Collective memory is an interesting concept. It is a memory that is shared and nurtured by a group of people. The similar-shared perceptions of how things happened (after all, that is what memories are) make their interpretation more believable to them. The stronger one’s belief is, the stronger it gets implied to the one next to him/her, hence snowballing into a similar fashioned illusion. If the first part of the said trend is a charismatic person, there is an almost exponential spread of this make-belief. However, the said chain does not stop here. In the world of today, neo-institutionalism has brought an interesting angle to the way of looking at things. The academic literature focuses on the role of institutions and an individual’s needs to conformity, not out of imposition but personal choice. I would like to extend our snow-ball effect to the infrastructure of institutionalism here. The groups that believe their make-belief, eventually, formalize their ideas in the form of an institution. These institutions, as has been observed all across the world, are particularly good at convincing the lay man of a set of benchmarks that guarantee a certain level of assurance to both integrating within the general framework as well as paving the way to an eventual success. Hence, the delusion that started off as a collective memory becomes an institutionalized set of memory. This memory then, for it can, becomes a belief.

ISIS can be understood in this perspective. The collective memory lies in its belief what is a religious struggle. However, even before that, comes the concept of identity. How and why ISIS established itself as an authority is directly related to the interpretation of identity it has convinced its followers to embrace. The identity, in itself, finds root in the fissure that have existed in the Iraqi society. It lies in Saddam’s policies, the Ba’ath party’s strength at rationalizing its biases and eventually the disastrous tenure of Nouri al-Maliki. The momentum built here was enough for the idea of this ‘identity’ to spread across the geography and eventually become a supra-national entity. I would not be going into the narrative on ISIS’s birth here. For that, it is recommended my previous articles ‘The IS phenomenon’ and ‘Becoming Baghdadi’ are read. That said, the perspective that Baghdadi was able to authoritize and formalize in the form of a movement, taking advantage of the infrastructure of the Iraqi Al-Qaeda, can be taken as an example of the formation of institutions I have spoken about.

What follows is, in all honesty, a fairly simple trend.

Institutions such ISIS do not impose their beliefs on the people, or atleast on those they want to recruit. In a manner, they tend to depoliticise their recruitments so that the individual who becomes part of the movement, and an eventual believer of the collective memory, does so voluntarily. Such institutions appreciate the importance of both individualism as well as cosmopolitism’s. While allowing the individual to take the forefront it his/her’s decisions on embracing the collective memory, these organizations also insist on ensuring that local dogmas and groups don’t bind the recruit’s attempts at creating his/her life. Hence the individual, nurturing in the glee that comes with being aware of the strength that their self can muster, also finds an equally comforting overlapping in the ability to lose oneself into the mirage of a universal identity. A combination of these two shows how ISIS recruits are extremely confident in their decisions, and similarly, very proud at their choice of the peculiar way of living that an ISIS Jihadi lives as. It is this belief, this enforced similarity if you will, that allows the organization to overtake national boundaries and attract people that transcend all personal biases and preferences. It is this emphasis of its interpretation of identity and indeed a collective memory of how things happened and how they interpret the present should deal with the bygones, which allows this culture of devotion to finds its most strengthening factors.

Back to collective memory: Belief is indeed an extremely important concept. It is the building block to the banal devotionalism witnessed in ISIS fighters. Beliefs, or indeed the lack of them, allows ISIS to work as an institutional entity and attract people who otherwise share no similarity, live in different geographies, share different ideas and values: all blend into this one unique identity. Religion here, is a mere tool just as is political propaganda or nationalistic whims. What remains most important is the relationship the institution develops with the individual and vice versa and it is this part of the equation that needs our focus when we get down to finding solutions for the trend that has unfortunately become a norm with these fundamentalists.