Troubled Journeys: Some Motivations of Young Muslim Men to Join the Islamic State


Large numbers of young people have joined jihadists groups in the Syrian/Iraqi conflict. Why would these young people decide to become jihadist fighters? What are the representations of the West they hold and how do these representations shape their decision? Drawing on the psychotherapeutic work with Syrian and Iraqi asylum seekers, this paper seeks to explain the most intimate reasons of young Muslim would-be fighters to join the Islamic State militias.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Barocas, H. A., & Barocas, C. B. (1979). Wounds of the fathers: The next generation of Holocaust victims. International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 6, 331–340.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bloch, M. (1998). Autobiographical memory and the historical memory of the more distant past. In How we think they think: Anthropological approaches to cognition, memory, and literacy (pp. 114–127). Oxford: Westview Press (Perseus Books Group).

  3. Bos, P. R. (2003). Positionality and postmemory in scholarship on the Holocaust. Women in German Yearbook, 19, 50–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Cappelletto, F. (2003). Long-term memory of extreme events: From autobiography to history. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 9(2), 241–260.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Corneau, G. (1991). Absent fathers, lost sons: The search for masculine identity. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Erikson, E. (1968). Identity, youth and crisis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Faimberg, H. (1988). The telescoping of generations: Genealogy of certain identifications. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 24, 99–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Kroger, J. (2004). Identity in adolescence: The balance between self and other. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Lacan, J. (1963 [2013]). On the names-of-the-father. Cambridge: Cambridge Polity Press.

  10. Neumann, P. (2009). Old and new terrorism. Late modernity, globalization and the transformation of political violence. Cambridge: Cambridge Polity Press.

  11. Neumann, P. (2015, January 27). Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq: Motivations and implications. London School of Economics and Political Science.

  12. Nordstrom, C. (2007). Global outlaws: Crime, money, and power in the contemporary world. California: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Robben, A. C. G. M. (Ed.) (2010). Iraq at a distance: What anthropologists can teach us about the war. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

  14. Smith, A. (1999). Myth and memories of the nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Volkan, V. D. (2001). Transgenerational transmissions and chosen traumas: An aspect of large-group identity. Group Analysis, 34, 79–97.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Volkan, V. D. (2014). Animal Killer: Transmission of war trauma from one generation to the next. London: Karnac.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Volkan, V. (2015a). The intertwining of external and internal events in the changing world. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 75(4), 353–360. doi:10.1057/ajp.2015.40.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Volkan, V. (Ed.) (2015b). The intertwining of external and internal events in the changing world. Special Issue, The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 75(4).

  19. Volkan, V. D., Ast, G., & Greer, W. (2002). The Third Reich in the unconscious: Transgenerational transmission and its consequences. New York: Brunner-Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kalina Yordanova.

Additional information

Address correspondence to: Kalina Yordanova, Ph.D., 19 Shipchenski Prohod, apt 52, 1111 Sofia, Bulgaria.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yordanova, K. Troubled Journeys: Some Motivations of Young Muslim Men to Join the Islamic State. Am J Psychoanal 76, 240–254 (2016).

Download citation


  • War
  • identity
  • violence
  • Islamic State