My Path Toward Jihad

64 – My Path Toward Jihad

Anne Speckhard & Ardian Shajkovci

My Path Toward Jihad is the 64th counter narrative video in the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brand series. This video features 25-year-old Georges, a Belgian from Liege, Belgium, who was interviewed in 2018, in Liege, by Anne Speckhard, Hamid Sebaly, and Ardian Shajkovci. The video clip was video edited and produced by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team.

“[My path toward jihad] started when we were watching videos on the Internet, of the massacres, the injustices committed by Bashar al Assad against his people.” Georges explains his attempt to travel to Syria to fight jihad: “I watched them with friends and talked about what’s going on there. We were sad. We were sad about what was happening.”

Deeply affected by the events occurring in Syria, Georges attempted to join the ranks of the more than 40,000 young men and women who traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight there. “I thought we have to go and help them,” Georges recounts. Intent on joining a militant group, Georges and his friend flew to Istanbul, Turkey, in order to enter Syria. However, the father of Georges’s friend learned about their plan and brought them both back to Europe.

Prevented from traveling to Syria, Georges continued to closely follow events in Syria and began posting ISIS and al Nusra videos on Facebook—activity that ultimately caused him to be arrested and prosecuted on terrorism-related charges. Now, having had time to reflect on his emotional engagement with the Syrian jihad, Georges views the emotional incitement by militant jihadi groups as dangerous. 

“I want to advise [Western] youth to not act out of emotions,” he states. Then he goes on to discuss a thought-provoking exercise he carried out in the mosque where he was teaching youth. “I made an experiment [at the mosque in Liege] with 10 young people. I split them into two [groups]. I had 10 people in front of me. I split them into two groups. In the first group, I talked to them only about jihad. I warmed them up by only telling stories of jihad and about how the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be Upon Him) won battles, etc. Next, I asked the other group to come in while the first group left. With the other group, I talked to them with softness about the Prophet’s heart and his relations with his wives and his people. Then I mixed both groups. I invented a story where there is someone who comes, who steals, who kills your parents, etc. [I asked,] ‘So what are you going to do for justice? What will you do?’ The group that I excited for jihad said, ‘We will do the same to him.’ ‘We will catch him and kill him, etc.’ The other group said, ‘No, we forgive him, because it is our destiny from Allah.’” Clearly, priming the groups with different emotional valences made a difference on how they chose to treat the criminal.

Georges also advises viewers: “Don’t act solely on your emotions. Go beyond your emotions.” Building upon his exercise carried out at the mosque, he states, “I’ll give you an example: if I show you videos all day of people kissing and making cuddles, love videos, when you leave here, you’ll be smiling. If I show you 24-hours of massacre videos, you won’t [leave happy]. Voilà.” Referring to terrorist propaganda, he states, “So don’t watch these videos.” 

Discussion Questions:

What do you feel watching this video?

Do you believe Georges is telling the truth about his experiences of trying to go to Syria?

While he was motivated to help Syrians facing Assad’s atrocities, do you believe he would have ended up in a terrorist group?

Do you believe he should have been prosecuted for posting ISIS and al Nusra videos?

What do you think of his thought experiment?

Do you sometimes find yourself caught up by emotionally disturbing images and whipped into action without much thought?

How can you keep hold of yourself and refrain from acting solely on emotions?

Transcript of My Path Toward Jihad 

GEORGES

THE BELGIAN

Former ISIS Supporter

[My path toward jihad] started when we were watching videos on the Internet

of the massacres, the injustices committed by Bashar al Assad against his people.

I watched them with friends and talked about what’s going on there.

We were sad. We were sad about what was happening.

I thought we have to go and help them.

TEXT: Intent on joining a militant group, Georges and his friend flew to Istanbul, Turkey, in order to enter Syria. 

TEXT: However, the father of Georges’s friend learned about their plan and brought them both back to Europe.

TEXT: Now, Georges views the emotional incitement by militant jihadi groups as dangerous. 

I want to advise [Western] youth to not act out of emotions.

I made an experiment [at the mosque in Liege] with 10 young people. I split them into two [groups].

I had 10 people in front of me.

 I split them into two groups.

In the first group,

 I talked to them only about jihad.  

I warmed them up by only telling stories of jihad

and about how the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be Upon Him) won battles, etc.

Next, I asked the other group to come in while the first group left.

With the other group, I talked to them with softness about the Prophet’s heart

and his relations with his wives and his people.

Then I mixed both groups.

I invented a story where there is someone who comes, who steals, who kills your parents, etc.

[I asked,] ‘So what are you going to do for justice? What will you do?’

The group that I excited for jihad said, ‘We will do the same to him.’

‘We will catch him and kill him, etc.’

The other group said, ‘No, we forgive him, because it is our destiny from Allah.’

[My advice:] don’t act solely on your emotions.

Go beyond your emotions.

I’ll give you an example: if I show you videos all day of people kissing and making cuddles, love videos,  

when you leave here, you’ll be smiling.

If I show you 24-hours of massacre videos, you won’t [leave happy]. Voilà.

So don’t watch these videos.

The Truth Behind the Islamic State

Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism

           www.ICSVE.org

See more at www.TheRealJihad.org

About the authors:

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=101) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: https://georgetown.academia.edu/AnneSpeckhard and on the ICSVE website http://www.icsve.org Follow @AnneSpeckhard

Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D., is the Director of Research and a Senior Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). He has been collecting interviews with ISIS defectors and studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism as well as training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally. He has also been studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and how to rehabilitate them. He has conducted fieldwork in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, mostly recently in Jordan and Iraq. He has presented at professional conferences and published on the topic of radicalization and terrorism. He holds a doctorate in Public Policy and Administration, with a focus on Homeland Security Policy, from Walden University. He obtained his M.A. degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University and a B.A. degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from Dominican University. He is also an adjunct professor teaching counterterrorism and CVE courses at Nichols College. 

Anne Speckhard

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine and has also taught the Psychology of Terrorism for the Security Studies Department in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism. Dr. Speckhard has been working in the field of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the 1980’s and has extensive experience working in Europe, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.