Terrorists are recruiting followers at an alarming rate and what is striking is the manner in which they recruit. They recruit by telling stories. What kinds of stories are so influential that audiences are compelled to commit acts of homicide and suicide? The answer is: stories that trigger identity, or more precisely, mis-identification.
My interest in terrorist recruitment narratives developed out of my study of the correlation between narrative and personal identity. In the 1990s, I pioneered the concept of Internarrative Identity which is a theory of personal identity that does not rely on a proto-typically Western structure, does not rely exclusively on time as an organizing principle, and most significantly, does not address narrative conflict by trying to integrate it, or resolve it, but rather embraces conflict as a place of potentially powerful meaning and identification.
I have recently expanded the theory to large group identity, social identity, national identity. Internarrative Identity as social identity establishes a whole new paradigm for conflict resolution. It is a paradigm in which resolution is not necessarily the priority. It is possible for narratives, for identities, for people and groups of people, to co-exist without harmonizing.
Both on the personal level and the societal level, it is imperative that we develop an intellectual tolerance for incompatible views, narratives, and ways of being (identities). We ought, for example, to be able to hold contrary and incompatible perspectives in our minds at the same time, because, as Donna Haraway phrases it, “because both are necessary and true.”
Traditional notions of narrative identity either synthesize incompatibility, or if the conflict is too rugged, omit conflicting variables. That means that one’s narrative and one’s attendant identity are made up of all the elements that are alike and consistent. On both personal and societal levels, this is a form of repression. And repression is problematic on both levels.
My concept of Internarrative Identity makes no attempt to integrate conflicting identity elements. That is what makes Internarrative Identities resilient.
What does this have to do with terrorist recruitment narratives? Everything.
Terrorist recruitment narratives invoke a problematic narrative structure and the identity problems that go along with it. That is what makes them so dangerous.
How so? Come back and visit the Narrative Strategies Blog to read about the mechanisms that make terrorist recruitment narratives so influential.