Our Blog

Welcome to our blog, a creative space for free thinking, ideas and inspiration!

12% of Canadians fantasize about joining the holy war in the Middle East! (And the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten)

Categories: Alain Giguère

Posted on 04-03-17 at 3:06 p.m.

A Fantasy: Going to war!

At least that's what 12% of Canadians are telling us!

The idea of probing such a topic came to us because of all the media attention given to radicalization lately.

I don't blame the media, but just the fact that they have been discussing this issue, giving it first-page prominence, may have given the public the impression that the phenomenon is much more significant than it actually is (in terms of numbers of mobilized individuals). For example, although Muslims represent 3% of the population, our surveys have shown that people believe their numbers to be much higher. The media coverage has undoubtedly played a role here.

Since we obviously can't interview the people who have already left to fight, to get an idea of the scope of the phenomenon, we wanted to hypothesize a similar phenomenon to stand in for radicalization. Consequently, we have turned our attention to those who "fantasize" about joining the holy war. It is clear that before freshly converted disciples leave the country for such an "adventure," they undergo a kind of psychological "ripening" process in their minds. Before heading off to war, these radicalized individuals probably spend a great deal of time coming to terms with the idea, imaging their prospective "mission," imbuing with it meaning. They idealize and romanticize their commitment, which gives them a motivation previously lacking in their lives before embarking on this path.

The question then became: How many Canadians entertain this kind of holy-war fantasy?

In our last survey of the values of Canadians (a survey reflecting Canadian society as a whole), we therefore asked people if they agreed with the following statement: "I feel envious sometimes of young people who go to Syria or the Middle East to join the holy war or sacrifice their lives for a cause they believe in."

The results obtained were a source of "radical" astonishment for us: 12% of Canadians said they agreed with such a statement (4% "totally" and 9% "somewhat" agreed). Interestingly, there is no regional variation on this question, with the exception of Québec, which stands out as the province least in agreement with the statement (9%), even though the media there has given the subject a great deal of coverage.

Youth searching for meaning

Not surprisingly, young people are the most in agreement with this statement. But what's amazing is their level of agreement: 29% of 18-24 year olds and 20% of those 25-34. Note, too, that even though the percentage of people in agreement declines proportionally and significantly with age, it is still 3% among people 65 and older. (There is something surreal about imagining a 70-year-old fantasizing about holding a Kalashnikov. An aging Baby Boomer!)


We also find the highest percentages of people who fantasize about fighting in a holy war among immigrants, labourers, individuals with lower incomes and education, and men.

Therefore, it appears that challenging economic circumstances can produce conditions favourable to radicalization-or at least for fantasizing about it. These types of social conditions provide fertile ground for indoctrination. Ardent young people who struggle constantly with major social and economic barriers might easily end up fantasizing about jihad as an "exciting project"!

The values and mentalities associated with jihad fantasies

Which brings us to the value profile of these "aspiring jihadists." They express a complex kaleidoscope of motivations and mentalities. They feel excluded from society; they believe that they have no place, purpose or meaning in society; they feel powerless, with no control over their lives.

Consequently, they feel a keen need to boost their social identity, for their own feelings of self-worth and in the eyes of others. They want to become someone in society, to boost their low self-esteem.

Unlike the people who normally feel excluded from society, these jihad fantasists display a unique combination of traits: they see themselves as full of promise, as able to meet challenges, but feel that society is preventing them from achieving their potential.

Therefore, in their fantasies, a "holy war" seems like a wonderful project. It would give their life meaning, let them achieve their full potential, enhance their status and social identity, and help them become someone important on the social scene.

Obviously, only a tiny minority of those who periodically indulge in this kind of fantasy ever end up radicalized, but the psychological/sociological portrait described here suggests an entryway to the radicalization process.


A societal project for brands and organizations

In my opinion, radicalization is an issue offering a great opportunity for companies to demonstrate their commitment to a social cause. Of course, there are a lot of intervenors working actively to prevent radicalization. But if, in addition to these initiatives, brands and companies also tackled it as a community-engagement project, we might see some significant progress. Jobs, integration, community support-whatever the initiatives-the social problem is certainly important enough to warrant devoting the necessary resources to it.

Benjamin Britten's War Requiem

Britten's War Requiem is the ideal classical musical piece to accompany such a problematic issue. This requiem, beyond its liturgical associations, constitutes a fervid condemnation of the abominations of war. Britten composed this work in 1962, for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in Britain, which had been destroyed during the Second World War.

The clip suggested here is "Agnus Dei." The text is a poem that makes various connections between the butchery on the battlefields of the First World War and the crucifixion du Christ.

Ian Bostridge, tenor, Antonio Pappano conducting, and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, in rehearsal:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKuzpvpS_fU