Same Anger, Different Ideologies: Radical Muslim and Neo-Nazi

Strip away ideology and what emerges are two strikingly similar tales of radicalization, militancy and, in the case of two men, deradicalization.

Comments: 46

  1. Many social psychologists have studied cults carefully and understand the forces that make them so powerful. We are social animals and have a very strong need for social acceptance. If ethics are discarded or subsumed by a 'higher cause' indoctrination turns out to be a very simple task. Political correctness makes it is difficult to speak about today's most polarized and militarized conflicts as deriving from cults. That's a shame.

  2. I missed the economic deprivation part, readers?

  3. For these two guys, it wasn't. If all you have is a hammer and every problem looks to you like a nail, maybe you should get more tools.

  4. Everyone wants to walk with someone. Perhaps, as a world community we need to insure every young person has a chance to feel engaged as opposed to disengaged from their world. If adults can make people feel respected and connected, young people will be less likely to feel the appeal of engaging in an extreme process. Once this happens the young person will be more receptive to embrace a non radical mindset that is accepting to others as they themselves are accepted and treated with respect and opportunity. With this relational collateral established,I imagine many young people will actually allow positive expectations of being a good world citizen on themselves. We need to look to all religious leaders and political leaders to set this example. It may sound idealistic but our current strategy is not working. I think someone once said hate cannot drive out hate;only love can do that.

  5. A friend of mine taught history in a Brooklyn high school for years, and I believe this is exactly what she tried to do in classes made up of every race and nationality you can imagine. She became a teacher to make a difference, and I'm sure she did.

  6. Maurice Bloch, the anthropologist, defines 'ideology' in "Ritual, History, and Power" in three easy steps. It is established by those who already have some measure of power. What is offered is a 'all-encompassing scheme" that does NOT cover everything. And force is then used to shut-up those who point out that discrepancy.
    That's it in a nutshell. That's why 'ideology' isn't usually a problem - until it gets to phase three and the blood starts to flow. For the Nazis that reckoning came in the "Night of the Long Knives", the night the Black Shirts took out the Brown Shirts. For ISIS it is happening in the reports that one faction is killing off the other faction for disobeying some religious rule. You kill off your own. Killing those 'others' is what they agree on, that is the 'scheme'. Killing
    your own recognizes that 'THE SCHEME" is incomplete, inadequate in some way. That can't be tolerated.
    Sometimes people survive alive. Sometimes they don't. These two men did. It could just as easily gone the other way.
    Which is to say : Be careful what you believe. There's thousands of ideologies out there, all of them incomplete, and all of them just waiting for you to point out that incompleteness so they can kill you.

  7. I have always thought of the majority of wannabe Jihadis as nothing more or less than street gang members. Angry, disaffected, too much testosterone and too little proper guidance and mentoring. Unfortunately they don't 'just' shoot Tec-9s at fellow gang members, but blow up trains in Madrid and London, stab and run over police officers in Canada and London, stab people in China, blow up runners in Boston, try to blow up planes over Detroit, etc. Figure out how to end street gang membership in America, and you'll have the answer to ending rogue Jihadism around the world. Not an easy problem to solve.

    Note these are different than the true religious fanatics stuck in the Middle Ages, such as UBL or the Taliban. For them, carpet bombing ought to suffice.

  8. These people are literally rebels without a cause. I don't dispute the points of the article or take issue with any of the experts cited, but I think it may be , as a practical matter, simpler than all that. Extremism is its own reward. The cause for extreme violent actions are simply being able to justify extreme violent action. No real "ideology" is necessary, because once you get to that stage you have become unmoored from any reality-based framework. Whatever one they espouse is a cover to justify their actions in their own minds. These people are deranged, not motivated.

  9. This is an excellent piece - constructive and thoughtful. Thanks!

  10. Radical Muslims and Neo-Nazis. And no direct- mention of their primary targets.

    What does it matter if most radical Muslims and Neo-Nazis in Europe pose no direct danger to Jews if some do and are capable of carrying out their threats.

