The terrorist group’s promise of power, violence and a sense of belonging is a psychologically seductive package for young men and women looking for a cause

Does the success of IS recruiting highlight the spiritual emptiness of Western capitalism, or does it exploit the fact that, but for the brakes of civilisation, there is a killer in all of us? The answer is that it does both.

Federal Parliament’s review of counter-terrorism laws, convened after Sydney teenager Farhad Jabar shot dead police accountant Curtis Cheng in Sydney last October, feeds another morsel of freedom into the jaws of security. It recommends widening the reach of control orders, including tracking devices, to children as young as 14 and making it easier for police to detain suspects under preventative detention orders (PDOs).

If enacted the new laws may impart the warm glow that comes from doing something, a glow with increased political capital as the inquest into the death of radicalised teen Numan Haider winds up.

But laws won’t erase radical beliefs, which psychology increasingly shows stem from a root and branch malaise that Islamic State is leveraging to the hilt. 

Recently interviewed as background to his Homeric Atlantic piece “What ISIS really wants“, journalist Graeme Wood was asked why IS recruiters are so devastatingly successful. 

Wood’s reply was swift: the key strategy is just to remind budding jihadists of the numbing drudgery of their lives in Birmingham, East London or (insert bland suburban locale here).

“Do you want to go to your fish and chip shop and watch a football game, is that the most you’re going to see out of life? Or do you want this incredibly meaning-rich environment where you’re in an apocalyptic battle?” Wood says. 

Apocalypse seems to be getting the edge.

A 2014 ICM poll found one in six French citizens held favourable attitudes towards IS, a figure that increased to one in four in the 18-24-year-old bracket. Could life in the West really be that bad? After all, doesn’t most of the developing world aspire to our wrap-around plasma TVs, technicolour trainers, and suburban assault vehicles? 

The reality is that while we’ve been bathing in the sun of material surfeit another commodity has drifted into icy deficit. Stocks of personal meaning and significance are in critical decline and IS has been only too happy to step in and meet demand.

Read the full article in the Age newspaper here