The Islamic State is targeting children for recruitment, not just Syrian and Iraqi children seeking an idea of security in their war torn countries, but everyday American children. Regular students in regular classes, Facebook and Twitter users, college students, and lost high school students searching for acceptance, the Islamic State has decided they are the caliphate’s future.
Traditionally in order to commit an attack against the United States, terrorist organizations would send jihadist into the country. However, in a letter written to President Obama in Nov. 2015 Colorado County Sheriffs disclosed that the FBI currently has over 1,000 active Islamic State membership investigations occurring domestically. This is no longer a foreign problem, as extremism is growing internally.
And the Internet is a prime target, with Islamic State seeking out lonely teenagers and using social media presence to enlist their support. In a June 2015 New York Times piece aptly titled “ISIS and the Lonely Young American”, one former Islamic State recruit has her story explained, writing “Alex’s online circle collectively spent thousands of hours engaging her over more than six months. They sent her money and plied her with gifts of chocolate. They indulged her curiosity and calmed her apprehensions.”
However, to expand their reach Islamic State often goes far past conversation with individual students, utilizing support groups on Facebook, active recruiters on Twitter, YouTube videos, and group video chats. All these allow the terrorist organization to reach a range of students at once, and creates an environment that appears helpful and engaged in making the transition into extremism easy for the young mind.
The Islamic State fascinates potential followers with the idea that the caliphate is more than a national identity but a cause without bounds, giving children the illusion of security within the Islamic State. Based on the concept of Ummah, as described in this Abu Dhabi-based Trends Research & Advisory paper, “ISIS Rhetoric for the Creation of the Ummah,” it is clarified that the Islamic State is made of the Ummah, or all Muslims in the world. Making those radicalized refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of secular governments.
When the youth are indoctrinated with these views the results are horrific. The Atlantic partnered with the National Journal in Dec 2015 to analyze 71 case files involving Islamic State recruitment, with several key findings; first, 27 percent were involved in domestic terror plots, next, a vast majority are American citizens, 40 percent converted to Muslim, and finally, these cases are coming from over 21 states.
Domestic terror recruitment is on track to become the next national epidemic as Islamic State is infecting the minds of millennials and converting them to radical Islam and turning them against their country of birth.
The Islamic State is turning the U.S. into a war zone as it builds its internal army, however; as a constitutional society we cannot allow this reality to inhibit citizens’ rights. While originally the government put in place the Patriot Act to monitor domestic developments of terror, the overreaching and intrusive collection of everybody’s phone records made it unacceptable. The USA Freedom Act amended Patriot Act to ensure that requests for telephone records have to include “a term that specifically identifies a person, entity, telephone number, or account as the basis for a request” to ensure that requests made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court would be on individuals and not the entire country.
That is good, but surveillance still may not be the most effective approach to dealing with this new threat, which must identify individual threats as they emerge. These recruits are average young adults using average technological pathways, identifying them will only continue to be problematic.
As the Islamic State continues to prove their ability to adapt to their audience, the effort against them must come from a more efficient place.
As the Islamic State attempts to infiltrate and control Muslim youth in the U.S. and other Americans, Muslim families and communities must step forward. In order to take back the truth of their religion, Muslim families must be aware of their own children’s actions.
Just as mothers prepare their daughters against possible male predators, and fathers must teach their sons respect; within the Muslim community families must realize their children are being targeted for recruitment and prepare accordingly, so the government can fight the true enemy abroad.
Watching the community work to rid their religion of radicalization will allow Muslim Americans to reclaim control over their faith as a beacon of peace rather than an object of terror. It can also rebuild trust with those outside the religion that Muslims desperately need in order to prevent children from fleeing to the message of the Islamic State. But it will require action.
Unfortunately, the United States government cannot devise a family solution to a problem which truly only attentive parents can control. If a child is being infected by radical Islamic State ideology, they need more than ever a community willing to decisively work to protect them.