    The time to get out of a dangerous place is as soon as you can.

  11. Neo-Nazis have teamed up with Israelis in their anti-Arab violence and hatred. They see the fight against immigrants as a common cause. You can see these neo-Nazis at marches in Europe and Israel, waving Israeli flags. Ha'aretz has covered this, (even if the NY Times won't).

  12. Arabs number about 20 percent of Israel's population. The don't seem to be running away in fear.

  13. The commonality in both cases seems to be, having been "bullied" and made to feel inferior without much change that things will change. These people are ripe for targeting by cults of violence. Such cults offer a chance to get even while providing a sense of belonging with others of similar experiences. This only reinforces their beliefs and enhances their extremism. Why does this happen is the big question? I blame organized religion which is meant to teach love, sharing and reaching out to those in need. Religion is supposed to promote belonging and acceptance and illustrate the goodness of man. However, today more than ever before religion is failing to provide an alternative to violence, resulting in an epidemic of radicalism, which they are silent about. As both Christianity and Islam are failing, non-religious institutes and social services are desperately trying to fill the gap. We really need to assess the role of religion as a strategy for counterextremism and deradicalization, not ways to tighten security and fight the jihadis.

  14. The urge for dominance is intrinsic to many animals. Male lions/walruses/deer etc... fight other males for territory, resources, and mating privileges. Perhaps such jousting for dominance is more prevalent among animal species where one male fights to have exclusive mating rights with multiple females, and where resources are scarce. Females among animal species have been observed to practice their own pecking order.

    Humans have evolved from animals, and may have similar animal drives for dominance to varying degrees.

    Therefore extremists like these neo-nazi's and Jihadi's who wish to fulfill a form of brute tribal/gang dominance, are not unique in this regard (of mindset). Nationalist domination is another outlet for the innate urge for group dominance, while insatiable greed (& the personal power that comes from extreme wealth) that is fulfilled by trampling on the common good, may be a form of individual domination urges.

    The "best of us" (as might be judged by modern, cultural/moral standards) use reason, ethics, compassion, love, and concern for the common good to guide oneself and keep the destructive urges for dominance in check and sublimate this often powerful motivator through constructive forms of competition.

    As we benefit society and civilization, our society becomes more capable/advanced/safe, and we and our progeny benefit in return.

  15. When I was young in the 1970s, parents worried about kids joining cults, such as the Moonies. A feature of such cults was that prospective members were never left alone - recruiters were constantly talking to them, even following them into the bathroom, and the kids were never given a chance to stop and reflect. This is now accomplished electronically, and not just by terrorists.

  16. Radical Islam and Neo-Nazism are two sides of the same penny. Bottom line - it is a very bad penny which needs to be thrown out without a second's thought. But that's easier said than done. This article gives a fresh approach to prevent our impressionable youth from going astray. Fundamentally no kid is bad. But life and circumstances get in the way. Some can handle it and come out stronger persons while others get swept away by promises of untold, false rewards. There should be more 'Exit" like Organizations to help these kids during a hard part of their growing up. Just goes to show that religions are not to blame but the extremism and the atrocities committed in their name are.

  17. At the very least, can we dispense with the pablum that poverty leads to terrorism? None of the 9/11 hijackers came from poor, marginalized backgrounds any more than Jihadi John does. I agree with other posters who note that the purity of fanaticism is its own reward. Young men are drawn to ISIL probably for similar reasons young Germans were drawn to the Waffen SS and I'm betting recruitment campaigns were similar, despite differences in communication technology. Both share utter contempt for inferiors (infidels) and both cultivate sociopathic qualities in their members, such as the inability to feel anything for the suffering of others. I wonder if former recruits can really remove that kind of ultimate psychological perversion once it's embedded - for whatever reason - inside a person.

