Involvement, engagement, being seen and heard

I just came across this adress of Prof. Scott Atran at the UN Security Council on 23 April, 2015 (thank you @spreeblick for flowing this into my timeline).  The talk is in English, so I write this post also in english. You also find a transcripted version here.

The anthropologist and researcher reports in his talk „The Youth Need Values and Dreams“ what he learned from his researches about radical youths in six continents, about the reasons for radicalization and what he thinks should be done against it. As our Salon is on the subject of identities and how they can be build in digital culture I see lots of parallels.

What young people need, Atran claims,  are not only „material rewards“ but visions and ideals, something they can bond to. That machtes very well what I wrote after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in my post on „Bindung, Identität, Glück“ in january. Mr. Atran also states that a lack of identity can lead to radicalization: „They radicalize to find a firm identity in a flattened world.“

Another important aspect is involvement: Young people seek involvement and as lots of young people live in societies where they are not involved and don’t feel able to involve themselves, they are vulnerable for the offers of radical parties. We are lacking a positive vision, we don’t offer enough involvement.

„Electric age creates an involvement that is total“ said Marshall McLuhan in the 1960ies. Involvement, personal bonding and building communities are indeed capacities of digital culture: talking to friends, sharing ideas, knowledge and cars, inspireing each other, cothinking and coworking are deep positive effects of digital media. That makes social media social. And that can help building a resilient society.

But societies do not use this to create a positive vision, they don’t offer involvement. They only talk instead of listening.

Atran describes the ISIS way to communicate as social, responsive, involving:*

„The appeal of Al Qaeda or ISIS is not about jihadi websites […] It’s about what comes after. There are nearly 50,000 Twitter hashtags [sic!] [accounts] supporting ISIS, with an average of some 1000 followers each. They succeed by providing opportunities for personal engagement, where people have an audience with whom they can share and refine their grievances, hopes and desires.“

Whereas the official communication seems oneway communication, delivering information only instead of being discoursive and a share of dialogue:

„In contrast, government digital “outreach” programs typically provide generic religious and ideological “counter-narratives,” seemingly deaf to the personal circumstances of their audiences. They cannot create the intimate social networks that dreamers need.“

So what goes wrong in stopping young people to radicalize is based deeply on non-discoursive, ignorant and unengageing communication:

„And any serious engagement must be attuned to individuals and their networks, not to mass marketing of repetitive messages. „

This shows that the core questions of our Streaming Egos project „How can we provide transnational discourses?“ and „How do we form new egos and communities in digital area?“ is highly actual and relevant.

Scott Atran says it takes „a dynamic movement that is at once intimately personal and global“ to counter the growing global counterculture of violent extremism. Let us be aware, that digital culture can provide this. Digital culture can shape a dynamic movement that is at once personal and global. Organized radical groups – whether xenophobic nationalism or militant jihad – know this already.



* What is really spooky to me, is that Atran describes the ISIS way to communicate as a Slow Media way like we described and proposed it in our Manifesto, an unholy use


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