Is your life characterized by economic hardship, frustration or desperation? If you think your government is unresponsive or repressive, ISIL and other groups may offer an appealing view. But it is a view rooted in destruction. You are capable of rational, independent thought, and good judgment.

Young men coming of age have always sought adventure and peer acceptance. Gangs have always sought impressionable youth. Militant groups of many political and religious orientations are equivalent to gangs: their weapons are fear; naiveté of the uninformed; extortion; control of people and territory; violence, and impunity.

Thousands of belief systems claim to be the one true faith. Islamist violence has caused millions of deaths and forced the migration of millions more. The Quran commits followers to violent acts – the killing of infidels and apostates. How can infidelity and apostasy be more harmful than violent extremism? ISIL, Al-Qaeda, Al Nusra Front, and Al-Shabaab are violent armies that oppress or annihilate peaceful, tolerant people, including Muslims. Under the banner of religion, these armies are undoing a thousand years of human progress and enlightenment. Their commanders are not true spiritual leaders – they are charismatic tyrants seeking political power by influencing potential followers. They would have you strap explosives to your body, or sacrifice yourself in martyrdom on the front lines, but would never do the same.

Killing others in the name of Allah to achieve an oppressive caliphate is contradictory and regressive. It reflects Islamists’ fear that Sharia is inferior to Western democratic ideals of human rights and individual liberty. Contrast the genocides of Mohammed, Hitler, and Stalin with virtues encouraged by Jesus, Gandhi, and King. Contrast the self-righteous maliciousness and nihilism of militant Islam with the open-mindedness, compassion, and optimism of democratic systems. How can judgmental violence possibly serve the best interests of humankind?

To join or not join the Jihad? Consider these two options. One option is to uphold, protect, and defend democratic principles, including human rights and rule of law. Your actions would support the hopes, dreams, and self-determination of all individuals including Muslims, and democratic nation-states.

Your second option is to be exploited by ruthless tyrants in a rigid theocracy, under Sharia law, as framed by the Quran. You would be an instrument of your commander’s law, not the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam. You would be required to uphold male supremacy, including the subservience and subjugation of women. Your creative self-expression would be prohibited. You would serve not the greater good, but the brutal, selfish whim of your commander.

You can resist this outwardly persuasive but inwardly destructive path. Your true character seeks a worldview of nonviolence, not the taking of life. To self-actualize and self-transcend, allow yourself hope, opportunity, and possibility. Actively contribute to a more just and less violent world – one which encourages human development. You are capable of tolerating and respecting those of diverse beliefs and no beliefs. Embrace the human family and live in mutual respect – with wisdom, tolerance, and understanding.

Will Walsh  2016