Why someone from the U.S. or U.K. would want to join a terrorist organization is very hard to understand when it must be fairly obvious that such groups are bent on destruction and mayhem dredged out of intense hatred of enemies, imagined and real. At the same time, I am reminded of two people with whom I once worked.
The first was a coworker in the late ‘60s. Then he was considered by many to be a left wing radical. He could barely contain his anger and contempt for the agents of big business, corporate America in general, and the federal government that he believed was beholden to the military-industrial complex. I often wondered if he was involved in some of the violence that attacked local universities and erupted in urban race riots. If he is still alive, I suspect that has has become a convicted tea-partier. There isn’t much distance between the radical left and radical right. Only mutual loathing of each other separates them.
The second was another coworker about fifteen years later. He was as right wing as the former was left wing. A hard core libertarian, he detested anything the government did that he believed would limit individual rights to do what one wanted with one’s property, however one defined property. Welfare for the poor in any form was anathema to him. But that wasn’t the end of it. He was an intensely proud descendent of Irish immigrants, and took on an unreasoned hatred of all things English, which led him to be an ardent supporter of the IRA in every way possible, legal or illegal. I ran into some online information about him a few years ago and discovered that he is now a champion of a variety of radical, super patriot, right wing causes.
Neither of them ran off to join a foreign terrorist organization, but the anger and hatred they evinced toward those whom they tagged as enemies seems to me to be like that I imagine inspires those who do. Where does it come from? For these two, and based on my limited knowledge and memory, it came from a combination of childhood experiences, lessons they were taught by their elders, frustrations in their early careers, and something else. That something else seemed to be an inability to look dispassionately at the world about them, their own beliefs about it, and the moral consequences of those beliefs.
Is that a neurological problem? A spiritual problem? An educational problem? Some combination? I don’t know. I suspect that they would say none of the above. They had staked out the moral high ground, and it is the rest of us who are deluded and in need of help.