  18. raven55, the Waffen SS was a basically a white supremacist organization based on the myth of the German master race, while the radical Muslims are basing their ideology on a religion that any human being can become a part of. While the terror committed by ISIS is awful, it doesn't begin to compare to the vast killing machine created by Hitler, with the Waffen SS being the military wing of the Nazi Party or SS. Trying to compare the Nazi's genocide to what ISIS is doing shows a total inability to appreciate the scale and magnitude of both the destruction of European Jews and Hitler's desire to exterminate the native people in Eastern Europe and make them virtual slaves. Many Muslims condemn ISIS and are fighting against that group, whereas the Nazi Party was supported by many Germans. The Waffen SS wasn't an extreme movement in Germany, they represented the supreme values of Hitler's Germany.

  19. I made no comparisons between the extent of SS crimes against humanity and ISIL's actions and you are mischaracterizing what I wrote. What I did infer is that sociopaths are drawn to absolutist, ideologically (or religiously) driven fanatical movements. In that, they are probably more alike than they are different. That's all.

  20. Mr. Orell fell into the marginal worlds of punk rock and soccer hooligans, loose associations at best and without united ideologies or much in the way of resources. Bringing ex neo-nazis in from the cold, the only ideology he may have to contend with is from Mein Kampf, a book without much of a mainstream following.

    Mr. Ahmed, on the other hand, was brought to a life of violent extremism in his place of worship via recruiters for a well funded international organization. He is now up against radicals quoting the same book he an all other Muslims revere.

    The early appeal of radicalism for these two men and others like them might have been born in their shared experience being bullied as teenagers. The way out is going to be much harder for those from Mr. Ahmed's side of the street. I wish him luck.

  21. Great article, it really makes you think about extremists as people. It's very natural to dehumanize them, since they are mostly associated with unthinkable atrocities that I can't imagine any real human could commit.

    But they are people. Perhaps it's not surprising they often start as ordinary screwed-up teenagers naively joining a group they don't fully understand in a short-sighted attempt to find a place where they fit in and are deemed valuable, but we don't think about it too often.

    The problem I have now is that I can't shake another association. Those two former extremists also remind me of a different group of kids I used to know. It's a bit haunting. But they seem to have a lot in common with the guys I knew in high school that became enamored with the recruiters from the Marines and enlisted at 18.

  22. This article speaks to the truism of how fanatics are all alike, no matter what they call themselves. I am now doubly confident in President Obama's statement that what we fight is violent extremism.

  23. Read "The True Believer" by Eric Hoffer. Written in the 1950's it explains, in very straightforward language, the mindset of the people who are drawn to fanaticism and mass movements. It is highly relevant to what is happening in the world today.

  24. I like this article, but would like to add two thoughts that might be useful. First, anyone interested in real Nazi recruitment should read Joseph Roth's "The Spiders' Web". The original in German is "Das Spinnennetz", but there seem to be several English translations. The lesson I would draw from this book for this particular issue is that the original Nazi recruitment mechanism was less a way to make ordinary people into Nazis than it was an elaborate game of skill designed to find, test, and eventually recruit genuine psychopaths. I don't think "Jihadi John" is an ordinary mixed-up young adult.

    Second, I think that people underestimate the power of violence to create lasting prejudices. I am known as a rather non-tribal person, but as a teenager I delivered newspapers near a "Little Italy". I was attacked more than once. To this day, 50 years later, a very basic layer of my personality associates all Italians with thugs. I have very thoroughly papered this over at a higher level, but if you were to give me one of those image-flash-tests, you would find that it is still very strong. I would say that this argues for a no-broken-windows approach to ethnic violence.

  25. I appreciate your story. Your honesty points to a psychological process that's part of what this article is describing, but that's missing from the analysis, IMO. I think you're describing how trauma changes people. You might argue that being attacked doesn't rise to the level of traumatic injury... I would say that there's a spectrum of fear and powerlessness. You probably know that the fear-detecting part of the brain is one of the oldest, most powerful and fastest-acting part of the human brain. In other words, it's more powerful than you are UNLESS you are assisted in processing your "papered-over" reflexes in a deeper, intentional way.

