“I am no longer a terrorist.”
The first speaker at our peacemaking event had been a member of JAD, the same terrorist group behind the Surabaya church bombings in 2018, famous for using children as young as nine years old as suicide bombers. After a series of bomb attacks, there was a nation-wide net thrown for JAD members, and our speaker got caught. He had been storing weapons and handling transport, so his sentence was lighter than some others.
In prison, moderate Islamic teachers spent time with him studying the Qur’anic verses often used by jihadists in their textual and historical context. His “deradicalization” was effective. When he was released just over two years later, he swore to uphold the nation’s founding principles and its stability. The government helped him financially to get a new start, hoping that he wouldn’t return to his previous network for help. Now he travels and speaks, warning people of the dangers of religious extremism.
I was also asked to speak at this event, and share about the launching of my book SOMEONE HAS TO DIE in Indonesian. After sharing about the book, I presented the many motivations of young people to join extremist groups, or “doorways” to extremism.
The 7 doorways I shared for the Indonesian context of jihadist groups can also be applied more widely to white supremacist groups in the U.S., neo-Nazis, or even gangs. By expanding the context, I’ll also expand the motivations to 10 reasons young people are successfully recruited into extremist groups.
- Ideology—the more they study the belief system of the extremist group, the more they are willing to give their lives to defend its principles (Remember that the belief system of an extremist group does not represent the mainstream beliefs of that religion or culture.)
- Revenge—specifically for personal loss, such as “they killed my brother”
- Injustice—a sense that their group is treated unfairly by another
- Fear—concern for personal safety, or fear of losing their group’s position or cultural values
- Lack—there is a financial or material incentive to join the group
- Belonging—the group accepts them as a valued member
- Purpose—the group gives them a sense of accomplishing something grand, beyond themselves
- Fame—fulfilling the group’s assignment for them gives honor to their name
- Pain—personal suffering (for example, at home) needs a place to be expressed; killing your abusive parent is shameful, but channeling that pain to kill an enemy is praised
- Power—the group gives powerless individuals a sense of power over others
Our speaker entered an extremist group through the doorway of ideology. We’ve watched others in our community enter extremist groups because of lack, belonging, pain, fear and injustice.
Once they’re in the door, the group can use all the other motivations listed here to affirm their decision to join, and to convince them to do heinous, violent deeds to others while feeling completely justified.
What conclusions can we draw from this list?
- Extremists prey on hurting people. Whether it’s the victim of child abuse, the lonely kid at school, the boy getting bullied on the street corner, or the new immigrant struggling to adapt to their neighborhood, it’s up to us to identify those around us who are hurting, and walk alongside them with love, healing and guidance. If we don’t reach out to them, an extremist group will.
- Protecting an entire generation from extremism will require collaboration, a net wide enough to catch all at-risk kids. It’s foolish to expect that a church youth group is the answer. We need the church youth group and the mosque youth group and the Buddhist temple youth group and the school extracurricular clubs and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and the Big Brother program and the government social workers and on and on—these are not our competition, these are all our allies! We may not agree on everything, but all these groups teach kids to respect themselves and others, to solve problems peacefully, and so on. These groups produce young adults who are able to discuss our issues of difference respectfully, while being willing to work together for the common good.
If you’re not currently involved in reaching at-risk youth in some way, may I ask you to consider donating to a group that is, or support an individual that you know that is, or at least pray for our youth to find their needs met in the right places?
And pray for those currently trapped in extremist groups, from jihadists to gangs in the inner city—that God will show them the way out, as he did for this ex-JAD speaker who is no longer a terrorist.