is the emphasis on masculinity and humiliation. What is particularly compelling is how females and children are used to deliver this technique effectively.

Through the use of child soldiers in videos, a sense of discomfort is created for any males watching as it implies that a child holds more power, and is playing a bigger role then they are in avenging Muslims’ perceived humiliation. Female ISIL members are also appointed as a tool for emasculation. For example, posting messages on twitter such as “There are women who are already here before you and look, they are already doing more than you have for the Islamic State.”  are an effective push on impressionable individuals who are on the fence and have not yet taken significant action. Reward and punishmentThe 2015 analysis paper by Berger & Morgan explains that ISIL implements a reward and punishment system to prompt a desired behavior (i.

e, the carrot and stick technique ) in their social media campaigns that intrigue prospective members and supporters by portraying the “Islamic State” as a safe, refined, unprejudiced, cultivated and attractive state (their reward for joining ISIL). In contrast ISIL’s supporters post graphic pictures showing the consequences of those who defy ISIL (e.g.

, beheadings), (their punishment for not joining ISIL). This argument is further validated by Kruglanski (2014) who observes that ISIL’s beliefs provide its supporters “an invaluable psychological reward” which is, by contributing to the fight against the disbelievers they can achieve the “status of heroes and martyrs”  thus obtaining a “larger-than-life significance and earning a spot in history.” The psychological tactic here is playing on vulnerable individuals who feel they have no purpose in society. Additionally, muslims in the west may feel withdrawn from their religion, therefore by highlighting “martyrdom” (which the holy Quran highly praises) ISIL is incorrectly exploiting muslims who feel low in faith.

Quest for significanceA psychology professor at the University of Maryland explains that the attraction in ISIL’s  recruitment techniques is based in its power to utilise an individual’s inclination to gain self -respect and respect from others. This is referred to as the “quest for significance” which ISIL capitalises by vocalising the injustice, indignity and humiliation of Muslims at the hands of the west. This technique holds a larger influence with males as it directly challenges a man’s masculinity thus manipulating them into joining their cause and on occasions committing attacks against civilians in the western country they reside in (Jasko & Webber, 2015)Post (1998) claims in his research that various researchers have “characterized terrorists as action-oriented, aggressive people who are stimulus-hungry and seek excitement.” He stated that “the psychological mechanisms of externalization and splitting that are found with extremely high frequency in the population of terrorists, and contribute significantly to the uniformity of terrorists’ rhetorical style and their special psychologic.”. This argument is reflected in  ISIL’s social media campaigns as it highlights the “uniformity of terrorists’ and their power of influence. Post (1998) elaborates by pointing out that ISIL uses the psychology of “rhetorical narrative” in its social media recruitment campaigns, which induces fear and promotes a feeling of duty and responsibility to carry out jihadist tasks.

Furthermore, Post (1989) identifies two dynamics that are implemented by ISIL’s advertisement for this “quest for significance”; firstly, the pressure to conform.  ISIL skillfully exploits social media platforms to display intense conformity in preserving social order.  Leggiero (2015) advocates that, ISIL’s use of group identity hinders a person’s ability to to appoint any other morals or principles that could impede ISIL’s group consistency, orderliness and unified action.  Bandura (1990) supports this notion by stating that, “terrorists try to exercise influence over targeted officials or nations through intimidation of the public and arousal of sympathy for the social and political causes they espouse.” Bandura (2002) further elaborates that terrorists justify their violent and murderous behavior as acts of “selfless martyrdom by comparing them with widespread cruelties incited on the people with whom they identify.”.  The second dynamic is the pressure to “Commit Acts of Violence”.  ISIL exploits and manipulates Quranic verses and religious hadiths (quotes) to provide supporters with motivation and rationalisation for violence.

 Two basic human needsKruglanski (2014) states that extremist beliefs have a twofold kind of appeal. The first being remarkably coherent and logical (e.g.,”black and white, right or wrong”). Secondly, they offer the chance of becoming unique being “part of a larger whole”.  From a psychological perspective, Kruglanski (2014) suggests that recruited individuals may find violent extremism appealing as a result of the manipulation of two basic human needs: “the need for cognitive closure and the need for personal significance.

” This is particularly alluring to young ISIL admirers who are struggling to boost or search for their self-identity as they would be given the opportunity to fight for a “noble cause” while becoming part of a Jihadist society. Kruglanski further elaborates that these individuals have a need for “certainty” and the avoidance of ambiguity. They have a yearning to feel secure and assured about their future and the need to always know where to go and what to do.

This pursuit for structure, consistency and clarity is what makes joining ISIL so appealing. (Kruglanski, 2014). Supporting Kruglanski’s outlook, Michael Hogg (2014) stated that a sense of uncertainty vitalises individuals to passionately and loyally “identify with highly entitative groups that are characterized by strong and directive leadership and by ideological and ethnocentric belief systems that proscribe dissent and prescribe group-normative behavior.”  Shared Ideologies & Psychological traits: ISIL operates like any social group and in order for any social group to be successful, sharing ideologies is fundamental to group integration. It is these ideologies that form, distinguish norms, supply meaning, and rationalise group behaviours.

