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Monday, June 24, 2024

The Blood Equation: Hamas’ Strategy to Radicalize Youth Through Emotional Narratives

Since the mid-20th century, Islamic religious and pan-Arab discourses have played pivotal roles in the radicalization and recruitment of youth in the Middle East and among Muslims worldwide. Two primary narrative waves have influenced the region: one advocating for a unified Arab nation and another for an Islamic nation predominantly led by the Muslim Brotherhood. However, with the fall of dictatorships such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and the rise of multiple jihadist groups, these discourses have waned. These narratives once promoted the idea of the Arab Islamic world as a unified nation, bound by geography, history, religion, and heritage. This decline has been exacerbated by the extreme terrorist behaviors and human rights violations committed by groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, especially against Muslim civilians. Consequently, jihadist strategies for radicalization and recruitment have become less effective, making it more challenging to allure young people from the Middle East. This shift is partly due to the role of social media and increased access to knowledge, which have made these narratives less convincing. To address these new challenges, Hamas has adopted new tactics, relying on innovative blood visual narratives. This approach leverages images of casualties from the October 7 conflict, particularly women and children, to create a powerful emotional impact aimed at radicalizing new groups on a transnational scale. This article introduces two concepts: “condensation of blood” and “the blood equation.” ‘Condensation of blood’ refers to the accumulation of bloodshed attributed to the enemies of Islam, such as Israel and the U.S. ‘The blood equation’ involves the sacrifice of civilians in Gaza, symbolizing the sacrifices of Eid al-Adha, as a powerful tool to shape the narrative of jihad, war, and the prophesied resurgence of the Islamic Ummah.  

These concepts play a significant role in evoking a strong emotional and moral response within jihadist groups like ISIS, facilitating the radicalization and recruitment process by appealing to the ‘true Muslim identity.’ My interviews with ex-ISIS fighters inside Iraqi prisons for my Ph.D. research indicate that ISIS and other jihadist groups identify true Muslim identity at three levels, legitimizing jihad recruitment: 

  1. Lower Societal/Humanitarian Level: Individuals join to assist and cooperate with Muslims globally, aiming to establish a unified Ummah. 
  2. Middle Moral/Emotional Level: This level calls for demonstrating the Ummah’s strength through various resources like finance, media, and education. It involves the use of violent methods to defend the oppressed. 
  3. Upper Spiritual Level: The final level is where an individual fully embraces the identity of a jihadist. 

The concepts of condensation of blood and the blood equation contribute to the emotional and moral aspects of true Muslim identity, which are pivotal in recruiting individuals at all three levels of jihad. By understanding these concepts and their implications for true Muslim identity, one can better comprehend the mechanisms behind the radicalization process. 

It appears that Hamas also relies on the same division of true Muslim identity by instigating emotional and moral responses at the Societal/Humanitarian Level during mass protests and within the international community. By using the deaths and suffering of women and children as symbols of injustice, Hamas seeks to garner support and justify its actions ethically. This approach may exacerbate conflict and worsen the humanitarian situation in the region. 

Hamas often the Quranic verse, “We narrate unto you (O Muhammad SAW) their story with truth: Truly! They were young men who believed in their Lord (Allah), and We increased them in guidance,” to instigate the moral and emotional level of identity. Societal influences are concentrated in the same place. The symbolization of blood condensation can profoundly influence young people. For example, a review of 300 online posts in Arabic on social media revealed that the term “We Will Never Forgive, We Will Never Forget” is a significant slogan of Hamas and its allies, reflecting a profound refusal to forgive and an enduring commitment to collective memory amidst discourse on Hamas and civilian casualties. Hamas maximizes the sense of injustice, grievance, humiliation, revenge, and sentiment among its supporters through propaganda and images of casualties, particularly children. 

Understanding the tactics employed by Hamas is crucial for developing effective counter-narrative strategies. Recognizing how these tactics manipulate the Moral/Emotional level can help address the underlying factors of homegrown radicalization. The following diagram illustrates the symbolic narrative framework of Hamas radicalization: The Blood Condensation Model. 

Figure 1: The Blood Condensation Model.
Figure 1 The Blood Condensation Model

The use of visual blood narratives has a profound impact on young, impressionable audiences. Events like mass protests create environments of heightened emotional charge, peer influence, and networking making youth particularly vulnerable to radicalization. Hamas’s narrative, which emphasizes the blood of innocent civilians and the perceived moral duty to fight against oppressors, can resonate strongly, leading to increased susceptibility to extremist ideologies. 

The emotional and visual content propagated by Hamas can evoke powerful responses, reinforcing a sense of duty among youth in Western countries to act against perceived grievances. Thus, the narrative of blood condensation and the symbolism of martyrdom can transform personal and collective grievances into a rallying cry for jihadist recruitment. Hamas’s tactics represent a dangerous weapon in the arsenal of terrorism. By exploiting the suffering of innocent civilians, Hamas seeks to justify its actions and perpetuate violence, reverberating across borders and affecting vulnerable individuals worldwide. 

Counterterrorism efforts must include strategies to counter these narratives by promoting resilience, civic education, building, and community cohesion. Addressing the emotional and psychological vulnerabilities that these narratives exploit can reduce the appeal of extremist ideologies and protect vulnerable youth from radicalization. Understanding the tactics employed by groups like Hamas is crucial for developing effective counter-narrative strategies. Recognizing how these tactics manipulate emotions can help address the underlying factors of homegrown radicalization. 

In conclusion, Hamas’s use of emotional and moral visual narratives to influence perceptions represents a significant challenge for counterterrorism efforts. By understanding and addressing these methods, it is possible to develop more effective measures to prevent radicalization and recruitment inside the US and other western nations.    

author avatar
Suha Hassen
Suha Hassen, Ph.D. holds a PhD from Al-Nahrain University Medical School in Baghdad City and is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, specializing in terrorism and homeland security with a specific focus on Islamist terrorist groups.
Suha Hassen
Suha Hassen
Suha Hassen, Ph.D. holds a PhD from Al-Nahrain University Medical School in Baghdad City and is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, specializing in terrorism and homeland security with a specific focus on Islamist terrorist groups.

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