Video frame of James Foley and his Sunni captor courtesy of New York Magazine
Nancy Snow, writing today for The Guardian, has an interesting depiction of the recent videos of American journalists being killed by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). She characterizes the videos as a propagandist recruiting effort. “I know good propaganda when I see it,” she states.
Ms. Snow says the recruiting efforts are directed at “people who have lost all other meaningful points of reference.” In her view, these people are simply searching for meaning.
I disagree. I see it from the perspective of those in pursuit of Authoritarianism.
The videos clearly elicit a differential reaction in people. We either find them abhorrent or we find them attractive. What accounts for the differences in our perception?
Rather than simply dismiss the individuals attracted to the violence as aberrational and “in search of meaning,” let’s do some research.
England and the United States can identify over 1,000 citizens who have travelled to the Middle East in search of the sanctity provided by ISIS. What common experiences and behaviors define these individuals?
Were they bullies in elementary school? Did they seek out particular cliques? Did their peers, parents, guardians, or instructors have particular perceptions of them? What is the evidence?
Authoritarian behaviors do not suddenly appear. They develop over time. It would be interesting to find out what drives these individuals to seek out opportunities to act with impunity. Why do they search for life and death authority over other human beings? What were the early manifestations?
Establishment institutions of our academic community apparently do not see this as a worthwhile area of study. Our culture has no interest in early identification of authoritarian tendencies. Why is that?
Maybe the culture needs some study as well.
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