When terrorists target the next generation

Terrorist groups like the Taliban hate just about everything, especially those who have hopes for the future.

Terrorist groups like the Taliban hate just about everything, especially those who have hopes for the future.

OK, OK, I KNOW I am old but I do remember what it was like to be a student. I have many fond memories of high school (aka secondary school) and quite a few about my university days. Learning has always been my passion and having an environment in which to indulge that need was indescribable.

School years are also the ones during which young people are enthusiastic, full of energy and keen to make positive changes in the world. Think Greta Thunberg: regardless of whether you agree with her sense of a dire future or her approach you have to admire her sense of commitment.

Propaganda targeted at young people

Terrorist groups are somewhat akin to, and somewhat the antithesis of, young people. Like students they are passionate about what they believe in and they want to ‘change’ the world. Unlike the younger generation, the ‘change’ they want to impose on the rest of us is anything but positive. Unless you think that killing and destroying is a positive way to bring about a new world.

So if you are a terrorist group teens and those in their early 20s are both a source of further recruits and a threat. There is no question that these organisations constantly need new blood – especially those which use suicide bombers (it is really hard for such an asset to engage in multiple attacks) – and hence a lot of their propaganda is targeted at this demographic. A friend of mine in the UK, Simon Cottee, looked at this very issue in a 2018 paper.

On the other hand, such groups see the next generation as a threat, given that the vast majority of young people reject the messages and goals of these violent extremists. In this light, is it any surprise that terrorists target youth in their attacks?

Last October (8/10/19), at least 20 students—15 young women and 5 young men–were wounded by a blast inside Afghanistan’s Ghazni University: the explosion occurred while a lecture was in session. There was no claim of responsibility but it is almost certain that the Taliban was behind it.

Education threaten these medieval views

There is another reason why a terrorist band like the Taliban would target an Afghan university. What takes place at a post-secondary institution, or any learning centre for that matter, challenges their antediluvian view of the world. Groups like this desire a throwback to an imagined, highly inaccurate past when things were simpler, people knew their place in society, and ‘God’s law’, narrowly defined by the terrorists themselves, ruled. Any challenge to this framework needs to be eliminated.

Education is that challenge and those who receive it threaten these medieval views. Hence, education is bad: the Nigerian Sunni Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram literally means ‘(Western) education is forbidden.’ That group has also attacked schools in the northeastern part of Nigeria: the kidnapping of the Chibok girls in 2014 from their school is but one example.

Luckily, efforts like these by terrorists are in vain. Their promises of a dystopian world appeal to very few, the youth probably least so. Efforts to convince young people to sign up will fail on most occasions and that is a good sign. Unfortunately these failures will lead some extremists to kill out of frustration.

The youngest may not change the world completely but it will be fun to see what they come up with. And any time they ‘cock a snook’ at terrorists is a good day.

PS, Given all this does anyone think it is still a good idea to talk ‘peace’ with the Taliban in Afghanistan?

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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