Therefore, ISIL constructs societal principles through collectively shared ideas. Such societal principals help members generate a social identity, which helps them differentiate between “us” and “them” making it easier for them to commit such violent acts.  (Bar-Tal, 2000).

ISIL is aware of vulnerabilities within isolated youth and has noticed the value of these “societal rejects” by utilising psychological strategies to entice them into conforming to the extremist ideologies of the group. For instance, the fact that Kurds join ISIL appears to be unreasonable and illogical seeing as ISIL somewhat shares ideologies with Saddamists, who were solely behind the Kurdish genocide. ISIL doesn’t focus on ethnicity, only religion which is why some Kurds join ISIL; as it identifies as pan-Sunni, rather than pan-Arab. A significant amount of Turkomen have also enlisted with ISIL, who, like the Kurds, have been victimised by an Arab regime and have endured many years of prejudice and oppression. (Weiss & Hassan, 2015). Eliminating recruits access:During an individual’s grooming process, ISIL strives to immobilize their access to outside information to guarantee that the individual belongs entirely to the organisations and can’t be swayed.

ISIL, similar to Nazi Germany, attempts to manage and sway public opinion through regulating access to information; in hopes to procreate ignorance (Munir, 2015). In evidence supporting this, it was reported that ISIL burnt more than 6,000 religious, scientific and cultural books (Munir, 2015). Adding in, reports of ISIL banning the teaching and learning of chemistry and physics, deeming them”unholy” (, 2015).  Music, art, and religious education from the curriculum are also reportedly banned (International Business Times UK, 2014).

These restrictions force recruits to become completely dependent on the group and would consequently make them think twice before leaving; in fear of not being able to integrate back into society. Training Camps:ISIL utilizes other harrowing techniques such as “unique methods of radicalization, recruitment strategies, and training programs” (De la Corte, 2010). Such programs include recruitment camps that target children in Iraq and Syria. ISIL aims to nurture a new generation of terrorists by exposing children to extremist religious beliefs and violence. Children are sent to the “School of Jihad,” instead of normal school and are referred to as “the Caliphate’s Cubs.

” The main psychological aspect of this technique is to seclude the children so they know and learn nothing but what they are exposed to. This is a extremely intense brainwashing process that nurtures radicalisation jihadi extremists.Additionally, ISIL establishes training camps for children (of all ages and genders) where hundreds of children are enrolled into and taught the Islamic State “ideology” (Sillers, 2015). They are brainwashed with extremist teachings and trained to use weapons and how to fight and slaughter with swords and dolls. They are conditioned to genuinely believe they are fighting for an honorable and worthy cause; and, therefore violence against enemies is not unethical.

However, Children in these areas who do not attend these establishments still publicly witness ISIL’s savage punishments and executions. Sadly, using the pretence of holy Jihad, ISIL has successfully enlisted a large number of children and teenagers. Additionally, having children enlisted supplies ISIL with two beneficial assets: the “disposable asset” and the benefit of shaping the next generation. ISIL, unlike other terrorist groups, do not have age restrictions and commonly place children on the front line before concluding their “apprenticeships as terrorists in training” (Bloom, 2015). They also, unfortunately utilising them as both human shields and to increase their numbers. This means that ISIL personally hand-picks their members and who they sacrifice (Stern & Berger, 2015).Extremist ideology and beliefs are exceptionally psychologically influential as they legitimise violent terrorism, and defend it as the only productive technique to achieve the group’s goal. Furthermore, by producing a generation of children who possess poor or little cognitive development and literacy skills, ISIL is able to plant the seed of extremism more easily as it is makes it harder for them to have any other possible future.

(Prilleltensky, 1994). Piaget’s theory states that children adjust their ideas by building an understanding of the world around them and coming into contact with differences between what they already know and what they learn from their environment (Piaget, 1981). Based on this theory, the lack of cognitive development and sense of reasoning is evident within children in Iraq and Syria.

Terrorists use the psychological and manipulative tactic of shaping children’s young and easily impressionable minds through generating a connection between violence and their holy duty of “Jihad”. In addition to witnessing public executions, children and teenagers are trained and forced to become executioners under the command of their leaders.Through Bandura’s (1977) social theory “human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” This statement was based on Bandura’s bobo doll study where he found that children who were exposed to aggressive actions targeted at the doll were more likely to mimic this behaviour and have an aggressive response toward the doll (McLeod, 2011). Accordingly, children who are surrounded with ISILs aggressive and extremist behaviour, from an early age will suppose such violent behaviour is normal and therefore assume it is acceptable to behave in such a way.

