Understanding and Preventing Radicalization

The public is easily mislead when fallible,  simplified explanations are used as an explication for radicalization.  When people lack the knowledge or the will to understand the root causes and the complexities of radicalization, they often make judgments based on fear, prejudice, anger, and insecurity.  These snap judgments by uninformed citizens are based on an egoistic need for them to appear knowledgeable or informed.  Political pundits exploit these emotional vulnerabilities by disseminating false information and equivocations.  Egotism and the spread of half-truths are the biggest obstacles to understanding the root causes of radicalization.

A common factor of people who have committed acts of terror is that they often are social outcasts.  People who feel isolated, persecuted or excluded from social participation are more susceptible to radical ideologies.  Their tendency to have emotional scars or resentments towards society can be exploited by radical idealists.  This is because they often spend more time consuming the propaganda of a radical ideology and less time interacting with society.  As a social outcast becomes further disconnected from society, the probability of that person radicalizing increases.  Social outcasts are vulnerable because joining the radicalized group offers people promises of acceptance, something they often believe they have been deprived of.

One of the strategies of radical organizations is to convince their recruits that being a member gives them an opportunity to express their anger against society thru acts of heroism or martyrdom.  This satisfies an obsessive and unhealthy need to feel important.  As they become inculcated with the fallacious doctrine that rationalizes and justifies violence, they become more of a danger to society.  Radical organizations convince their followers that group pride or a divine spirit obligates them to unite to defeat a shared enemy.  They often define various groups of people as the enemy and target them for violent or murderous acts.  These radical groups have defined the enemy using a variety of factors including: race, religion, gender, and political views.

It is often implied that Islam is the only form of terrorism.  That is demonstrably false.  Timothy McVeigh (Murrah Federal Building bombing), Daniel Smith (Indiana killings), and Dylan Ruth (Emanuel Baptist Church Massacre) were all influenced by non Islamic ideologies that inspired their terrorist acts.  Why is it that the groups that inspired their actions are not consistently labeled as terrorist organizations?  Instead, right wing politicians and pundits disproportionately mention terrorism when they can link acts of violence to people who profess Islam.

When right wing politicians imply that Islam is the primary cause of terrorism by insisting on using the term “radical Islamic terror,” they play to the intolerant sentiments of some evangelicals.  The majority of Americans identify with Christianity, and many pastors teach a doctrine implying that practicing any religion outside of Christianity is an act of heresy leading to damnation.  Strong adherence to these sentiments often causes intolerance towards people of other faiths.  It also causes an unhealthy and egotistic attitude where people begin to believe that their religious identity alone qualifies them as morally superior to people of other faiths.

Throughout history, various religious texts have been extrapolated to justify racial oppression, colonization, theft, slavery, violence and  murder.  In early American history, distortions of the bible justified slavery by labeling Blacks as the cursed descendants of Ham.  Theft of Native Americans land and resources was justified by labeling them as heathen savages.  These were examples in early American history where religion was extrapolated to appeal to an insidious form of racial pride an egotism.  The concept of white supremacy in America was born.

Fast forward to shortly after the abolition of slavery.  Whites of lower economic and/or social status resented and sometimes reacted violently to the threat of being surpassed on the socioeconomic ladder by people who they were conditioned to believe were inferior.  The Ku Klux Klan exploited the resentment, fears, and insecurities of working class Whites to gain their support.  A part of their strategy was depicting Blacks as threats to the job security of White males.  Also, their propaganda implied that Black men were rapists that couldn’t resist White women.  The lynching and other violence that resulted from these fallacious depictions set a precedent for terrorism in the United States.  The root cause was not religion, but demagogic appeals to emotional weaknesses (fear, anger, and insecurity).

Radicalization often begins with frustration.  When frustration limits a person’s ability to think clearly, religious texts or other literary works can more easily be manipulated to justify violent or immoral acts.  The susceptibility to radicalization is intensified when people are affected by poverty, isolation, social exclusion, or despair.  When people feel like they have no hope, or that they have no recourse for what they feel is unjust treatment, the probability of radicalization increases.

In cultures of sectarianism where there are religious, ethnic, and racial divisions, and specific groups are marginalized or excluded from economic activities, the susceptibility to radicalization is intensified.  The value one places on life is often diminished in areas saturated with poverty, corruption,  despair, and social exclusion.  Desperation and despair can induce a nihilistic culture where people are more susceptible to joining ideologies that advocate sacrificing their lives to kill as many as the perceived enemy as possible.  This has been shown in poorer or less politically stable nations of Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Countering radical ideologies entails demonstrating fairness, justice, respect, and equal protection of the laws.  It also entails identifying people who feel that they are social outcasts and helping those people assimilate into their communities.  If we stray from these principle or selectively apply them, we provide propaganda that can be used by extremist recruiters.  These principles contribute to a more inclusive society.  Inclusiveness is necessary to combat radicalization and to foster a culture of authentic patriotism.  When more people feel included in society, chances increase of them cooperating in defense of the greater society. We must be able to find ways to counter the propaganda of radical idealist, so that we won’t end up fighting a perpetual war.  What good is it to militarily defeat one extremist group when the continued effectiveness of extremist propaganda keeps causing others to rise.  Either we will become more inclusive and tolerant as a society or we will continue to play whack a mole.



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