There could be different factors involved in rest of the West, but this article deals mainly from American perspective. Recent study by the George Washington University, From Retweet To Raqqa, concludes that there is no specific profile of a Muslim terrorist and they come from all demographics. They are not necessarily raised as religious fanatics, uneducated or disadvantaged as one might expect. As per study 40 % are under the age of 21 year. I think the proper question is not what motivates them, rather what makes them vulnerable to extreme ideology of violence? Many experts are still at loss to answer this question. There may be some other factors, but I think, unfortunately one of the major contributing factor is that Muslims are living in a charged anti-Muslim environment that makes them feel insecure, depressed and marginalized. It is especially true of teenagers. Some teenagers sense additional pressure of feeling different from their peers, and even target of anti-Muslim insults, ridicule and taunts from their own friends. It can lead to alienation, isolation and being bottled up in anger. Teenagers usually do not want to talk about it at home because they do not want to upset their parents. If teenagers do not have an outlet to express their feelings and anger at the dinner table at home or in Muslim community centers, unfortunately this bottled up anger and alienation may make them vulnerable and prime target of extreme nihilistic ideology like ISIS.
Although Muslim adults have more capacity to absorb such pressures, but for some who face discrimination, ridicule and insults at job may react the same way as teenagers does.
Sometimes the situation described above may get worse if the discussion at home or Islamic centers is ‘limited’ to grievances against the West’s part in the creation of Al-Qaeda, Taliban (Use of Taliban freedom fighters-Jihadis to defeat Russia in Afghanistan), ISIS by military misadventure in Iraq and support of repressive regimes in Muslim lands. This discussion limited to just grievances sometime may leave the wrong impression on alienated teenager or adult of justifying the violent acts of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and which may re-enforce the already bottled up anger and might even inflame it further.
As American citizens, there is nothing wrong in disagreeing with the policies of the West and USA, and many Americans do, but grievances discussion must always be followed by a strong and clear emphasis that to bring the change in situation and policies is possible only through political process and not by the violence as advocated by the extreme ideologies like ISIS. This change through politics and community involvement was achieved by minorities like Jews, Irish and Catholics who faced similar hostility as Muslims are facing today. In 2012, Douglas Saunders wrote in NYT in his article ‘Catholics Then, Muslims Now’;
“As late as 1950, 240,000 Americans bought copies of “American Freedom and Catholic Power,” a New York Times best seller. Its author, Paul Blanshard, a former diplomat and editor at The Nation, made the case that Catholicism was an ideology of conquest, and that its traditions constituted a form of “medieval authoritarianism that has no rightful place in the democratic American environment.”
The hostility against Catholics was so virulent that many liberals, including Bertrand Russel, supported the above view. Catholics, Jews and other minorities were able to overcome this hostility and become part of American fabric by involvement in politics and community works like building charity hospitals, Museums, colleges and universities.
I strongly feel having such discussions at dinner tables and in Islamic Centers, including Sunday schools and emphasizing on right course of action through political process and community involvement will provide the opportunity to some of the teenagers and adults who feel alienated and bottled up to open up and prevent them following a wrong path-and may also lead to some observation that who needs more help and attention. Such discussions will help regardless the cause of alienation and anger.
There is a great fear in Muslim communities that any such open discussions may lead to some misunderstandings by the law enforcement officials with untoward repercussions. Many Muslims are afraid to write even ‘terrorist’ in their emails that it may trigger automatic surveillance. These fears may well be true and not without foundations, but remaining behind the bunkers carries even more disastrous consequences both for current and future Muslim generations.