Evidence of this can be seen in videos recorded by Egyptian children, imitating “ISIL-style” executions; something they no doubt had witnessed in many media outputs (New York Post, 2015). Unfortunately, as both the social learning (Bandura 1990) and evolutionary (Boyd & Richerson 1985; Logan & Qirko 1996) theories propose, observation and imitation of admired behavior frequently results in their mirroring, regardless of their nature; even if doing so has personal or social consequences.Therefore,  by recording executions ISIL is creating the impression that executing “disbelievers” is “modeling behavior”. Children are taught to behead light coloured dolls that are dressed in orange jumpsuits (, 2015), portraying ISIL’s captives.

These events, permit the conditioning of their young impressionable minds. Like Pavlovian Conditioning (Pavlov, 1902; 1928; & 1955) demonstrates; any event that is learnt through association will generate predicted behaviour. In the case of Pavlo, the ring of the bell conditions the dogs to associate the bell with food. Consequently, the dogs will automatically salivate when they hear the ring of the bell. In the case with ISIL, young children will associate orange jumpsuits and western features with violence.

As a result, when a child is presented with a situation where they need to carry an execution, they would do so automatically without hesitation. Bayani (2015), emphasises that, “A key characteristic of ISIS child indoctrination is the use of extreme violence as a means to desensitize the youth. They are taught skills befitting a savage ISIS warrior, from leading executions to building suicide bombs.

” Furthermore, ISIL uses Caucasian coloured dolls dressed in orange jumpsuits to help children distinguish between the “in-group” and “the out-group”. The orange suit is a major factor in distinguishing “non-believers” as outsiders. The Caucasian factor reinforces the anti-west attitude.

Therefore, these children are conditioned into accepting these attitudes frequently from a very early age to guarantee productive results. In addition, Zimbardo’s 1973 study demonstrates how people will unhesitatingly conform to any social roles they are expected to perform, particularly if those roles are highly stereotyped (McLeod, 2008). In this particular study, individuals who were told to play the role of prison guards exhibited aggressive behaviour even though as individuals they did not exhibit such aggressive behaviour.

Consequently, roles that individuals play can consequently form their attitude and behaviour. In application to young recruits, they are told they are “soldiers” fighting for a noble cause, and therefore they will act as so. Recently, ISIL has expanded its number of child training camps in Iraq and Syria where they encounter strict religious education with extremist violent quranic interpretations.

They are indoctrinated on the exigency and legitimacy of Jihad and are trained on how to oppose “disbelievers” and traitors. ISIS has provided us with proof of the increasing success of these training camps in several videos posted. Initially, their first video only showed one child executing a Syrian soldier. However,  the precence of young chidlren and teenages has become more frequent; such as a video that showed 25 teenagers shooting Syrian soldiers reflecting the success of said training camps and extremist schools which highlights the success of ISIL’s psychological tactic.  Reasons for the increases in ISIL Recruitment:Mousa (2015),  highlighted several key factors that have contributed to the increase of  ISIL’s recruitment of children with the aid of Arab media reports. One main factor that is highlighted  is the the closure of regular schools and educational institutes which consequently leaves no option other than ISIL sponsored schools with their personalised radical and extremist curriculum. Additional factors identified by Mousa et al (2015) include; “The closure of cafes and youth clubs”,  “Significant unemployment”, ISIL’s significant and influential social media presence, “Mosques have become centers for recruiting and promoting extremist ideologies”, “Large sums of money offered by ISIS to its associates, in addition to other benefits and rewards” and “The openings of vocational institutes that appear to teach a trade, but in fact are centers for teaching martial arts as well as ISIS doctrine”. These factors distinctly unveils ISIL’s intention to brainwash children using educational institutions, clubs and training camps.

 As one of the pioneers of behavioural psychology, John B. Watson notably proclaimed: “The driving force in society is not love, but fear” (Schneider, 2014). This tactic is clear in ISIL’s behavior as they strive to be feared and to control the public. As the deterrence theory states, the purpose of instilling fear of punishment is more effective in controlling and preventing opposing behaviours (Huth, 1999).

The constant looming threat of punishment acts as a reminder and cautionary tale for any individual who may think of acting against the organisation. Additionally, ISIL attempts to enforce their rules on neighbouring residences to help justify their behavior. This prevention technique is targeted at both the urban and international populations (e.g. kidnapping journalist and world-wide terrorist attacks) in attempts to warrant the recognition of being a state. In conclusion, it is evident that ISIL is a complex organisation that employs several psychological tactics to help increase their numbers.

However, similar to all organisations, ISIL can be examined and exposed by understanding how it operates as a group. Is has been suggested that we should explore the tactics that have resulted in their success rather than researching why high numbers of civilians would join such an organisation; as it is evident from past research (and MI5) that there is no single route or reason to being radicalised. Consequently, by examining the psychology of the organisation, it would be more attainable to discover a solution to eradicate all terrorist groups.


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