For days, he told me they continuously watch the Abu Ghraib videos and pictures of American soldiers torturing and raping the prisoners during the Iraqi war. Then, they take their time to mentally prepare themselves and get filled with anger, to then justify their own act. Some even take drugs to get mentally ready,” she said, adding that these men see themselves as “heroes with purpose.”
A little over a hundred miles away in Jordan, a young man named Suleiman Bakhit shares the sisters’ vision to better understand the underlying causes of extremism in an effort to help replace the “hostile imagination with nonviolent narratives.”
“The biggest threat in the Middle East is terrorism disguised as heroism,” Bakhit told Al-Monitor over Skype. He began to draw superhero cartoons in his hometown of Amman to help introduce new narratives to the youth susceptible to extremism.
He met with many young Jordanians and Syrian refugees who told him they have no heroes or figures to look up to, except extremists. “They say, ‘We hear about [Osama] bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and how they are going to save us' — that’s the cool thing,” said Bakhit.
Matthew Levitt, counterterrorism expert and the director of the Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, also emphasized the significance of introducing a “counternarrative” in a person’s “cognitive opening that can be filled by violent extremism.”
During a phone interview with Al-Monitor, he added, “Someone needs to be there to provide alternative narratives and ideas.”