By contrast, there is precious little attention to social and psychological needs. I don’t mean to suggest that we solve things by offering potential jihadists better jobs. A still-unpublished report by the World Bank shows no reliable relationship between job production and violence reduction. If people are ready to sacrifice their lives, then it is not likely that offers of greater material advantages will stop them.
Instead, we must meet their psychological and aspirational needs. In just one example of how we fall short, the US State Department continues to send off-target tweets through negative mass messaging in its ineffectual ‘Think Again Turn Away’ campaign. Compare this to ISIS, which can spend hundreds of hours trying to enlist single individuals. Through its social media, the sophisticated Islamic State learns how personal frustrations and grievances can fit into a universal theme of persecution against all Muslims, and then translates anger and unrealised aspiration into moral outrage. Some estimates have ISIS managing upwards of 70,000 Twitter and Facebook accounts, with hundreds of thousands of followers, and sending approximately 90,000 texts daily. ISIS also pays close attention to the pop songs, video clips, action movies and television shows that garner high ratings among youth, and use them as templates to tailor their own messages.
By contrast, the US government has few operatives who personally engage with youth before they become a problem. The FBI is pressing to get out of the messy business of prevention and just stick to criminal investigation. ‘No one wants to own any of this,’ one group from the US National Counterterrorism Center told us. And public diplomacy efforts don’t quite get that hackneyed appeals to ‘moderation’ fall flat on restless and idealistic youths seeking adventure, glory and significance.