jihadisPhoto: David Charter / The Times


Carolyn Moynihan insightfully asks, “Why do kids desert the West to fight with ISIS?”, observing that the terrorists seem to understand adolescent psychology better than we do:

True, infatuation is driving much of the online activity among girls (Dutch jihadi “Yilmaz”, who is said to spend his time taking moody selfies and posting pictures of kittens, has had more than 10,000 marriage requests from lovestruck Muslim girls around the world) but even that has a message: marriage is what the adolescent girl in her natural state dreams of, not a couple of decades of career slog, with sex on the side, before embarking on the dual task of finding a husband and starting IVF.

New media play a key role in these girls’ fates. For example, she notes,

The most astonishing feature of the stories of the young Isis recruits is that no-one could see what was brewing. Parents don’t know their own kids. The latter live online with a substitute family and do not confide in their parents.

Okay, but let’s cut the kids this much slack: A girl may have a good reason for not wanting to confide in her parents (who may have failed her in the past). But why does no one else in her real world even know that she is desperately in love with a vicious fanatic?

Partly because, far more than any other technology, the Internet has permitted us to create our own worlds that leave our actual world right out.

The past was no paradise to be sure. But in former times, it would be much more difficult for a girl to stay in touch with such a fellow without risking discovery.

Every message travelled by physical media, which depends on other human persons or even animals. So if a Juliet wanted to send a message to a Romeo, she most likely had to persuade a servant to deliver it. And if an early twentieth century family subscribed to a party line phone, she would risk discovery using it for risky conversations.

But there is something else lurking underneath. We frequently hear the accusation that the West does not offer inspiring moral values. But  it also doesn’t offer vicious cruelty (except to unborn children). We don’t chop off the hands of thieves or stone adulterers or flog drunks. We have even been known to punish people who abuse cats, dogs, and horses.

But just as  Internet dating helps to mainstream porn, Internet connections help to mainstream vicious brutality.

Moynihan adds,

Anyway, Isis even seems to offer something to feminists: the Al-Khanssa Brigade, an all-woman moral police force.

Yes, and about that all-woman police force:

Their job is simple — arrest, beat and punish other women who commit any offence seen as out of order including showing ankles, wrists and even being without a male chaperon.

They are said to sometimes disfigure women with acid for not wearing the niqab.

As sociologist Frank Furedi explains at Spiked Online, many teen viewers of brutality online are not passive victims; they actively seek it out:

It’s worth noting that a study published last month by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue concluded that some of the Muslim women watching violent jihadist videos were captivated by the disturbing images of beheadings. The study argued that ‘the women who migrate to the territory controlled by ISIS revel in the gore and brutality of the organisation’, and added that they ‘appear desensitised to the horrific nature of the violent acts being committed’. Such an enthusiastic reaction to images of horrific killings indicates that these viewers have been drawn towards an outlook and a system of values which, in their mind, represents the moral antithesis to the Western way of life.

Yes indeed. And matters aren’t helped by too-clever Western dismissals of the problem, exemplified by this item in UK’s Spectator on the teen attraction to jhadis:

Yes, you say, but this boyband isn’t offering a snog or a celebrity selfie, but a life of rape and sharia law. What’s sexy about that? These girls have learnt about feminism, they must be deranged to volunteer for servitude. That’s a reasonable position, of course, but what hope does reason have against a teenage crush? Think of the screamers at pop concerts. Muslim girls are falling for Twitter profile pics of fighters in the same unstoppable way. There’s a sort of moth-like self-immolation about a teenage girl’s love which makes it almost long for martyrdom.

If you doubt that Islamists exert a Beiber-ish pull, look at the social media sites of Dutch jihadi ‘Yilmaz’. To anyone not crazed by puberty, Yilmaz is an obvious pillock.

Excuse me. Imagine comparing an infatuation with that odious young Canadian pop star Justin Bieber, arrested last year near Ottawa for assault and dangerous driving (yes, he is a “pillock” and worse), with an infatuation with a sociopath who revels in beheading his helpless captives!

Let’s stop parading false moral equivalence as if it was a demonstration of our cool quotient. How about we ask more focused questions like, does Islam encourage cruelty? If so, why so? If not, why not?

If so, is cruelty the attraction for some? And what can we do about it?

This much I know already. No responsible case can be made for unsupervised Internet access for minors. The Taiwanese are right about that. And yet, some would even do away with school Internet filters.

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...