    I think trauma is at work in the conversion of people to extremism. Think of trauma as the activation of enough fear conditioning that it becomes unbearable, yet denied. In general, people don't admit fear until it begins to unravel their lives. Ironically, for many people, joining a group that normalizes an overstimulated, terrified world view is easier than reaching out for help. This is why we need to recognize early signs of trauma; intervening with understanding can prevent grooming for sociopathic behaviors. Sociopathy can be learned and rewarded, even in the dominant cultures of civilized countries.

    There is never one "cause" of anything, which is why complex problems seem intractable. And what overwhelms me may not affect you the same. Ultimately, psychology must enter the equation. It's a tough sell.

  26. More evidence that multiculturalism seems to produce a culture (non-culture?) in which 80% of the population gets to enjoy the fruits of modernization and gradually convincing themselves that they are the true inheritors of the Christian ethic by allowing a select few of the "bottom billion" to live in the flats they no longer want while paying rents to "slumlords" none of their friends could possibly associate with. Conveniently, these folk also open restaurants, employ their relatives to work in them and to do other jobs the slackers who voted for the free lunches offered by the gods of the multi-culti universe disdain to do.

    It sounded good when first offered. But it turns out that even a modern nation (welfare) state needs a unifying code of behavior to keep things moving along without statist coercion. We really have two choices. One, a liberal, tolerant, communitarian society that supports a culture that welcomes all but insists that support in in return, or two, a modern version of the Hobbesian "Leviathan" with incredible numbers of bureaucrats, cops, nanny-state hectors, and legions of smug, well-paid, sycophants, in academic and media circles. Honest, one way or the other.

  27. The most frightening thing about radicalization is its potential for self-perpetuation.

    For instance, I've recently been shocked at how freely otherwise well-meaning and open-minded people express anti-Muslim sentiment. "Not all Muslims, but all Muslims are terrorists." That sort of thing. But those anti-Muslim Facebook posts, statements and beliefs only contribute to an environment where youths that might otherwise be moderate or nonobservant Muslims can become marginalized and susceptible to radicalization. And then the result of that process is used as evidence to support the original bigoted view.

    We are better than this. You can defend Israel's right to exist without defending all Israeli actions. You can abhor terrorists who act in the name of Islam without dragging the name of an entire religion through the mud. It's not just the right thing to do; it's critical to discourage the radicalization that allows organizations like ISIS to successfully recruit the disaffected youths of the UK, the USA and elsewhere.

  28. We would do well to give more thought and action to social problem-solving, using what we know from the social sciences to understand the appeal of extremism to the alienation and vulnerability of youth and young adults. While anti-extremism programs are valuable, the challenge is to invest in and build better societies which provide meaning, opportunity, and support to all.

  29. The fact of the matter even so called western 'terrorism experts' are lost about the ISIL phenomenon and, particularly, the use of ultra violence to subjugate civilians and instill fear on the heart of professional soldiers.

    In fact we're facing a new psico-political phenomena beyond our comprehension. And here lies the challenge. Without knowing the psychological-religious motivation and purpose of an elusive opponent, western countries cannot defeat an abstract idea i.e., islamic terrorism.

    Defeating 20,000 rag tag ISIL fighters in Iraq/Syria should not be a big problem for modern and well equipped armies in the Middle East. Why does President Obama tell the American people it will take years to defeat the Islamic State?

  30. It's not only that jihadis and neo-Nazis share similar backgrounds and motivations, but the causes they serve are similar ideologies.

  31. It's indeed heartening to learn off these former extremists who could make a difference. Could this type of counseling and outreach be formalized in order to make some material impact, rather than just chipping away at the edge on the street level?

  32. A "radical Muslim" and a "neo-Nazi" may share something in common despite different ideologies. Placing them next to each other is like comparing a Saracen to a Viking!
    It's easy for their marginalised adherents to share the same "anger". But in reality neo-Nazi groups aren't as successful as Islamist groups. The latter are fighting a "holy war" against infidels, and are proxies of Sunni states, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar etc. who are allies of the West. They also have occupied territories and their propaganda are sophisticated enough to beguile young, disorientated Muslims into joining them.
    Neo-Nazism in the West fails to go as far as radical Islam, not least thanks to our sensibility towards the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime in history. The Muslim world has to take on radical Islam, if it doesn't want to see the Middle East turned into a totalitarian Sunni "Reich"!

