This is a X Post from the Quilliam Blog by Amir Pars
The original article can be viewed here
Read a few good books on sales techniques and you will realise that almost all of them rely on the same few principles and patterns;
Make the prospect acknowledge dismay with the current status quo, relate that status quo to an either imaginary or actual grievance, and then present your product as the absolute solution to these grievances. Start painting a picture of how, when the client is using your product, they will experience tranquillity, pleasure and jubilation. Once this process of positive reinforcement has begun, make sure you keep tapping on the negative reinforcement of the status quo. Don’t be shy to play on the prospect’s emotions and guilt! Phrases such as “Can you honestly continue with how things are?” or “Don’t you owe it to yourself/your loved ones to do this?” can be powerful tricks to lure the punter into buying your product. Finally, make sure that you are leading the prospect into a path where they have to be consistent with their claims. If they say they aren’t sure, remind them that they have said that they liked the product and/or they have admitted that the status quo is untenable.
And there you have it in a nutshell. The basis for practically every successful sales technique in the market, from Zig Ziglar to Jordan Belfort, commonly known as “The Wolf of Wall Street”, more often than not relies on this process. So, what does this have to do with ISIL?
If you read Maajid Nawaz’ exceptional autobiography “Radical”, and subsequently hear him or the brilliant Haras Rafiq speak about the processes used by the likes of Hizb ut-Tahrir or ISIL to recruit the young of our nation, you will see that it just boils down to them being good salesmen, with a hideous agenda.
One of the biggest challenges facing us today is that we need to stop the flow of young recruits joining groups such as those mentioned above. To achieve this, we must understand the formula they adopt to poison young, often fragile minds and why these formulas are being so frighteningly successful.
Most people will say that they never fall for salesmen’s tactics. There is a certain pride involved in being able to claim that one cannot be manipulated into buying something one doesn’t want. If you say that you bought something because a salesman persuaded you to, there is a chance that your social circle will consider you weak minded and easy to manoeuvre. Unfortunately, most people aren’t aware that they are indeed being sold to until it is too late.
However, once you are aware of the tricks used by salesmen, you are much less likely to fall for them. Those who recruit for various Islamist causes and organisations seek out people who are primed to be receptive to their tactics; they already identify themselves as Muslims. That’s the hard job done. Second step is to goad their prospects into acknowledging various grievances, either imaginary or real. This can range from pointing out the suffering of their Muslim brothers and sisters around the world by the hands of non-Muslims, to the way women in the west dress and how this is insulting to Allah. Notice that there is already a subconscious process of association-building going on here:
The prospect is groomed into identifying him or herself only as a Muslim, and feel kinship with only other followers of Mohammed. Solidarity is thus restricted solely to those who share the same faith.
The acceptance of these grievances establishes the unacceptable status quo. Then, the recruiter may start questioning the authenticity in their victim’s claims of being a Muslim by cherry picking various quotes in the holy scriptures and challenging the prospect in why they are not following the word of their god. Here, the guilt building procedure begins. Once one has acknowledged that they follow a certain faith, the commitment of this claim becomes central for the manipulator. They often take comfort in the fact that, like most other religious people, the prospect hasn’t actually studied the texts they claim to adhere to. After all, most holy scriptures are treated no differently than the licence agreement for a software update; people accept them without reading the details.
However, this does not mean that the prospect doesn’t identify themselves as real Muslims. On the contrary, the recruiter relies on the notion that their targets have an extremely strong affinity with such an identity. Therefore, asking them to be consistent with their claims become a much easier task than someone who claims to only be a nominal Muslim or has a strong knowledge of what “type” of Muslim they are. If a Sufi Muslim is approached, for example, the task of recruiting them becomes so much harder, as they already have a commitment in an ideology that is in contrast with that of Islamism. But, if the object just claims to be a Muslim, or a Sunni Muslim, then the job of manipulating them instantly becomes less complicated.
Then, they start selling their product: A unique interpretation of Islam, not as a faith but from a politicised perspective. This view explains that, as the West hates Muslims and wants to destroy them, pointing to Iraq and Afghanistan, it is the Muslim’s duty to take up arms and fight back. From a theological perspective, they infer the idea of a Caliphate, the super state, where Islam, or their version of it, rules the country and, some day, the world. In this caliphate, the grievances of the prospect doesn’t exist. Muslims aren’t being targeted, they are no longer the victims. People praise and submit to Allah and his Sharia, and man is no longer the centre of the universe. This is what Maajid Nawaz calls The Narrative. What it really is, is a sales pitch. A sales pitch designed for Muslims who may or may not have grievances, but harbour a certain loyalty to Islam and part of their identity is that of a Muslim.
The Narrative is more multi-faceted and complex than this author’s attempt in describing it. However, you will have noticed that the tactics are very well known from other aspects of society. The Nazi movement in Germany had its own narrative, where the Germans were the prospects, and the grievances were all associated to that of the Jews. The xenophobic parties of Britain today all use same methods in their recruitment strategy, where the immigrants cause the grievances and the utopia is that of an immigrant free Britain.
To understand the tactics used by the people recruiting for Islamist organisations is the first step in being able to deflect their approaches. If the young Muslims of this country, who are the prime targets for the likes of ISIL as future recruits, are aware that they are being manipulated by nothing but lying salesmen, and the product they are being flogged is the Emperor’s new groove, then we may find ourselves in a position where the well from which the Islamists find their life blood is soon dried up. After all, who likes being sold to?