There have been any number of scientific studies and anecdotal evidence to indicate that the most dangerous human beings by age are bored, drifting young males in their mid to late 20’s. A line from the Marlon Brando biker movie “The Wild Ones” best expresses it. When asked what he is revolting against the bored young biker Brando responds, “whaddya got?” The participants in the recent military recruitment attacks and the Boston Bombing seem to confirm the theories about young men. And the narrative of Islamic radicalism is what they’ve “got.”
The perpetrators of these violent are young men with Islamic backgrounds who lived in the United States for extended periods. They seem to fit in somewhat with their new country. Still, they also hang out with friends, play modern music – yet they feel alienated from society by upbringing and first generation communities that often do not understand their problems. And they also often have strong issues with US authorities on policy regarding the Middle East and Islam writ large. Thus, the appeal of fighting for Islam is strong and ISIS presents a tempting thing in which to believe.
There was an old radio show that opened with the line “who knows what evil lurks in the mind of man?” Psychologists will give you varying answers from alienation to the society to a desire to belong to something bigger than them. But no one can give you the exact moment and person that will step over the line to violent action. But violent action is on fertile ground when young men are bored and alienated.
As we try to deal with these young men, US officials are knee deep into areas where the US government and America itself has grown uncomfortable since the end of the Cold War. We seem to lack an appealing narrative about who we are.
Oh, we’ve got the against terrorism business – and we arrest and kill on a daily basis to emphasize that point. And, I know we’ll never get 100 percent of these young men with us. But, we are heading into deeper waters as ISIS recruits these “dudes” aggressively online and trains those that make it to the Holy War. They have no problem with their narrative.
So what does that mean for us? It means we have to do things with which we are most uncomfortable. First, we must say who we are and what we believe in. Clearly, distinctly and repeatedly. And we need to do it through the social media that is being used every day. A few thousand twitters from State Department are simply not enough. We need to respond in the millions that our freedoms are their freedoms. That all humans have rights. And that disagreement cannot end with a belt bomb or a beheading. This is against the fundamentals of all societies – Islam, Christian, Jews, or any others.
In this effort, we need to reach out and embrace the social media in the United States and elsewhere. This is difficult given the libertarian streak of the cyber world and the stiff-necked approach of the Feds to them, but it is mutually beneficial to both sides. The Feds need the outlets, and the outlets need credibility that they are not transfer mechanisms of hate and destruction that can be pointed at them as well as the rest of the society.
Second, we also need to work more openly and closely with the Muslim community in the U.S. The latter have been concerned but relatively quiet about this behavior. First generation settlers in the past have also had problems criticizing their misbehavers. Anarchist movements, Nazi sympathizers, and Communist agents some time found the support of silence in their communities. However, in each case, brave people began to stand up and counter their narratives and changed and took away their base of support.
And finally, we need to integrate these young people into our society. This also requires working with local communities to find these young men a purpose whether helping their communities or serving their religion through mosque-guided efforts. Their efforts and energies need to be focused as Muslim-Americans socially and politically active here in the 21st century in America — not pursuing some 16th century violent chimera of a Caliphate.
None of this is easy nor is it short term. But, we face a clear and present danger in a radicalization of young people that is going unchecked. We have pledged in our Constitution to “ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense.” This now requires more than the necessary law enforcement and military action. We have provided successful narratives and have integrated immigrants in the past. We need to do it again.