  33. Ideologies are different, methods are still the same. Anger, exorbitant cruelty, humiliation and torture of human beings, disregard international norms of law.
    The main similarity is ideology. Nazism was so successful cause of ideology. Radical Muslims from ISIS act very successful now cause of their ideology. Their ideology is Koran, wrong interpretation of Koran and smart propaganda. That's why they have more and more followers. The main is presence of idea. Now our government, Pentagon warsle with a subject how to defeat them.
    We will defeat them until: 1) We are idle on the Middle East
    2) They are at war we are at work

  34. The motif of the Viking, who dies gloriously in battle and thereby gains the scared halls of Valhalla, has much in common with the Assassin who believed that he would gain entrance to a Land of Milk and Honey.

    Many male humans, when they are young, are attracted to the notion of glorious self-sacrifice, dying for a cause in which they believe. All too often, however, their victims are innocents: children, women, and unarmed men, unable to defend themselves in a fair fight.

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with violent conduct, provided it is for a just cause and in a fair fight between equals who consent to join the fray. And there's the rub. The IRA, Da'ish, neo-Nazis - when was the last time their bully boys engaged in a fair fight with well-matched adversaries, and killed other thugs just like them?

  35. Bullying is the most agonizing feeling of powerlessness and humiliation one can experience, I think. The isolation probably has something to do with that; it literally warps the mind. Everything we can think of must be done to combat all forms of bullying. In terms of bringing people back, real understanding of what they experienced is essential, as opposed to demonizing the person as monstrous. The rage engendered by bullying is indescribable - note how the rage takes the form of suicide, at least here in the US. Perhaps bullying in youth is just one piece of the puzzle, and can't explain every radicalized youth, but it's a large piece.

  36. If one looks at the rise of fascism in Europe and the rise of ISIS in Iraq there are striking parallels. Both emerge in the aftermath and chaos of devastating wars. Both seek the establishment of a new state. Both are built around charismatic leaders, both proclaim a historical destiny, both are extremely authoritarian movements and utilize emotional appeals along with brutality to win followers. And both resort to extreme violence to achieve their ends.

    Fascist movements in Europe used extreme nationalism as an organizing vehicle. ISIS uses religion as its organizing vehicle, again not to convert, but to gain power. The mainstream media misses the point as it debates passages of the Koran or statements from Muslim leaders. ISIS seeks to create a new state, in its case a new Caliphate just as the fascist of Germany sought to build a new Reich that would last a thousand years.

    Fascism was a broad based movement in Europe that found its success first in Italy, then Germany. ISIS similarly sees itself as a pan Arab movement, crossing boarders and drawing adherents from the broader Muslim community.

    Ultimately ISIS is a fascist movement masquerading as a fundamentalist crusade. Its rape, plunder and destruction of other Muslims communities is reminiscent of the fascist subjugation of Eastern Europe. Ultimately it will be defeated, just as fascism was, but the task requires a geopolitical understanding, not a theological one.

  37. Why not add some history regarding the similarities between the Nazis and radical Islam. Recall that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem spent most of WWII in Berlin as a guest of Hitler. He awaited the Nazis pushing the British out of Palestine and killing all the Jews. From Berlin he organized Muslim SS units from Bosnia that participated in the slaughter of Holocaust. Nazis and radical Islam are two sides of the same coin.

  38. war machines have no prejudice when it comes to waging war.

  39. This is a brilliant article. A part of me hopes that now Hollywood will stop making Nazi movies and start making ISIL, ISIS, Daish whatever movies. They are nothing more than opportunistic fascists. We need to fight their ideas showing them to be barren, cruel, and filled with hate just like the Nazi's were.

