I’m writing in response to Christine Woo-Kyung Jeong’s article “Koreans response to the ISIS crisis requires amendment.” In general, her point, that students and people in Korea must be more aware of ISIS, is true, though I think we must go beyond merely understanding the facts to probe the real danger that this issue represents.
Christine wrote, “it is time that Koreans acknowledge ISIS as a relevant, impending crisis,” which is largely true. At present, we don’t even know what to call the group officially. In addition, since we lack an opportunity to discuss the issue in school, we are left behind in a very important moment in history.
However, while knowing who they are is important in degrading the ISIS threat, this is not the full solution to “defend ourselves when the ISIS does hit Korea in full-scale” as Christine argued. Indeed, better understanding of ISIS is just one facet of the wider strategy. Rather, we need to worry less about knowing ISIS than knowing something far more nebulous (and more likely to destroy us): ourselves.
Namely, we in Korea and at school have to confront the problem of “Kim,” the 17 year-old student mentioned in Christine’s article. He left Korea to fight for jihad, just as three London-born Muslim women did last week, and many more do throughout the world. These young people (they’re nearly all under 25) are drawn to ISIS not only for its specific ideological aims, but also for the sense of purpose it provides.
Reza Aslan, a religious scholar for the Council on Foreign Relations, described the typical young person who tries to join ISIS as “dispossessed or marginalized,” with a “crisis of identity.”
We seem to be having a crisis of identity ourselves. In terms of ideals, there’s not much for us to hold on to, apart from the routine of studying, extracurriculars, and, to break the monotony, more studying (with occasional “it’s 3:51 AM!” Snapchats).
Additionally, as Christine notes, most students from this school will be traveling to America for university. But what next? Once we get there, who will we be? If we work only toward university, we have done nothing to define ourselves, or our values.
G.K. Chesterton, theologian and author, once wrote, “when men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing; they then become capable of believing in anything.” This, I would argue, is our challenge today. Not necessarily a religious dilemma, but one which shows us how ISIS and other groups appear so enticing. Once we stop believing in something, we’ll believe in anything.
So, while collecting data on terrorist groups sounds ideal, it provides little for us in combating the “ISIS crisis” and does not address the bigger issue: ISIS is attractive because it offers its adherents a simple, concrete message. What message do we have that transcends it? How do we avoid ISIS at SIS?