Radicalization: A Story and Four Questions


A boy grew up in a small to mid-sized town. He was fortunate. His parents both worked and were able to provide him all of what he needed and most of what he wanted. By the standards in his region, he had access to good schools, healthcare, and grew up free from threats.

Though he had all of this going for him, something just wasn’t right. He was socially awkward. He didn’t have a girlfriend. He wasn’t good at sports. He wasn’t handsome. He wasn’t strong. He wasn’t fast. He had a slight speech impediment that negatively impacted what little self-confidence he had. He often dreamed of going somewhere. Anywhere. He longed to reinvent himself in a place where he would only be judged by how hard he worked and not how he looked, what clothes he wore, or whether he had a girlfriend.

Then one day everything came together for the boy. He met a man who gave him the opportunity he always wanted. This man looked at the boy and saw a piece of clay that could be molded into any shape that the man’s organization needed. After the initial meeting with the man, the boy was hooked. That evening, the man told his superiors that he was confident the boy would meet their needs.

After nearly a year of additional assessment, the man and his organization believed the boy was ready for formal training. Leaving his family, the boy traveled on his own to an isolated location. It was much hotter there than where he came from.  Sand and bugs seemed ever-present.  He was stripped of everything he owned. He was kept up for over 24 hours. He, and the others at the training camp, were all dressed in the same ill-fitting clothes. He gave up his name in place of a title. He was no longer an individual. He was part of something larger than himself.

The training regime was harsh. The boy was physically and mentally challenged. He was severely punished when he made mistakes. He learned how to kill. He learned that failure meant death.

The others the boy grew up with would never understand. To them, there was no reason to leave home, leave your family, abandon your persona, and become something new; become part of something greater than yourself. The boy loved it. He felt relieved because he had finally found a place where he felt at home. The organization took care of all his needs. The organization gave him a purpose. The organization gave him a way to get close to what Maslow called self-actualization.

1. Where was the boy from?

A. Africa

B. Europe

C. Asia

D. United States

2. What organization did the boy join?

A. Al-Qaeda

B. United States Marine Corps

C. Islamic State of the Iraq and Levant

D. French Foreign Legion

3. Are humans really that different or are they simply doing what they must to satisfy their needs?

4. When the boy leaves the organization, what resources will be available to help him demobilize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate into the society from which he came?