    What a clever way of using the west's ideology against itself. Any western politician that speaks out against these groups (ISIL or Al Qaeda) using religion has the effect of growing the groups stature. We need to cleave what they really are as to how they want to be portrayed in the media. They are thugs and stateless sunni fascists who have inherited the worst of all the Nazi ideology and applied it to their culture praying on the alienated to recruit those in the west.

  40. this is not Hollywood but a canadian woman has made two beautiful movies called 'Kandahar' and 'return to Kandahar' ,it shows and explains a little about the situation in afghanistan.these movies where made in the 90 s.i will assume the scenario is pretty much similar everywhere.i also love this article also.experience at the service of youth.every generation wants to change the world,has anger towards the establishment, this generation has embraced a violent religious path. may they use their anger to fuel positive actions that will create positive change. good to know someone is helping them achieve this.

  41. "Both were seduced by a narrative that put them at the center of a greater cause and offered them what they craved most: a sense of belonging and a plan to act on their resentment."

    Young people have a need to join together and channel their youthful energies into causes that offer the means to change their world in what they understand to be positive directions. Extremists of all stripes recognize this fact and use it to prey on vulnerable and naive, and idealistic young men and women.

    Modern Western culture --on the other hand--offers them empty consumerism, mind and heart-numbing "entertainment," and social and political structures that are corrupt and disaffecting.

    We have seen in recent history how struggles for justice and equality led by the young are anathema to the power elite in most nations, likely to be brutally repressed. This is true from Egypt to Occupy Wall Street.

    It's a sad commentary on contemporary Western civilization when movements like ISIS or neo-Nazism offer the most compelling invitation to young people longing to make a difference and be part of something larger than themselves.

  42. This article mentions violent video games - I think you could also look at our mainstream glorification of the Navy Seals, who seem to have taken the place of the old Green Berets as our image of the amazing warrior. For every one who actually goes through the training, there are hundreds or thousands who are fascinated by the image, and a lot who go so far as to buy weapons with that image in mind. The gun lobby may talk publicly about defense of the home, but a quick look at the covers of the gun magazines will show that a lot of their marketing is aimed at guys who fantasize themselves as warriors.
    Obviously the vast majority of them are harmless, as are the people who enjoy violent movies and video games - just as normal people have always enjoyed tales of war and violence. It's just that the tendencies that can go terribly wrong in some cases are the same as the impulses sublimated into normality for most of us. When we look at the dangerous fringes, we shouldn't see them as totally alien, but we should ask how we all manage to deal with the same visions and impulses, without going over the line.

  43. ISIL follows the "Prophetic methodology" by rigorous adherence.. That is to die without pledging allegiance is to die ignorant and therefore to die "a death of disbelief." This offers a life of obedience, order and destiny and appeals to those who feel they are outsiders and have no place in society. Similar to the Nazis who wanted to create a "new order." ISIL will kill all nonbelievers; the Nazis killed all they viewed as unpure.

  44. The author forgot to mention that if there is anything that both Nazis and Muslims would agree on is hatred of Jews. Ever wonder why? Perhaps it is that Jews introduced moral precepts and conscience into the world that are the antithesis of the Nzai and Muslim world views and values.

  45. Too bad the U.S. didn't have the current ubiquity of the net back in the late '60s and early '70s. There would have been no need for the draft.

  46. I was bullied in school, as the only Jew in my class, but I did not turn to killing. So, the "why" of this issue remains as important as the "how."

    The difference may be that my parents gave me a meaningful set of values to guide me along the road of life. I may have felt angry, but certainly not alienated. I was anchored by those values. Most importantly, my sense of self-esteem was bruised, but not destroyed.

    Absent such values, when all avenues to a meaningful life and self-esteem are blocked, and a person's life seems beyond his or her control, appeals to the dark side of human nature can succeed. This point was examined, with great sensitivity, in the recent times article and video, "Three Friends, One Jihadi" (

    It is was also set in a larger sociological context by Eric Hoffer in his 1951 classic, "The True Believer."(