So what motivates radical Islamist terrorists? Like we say over and over again on BreakPoint, worldview matters.
The day after a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured 50 more during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, President Trump expressed both his condolences to the victims and their families, and his solidarity with the British people.
And then he expressed outrage at the perpetrators. “So many young beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term,” he said. “They would think that’s a great name. I will call them from now on losers because that’s what they are.”
Now the president’s choice of words didn’t come as a surprise. Trump’s communication style is, of course unorthodox and colorful in a way that some linguists believe reflect his New York upbringing. And it’s endeared him to millions, which is why I don’t suspect we’ll see it change anytime soon.
And there’s absolutely a sense in which the perpetrators could be called “losers.” A recent study by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) found that many ISIS recruits in Europe had criminal records. Twenty-seven percent of the jihadis studied were radicalized in prison.
As Newsweek put it, “Some prisoners also wish to redeem themselves for the behavior that landed them in prison, turning to religion and a cause they believe to be honorable, essentially another outlet for their violent nature.”
As if to emphasize this last point, an ISIS recruiting poster features a young man holding a gun with this caption, “Sometimes people with the worst past create the best futures.”
This potent mixture of ideology, false religion, and counterfeit redemption is why we shouldn’t, however, settle for calling the terrorists “losers.” When people hear the word “loser” it brings to mind a sort of incompetence or a failure to succeed in life.
But what drives ISIS and its recruits is something much more than the word “loser” suggests. They’re living out their deeply held beliefs about God, humanity, and history—beliefs that are not just mistaken or wrong but are, at root, evil in the rejection of God and truth.
As Graeme Wood chronicled in a must-read piece at the Atlantic, ISIS offers, like all worldviews do, an alternative to Christianity’s “creation-fall-redemption-restoration” story. Except in its version, restoration takes the form of seizing and holding territory, followed by the imposition of what it deems a more authentic form of Islam.
All of this is the prelude to its version of the battle of Armageddon and the revelation of the Mahdi, “a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world.”
Dismissing ISIS and its recruits as “losers” relieves us of the need to understand these beliefs. But without understanding these beliefs, we can’t hope to understand what drives people like Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old British subject turned suicide bomber, and others that are inspired by ISIS.
And even more importantly, it relieves us of the responsibility to offer the True story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—centered on Christ—that gives life instead of taking it and that gives people a reason to love instead of one to strap on a suicide vest.
Chuck Colson spent the last four decades of his life helping people with the “worst pasts” create “best futures” characterized by love, not hate, and forgiveness, not revenge. They may have been so-called “losers” when they entered prison, but they left being called something else: sons and daughters of God.
Now Christians of all people, who follow the Word made flesh, know that words matter. They shape the way that we see the world, and just as importantly, they give us insight as to what the world can become.
John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.