24th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development

July 10-14, 2016 | Vilnius, Lithuania

Wim Meeus

Youth and terrorism: A six-step interdisciplinary explanation  

The majority of the people from the West fighting in Syria or from the terrorists of the Paris attacks of November 2016 were late adolescents or emerging adults, aged between 20 and 30. This raises the question whether terrorism is a youth problem. I will offer a six step interdisciplinary explanation to clarify the youth character of terrorism. 1. Modern Western societies offer young people a prolonged adolescence, thus creating a new category of individuals, youth. 2. Young people develop a group consciousness. Part of this group consciousness of young people entails a critical attitude towards parents and adult institutions. 3. At the heart of the anti-adult attitudinal system we observe “No Future” : the expression of youth’s disbelief that they have any chance to become a successful citizen in nowadays society. 4. The psychological expression of “No Future” is identity moratorium or diffusion, psychological states young people want to get out. 5. This is where the transition to terrorism or jihadism becomes relevant. This transition can be conceptualized as radical identity change. Research into religious conversion offers an explanation of this process (Lofland and Stark, 1965): young people with uncertain identities are vulnerable for radical identity change, especially when their social network is poor. 6. The new, radical, group offers a new identity and a new social network.

I will present empirical evidence for each of the six model steps.