ATLANTA— A new book published by Georgia State University professor and terrorism expert Dr. Mia Bloom examines the practice of using children to support terrorist organizations in carrying out deadly attacks.
“Small Arms: Children and Terrorism” gives readers an unflinching look at the radicalization of youth into terror and other state-sponsored groups that create units of child soldiers.
“Up until now there has not been a systematic analysis of children in terrorist groups distinct from the child soldier phenomenon that clustered anyone under 18 — regardless of how they were recruited,” says Bloom.
Dr. Bloom has been studying terrorism for more than three decades. She is an expert in the field and has authored three previous books on the subject. She currently teaches Communication at Georgia State University and presents her research around the world.
“Small Arms” is the culmination of a five-year effort for Bloom, that included travel to several countries to learn about groups that recruit child soldiers and terror groups that have been increasingly using children on the front-lines.
“Many children are forced into terrorist movements – they become victimized and traumatized by their experiences in the process,” says Bloom. “In turn, they themselves exploit and victimize others.”
The phenomenon has been seen most recently by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but other states and terror groups have manipulated very young children, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The phenomenon has been recorded in other countries like Myanmar, Morocco, Sri Lanka and Israel/Palestine.
Bloom became interested in studying terrorism during her study abroad in Israel in 1985. Bloom says she watched as a bomb was defused in front of her at the Central Bus Terminal in Tel Aviv.
“After that, people just walked away and went about their day, like it was normal. I became intrigued at how people are drawn into violence and also how societies build resilience,” she says.
Through interviews and research, Bloom found that children have been used as tools because they rarely arouse suspicion and can infiltrate civilian ‘soft targets’ as well as military and other fortified compounds.
“We saw the increasing extent of children and adolescent involvement in terrorism, and in doing so we traced their changing role from victims to perpetrators while demonstrating the interchangeability of these roles.
“Small Arms” sheds light on the ways ISIS and other groups are luring children to violence and coercing them to kill. It also examines solutions and the possibility of rehabilitating these children as happened with child soldiers in Africa. The final chapter examines what governments need to do now that ISIS has been defeated.
During her travels, Bloom met one young man in Pakistan and was inspired by his success through rehabilitation after years of involvement with the Pakistan Taliban. His story was one of many that encouraged her to learn more about finding solutions for young people caught in the crosshairs of war.
“Many children remain in the terrorist group until adulthood and beyond, says Bloom. “In particular, the book mapped the region-specific socio-cultural routes for children’s mobilization into violence and explained how in certain conflict settings ‘cultures of martyrdom’ are deliberately constructed to facilitate social and psychological commitment to violent groups.”
“Small Arms: Children and Terrorism” includes contributions from Dr. John Horgan whose expertise includes the psychology of violent extremists, their strategies for recruitment, and how and when they disengage. Bloom and Horgan are both key faculty for Georgia State University’s Transcultural and Violent Extremism initiative. The Publisher of the book is Cornell University Press.