In the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino and other carnage world-wide, our attention was attracted by the profiles of Islamic terrorists. David Garner wrote in the Financial Times that in Europe the pool of potential recruits are primarily dissatisfied Muslims – specifically: “children and grandchildren of some Muslim immigrants, (who) suffer from a process of cultural alienation, separated from their culture of origin but not integrated in their host country”. According to Mr Garner, “neither France, with its Jacobin insistence that everyone becomes fully assimilated French citizens, nor Britain, with a laissez-faire approach in which some immigrant communities live parallel lives, have come up with a successful formula for integration”. In the USA, according to the online newspaper Al-Monitor, “specialists in the field of countering violent extremism (CVE) urge the US government to allocate more resources to domestic programs that can prevent susceptible youth from succumbing to the approaches of terrorist groups”. Both in France and the US there is not one specific profile of the terrorist-to-be. It seems that the way to radicalization is the same everywhere. Using savvy social media tactics, ISIS sells a narrative that appeals to a wide audience reinforced by personal contact with extremist preachers and recruiting networks. In the meantime, the French President, Mr Hollande, declared France “at war” with Isis and his Prime Minister, Mr Valls, warned of “a clash of values; a clash of civilizations”. In the USA, political candidates such as Donald Trump have focused on the threat of terrorists entering the United States from abroad and closing the borders to Muslims.
We are not political scientists. We come from the leadership academic and consulting fields with a focus on how workplace spirituality and spiritual leadership can improve organizational effectiveness and employee well-being in multicultural organizational environments (including Islamic ones). Both the European and US reality mentioned above reminded us of one truth; that jihadists are no different from other human beings: they too crave a sense of calling to give their lives purpose and meaning as well as a sense of membership and belonging within which they feel understood and appreciated. If they do not find it in a healthy societal assimilation, they become prey to radicalism with disastrous consequences for hundreds of innocent people, often including the loss of their own life as a suicide bomber in order to satisfy these fundamental and universal human needs.
Spiritual leadership is about creating hope/faith in a vision of loving and serving others and in doing so satisfying both the leader and followers’ spiritual needs for purpose and belonging, which is espoused by all the major spiritual and religious traditions. Research on spiritual leadership to date has, without exception, revealed that satisfying these needs leads to high levels of organizational commitment, no matter whether these organizations are altruistic or terrorist. Reflecting on our experience with multicultural organizations, we wonder how entire communities or nations might use a similar approach to improve cultural and religious assimilation, i.e. to focus on the potential of programs that satisfy these needs, especially within the younger generations, to bridge differences and empower interconnectedness and foster commitment to the greater ideals that underlie our Western democracies. Maybe the question to start our journey as modern, democratic societies should be the following: How can we- through applying spiritual leadership at these levels- nurture the inner life of (young) people to fuel hope/faith in a vision of loving and serving their communities to provide for a life‘s purpose and through this path promote human(e) interconnectedness and belonging?