What Terrorism Teaches Us about How Not to Do Church


Part Three: How Not to Dehumanize

Once an individual has sustained a rejection wound and has disidentified from the rejecting group, they become ripe fruit for radical picking.

Dounia Bouzar[i] identifies four steps of recruitment for terrorist groups:

Isolation occurs when a radical group succeeds in separating a recruit from family, friends, and mainstream society. Often they will prey upon actual injury sustained in those groups, but then generalize and exaggerate the evils of the group, until the individual completely severs, or isolates, from it.

Indoctrination comes next, with pitches that the radical group is superior. Once the recruit accepts this, the radicals persuade them to adopt group behaviors, such as dress styles and language peculiar to the group. These behaviors tend to de-individualize the recruit, further dissociating them, even from their personal history, and to the point of dissolving their memories of that history.

Adhesion follows quickly, with extreme behavioral conformity to the group and adopting of all its ideas, habits and idiosyncrasies.

Dehuminization of “outsiders,” including the group from which the recruit came, is the final step. The “others” are painted in the darkest dye, characterized as evil and worthy of the worst treatment, even murder. This dehumanization syndrome pinpoints not only how terrorists can terrorize, but how Nazis were able to slaughter eight million Jews and how Americans could enslave far more Africans.

Once fully radicalized, reasoning or arguing with the recruit will bear no fruit. What will? Bouzar says, “Recovery always begins by rekindling an emotional connection with family members.”[ii] She works with recruits and their families, using a series of dialogs that help recall childhood memories. She finds that once the tender memories return, the process of recovery can begin.

Is there someone in your life who has been recruited to the enemy camp? Do you recognize the process used to lead them to this point? The best way to reach them is to re-humanize what has been de-humanized in their minds—which just might be you. But don’t attempt this with argumentative guns blazing; you’ll fail. Gently reenter their lives in the spirit of dialog. Perhaps at some point God will rekindle positive memories and they’ll begin to see you in a new light. “’Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded’ says the Lord, ‘And they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future’ says the Lord, ‘That your children shall come back to their own border’” (Jer. 31:16, 17).

[i] Bouzar, D. “Escaping Radicalism,” Scientific American Mind, May/June 2016, pp. 41 and 42.

[ii] Ibid, p. 42.

4 thoughts on “What Terrorism Teaches Us about How Not to Do Church

  1. Greg Hamilton Reply

    Great short article, Jill. The tactics of isolation, indoctrination, adhesion and dehumanization they learned from Communism and Soviet operatives in the Middle East — particularly in Iraq and Syria — between World War I and World War II, as well as during the Cold War. See Laurent Mirawiec’s work “The Mind of Jihad.” Mirawiec was a visiting scholar to the conservative Hudson Institute when he wrote this two volume series:

    This book examines contemporary jihad as a cult of violence and power. All jihadi groups, whether Shiite or Sunni, Arab or not, are characterized by a similar bloodlust. Murawiec characterizes this belief structure as identical to that of Europe’s medieval millenarians and apocalyptics, arguing that both jihadis and their European cousins shared in a Gnostic ideology: a God-given mission endowed the Elect with supernatural powers and placed them above the common law of mankind. Although the ideology of jihad is essentially Islamic, Murawiec traces the political technologies used by modern jihad to the Bolsheviks. Their doctrines of terror as a system of rule were appropriated by radical Islam through multiple lines of communication. This book brings history, anthropology, and theology to bear to understand the mind of jihad that has declared war on the West and the world.


    • Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post authorReply

      Greg that’s totally fascinating. Makes sense. Evil is deeper than a race.

  2. Chrissie Reply

    Interesting I should receive this message today. (I’ve been away from Internet about a month) Just before leaving, I invited churches in my conference to receive people who use service dogs into their congregations…today I also received word that the church that is closest to me – still after 8 years – will not allow service dogs in their church…so timely for me, thank you!

  3. Crystal Holden Reply

    This was a very interesting article. I have also been claiming Jer.31: 16, 17 for not only my own sons but also the hundreds of children I taught over 33 years in Adventist classrooms. Thank you for your ministry to all of us.


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