I’ve written about ‘The Secret‘ online. I’ve hosted a discussion on ‘The Secret’. I’ve inwardly cringed at the many commercial versions of the message I’ve seen online. Today I want to apply the basic psychological insights that are at the heart of the ‘The Secret’ to a group of young people that feels trapped. Let’s look outside our little bubble shall we?
I’m talking about Muslims, born and raised in the West. These young Muslims – living in the US, in Western Europe, in Australia – are feeling alienated and have felt alienated because of the war against terror. This is apparently true even in India, which hosts one of the largest communities of Muslims world wide. The irony is: every expert agrees that this very alienation is likely to lead to more of them turning into terrorists.
First some facts: every world religion has its share of fundamentalists. Every world religion has its share of fundamentalists turning to violence. This is not a uniquely Muslim problem. There are Christians bombing abortion clinics for instance. And Buddhists killing themselves as a gesture of protest. Experts agree that a major factor is a protest against modernity. Even more: it’s a protest against modernity that uses many of the tools of modernity, the internet for instance.
The specifically Muslim issue here is that a whole religion has gotten a bad name because a few of their member did an admittedly awful thing: bomb whole buildings. (Of course if the whole thing was, as some say, set up say it becomes even more unfair).
It’s unfortunately human nature. We like to simplify life by generalizing. And when something scary happens, when we’re stressed out – we generalize even faster.
But the fact is: young Muslims ARE caught in the middle. And it is well known what happens if you tell a group of young people they are worthless. Young people that feel like they are worthless are more likely to turn to crime, are more likely to turn to drugs, are more likely to lash out and ultimately are more likely to turn to active violence. In other words: the attitude of the observer creates what happens to the kids.
It’s not new. I was taught in teachers college that kids that are expected to do well (even if randomly assigned that label) will do better. It’s well known that for kids from an African American background: the test scores will go up if they are first told to draw something that made them feel proud of themselves. Similarly: if women are told the test they are about to do is expected to get better results among men than women, they won’t perform as well.
Note that this does NOT work for adult white men. They already have a cultural confidence built in, so they generally don’t need it boosted. Other factors (like talent, have they studied etc.) will determine their results. But for people who have to mentally fight prejudice often it does make a difference.
What I’m saying is: we are putting a heavy load on the shoulders of those young Muslims. What matters is ultimately not what religion they practice but (like all of us) HOW they practice that religion. Islam can be a religion of peace. It can be a religion of spiritual transformation.