ISIS, youth and psychological warfare

October 6th, 2014

Yesterday I watched an interview that CNN reporter Arwa Damon conducted with Merwan Mohammed Hussein, a young Syrian Kurd who was kidnapped by ISIS months ago when he was on his way home from school. He was released a few days ago.

The interview astonished me. Take three minutes to watch the video and you’ll see what I mean.

Keep in mind, this kid is a Kurd, and his people are currently being hammered by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. By all rights, he should despise the Islamic State. But he doesn’t.

“They are right,” Merwan tells the CNN correspondent.

Run that by me again?

Blame it on Stockholm syndrome or whatever you want, but ISIS got inside this kid’s head. It’s apparent in the interview. His mom, his sister, a CNN reporter, and the world are watching, and he doesn’t even try to hide it. He walks back what he said toward the end of the interview, but not much.

The temptation, of course, is for many Americans to write this off as something that’s happening over there.

But we don’t have that luxury anymore. Now more than ever, we’re part of a global culture. And thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, Wi-Fi, and the Internet, extremist groups from around the world now have the same access to your kid as the neighborhood street gangs.

Probably even more. You may not have any gang activity going on within miles of your house. But the nearest extremist is only a click away.

And ISIS looks an awful lot like a gang, doesn’t it? It actively recruits youth. It provides a sense of belonging and family. It feeds on the rebellion and insecurity that’s common in young people. And as twisted as it is, members of ISIS have a cause they’re willing to die for.

But odds are, if your kid is Christian, you don’t have much to worry about. While Christian kids are the holy grail to these extremists, young Muslims are more reachable so that’s who they’re really targeting.

The marketing savvy and social media prowess of ISIS, however, should give us cause for concern. And we probably should be taking a hard look at what we’re doing within Christianity to reach and retain youth.

What if we were as serious about recruiting young missionaries as ISIS is about recruiting young militants? What if we were as serious about advancing the Kingdom of God as ISIS is about establishing a caliphate? What if we were as serious about spiritually setting people free as ISIS is about capturing and controlling them? What if we were as serious about doing spiritual battle in the prayer closet as ISIS is about making physical war on the ground?

The stuff that’s going on in Iraq and Syria is half a world away, but it may as well be next door, because the world is becoming a small place, and it’s getting smaller fast.

It’s time to step up our prayer game, and intercede more for the people of the Middle East, especially the youth. As one reporter put it, there are many there “whose only thoughts for the future are dreams of revenge.”

Let’s ask God to give them something better to dream about.

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