This is the second part of the guide to de-radicalization of Muslim youth. In this section an attempt has been made to explore the thinking pattern of a radicalized mind-set. For the sake of brevity and the ease of reader, this segment will be split into two parts. In the first part, radical ideologies from around the world will be examined. In the second part, recent phenomenon of radicalization specifically among Muslims will be covered.
Understanding Religious Radicalization Part-1
Before to topic of Muslim radicalism is delved into, it would be worthwhile to mull over the term “ Radical” or “Extremist” ideology.
An extremist ideology is a result of a supremacist attitude that has been nurtured on a bed of grievances. The origins of extremism will be explored later on, but at this point it is critical to understand that extremism or radical mind-set is not a product of a particular religion for example, Islam. In fact it can be argued that its origin is not dependent on religion at all.
The Nazi and the Fascist movement of the recent past were radical ideologies, both were secular. The former rode on a wave of racism/nationalism while the latter was influenced by national syndicalism. More recently, concern has arisen over the rise of militant atheism. It should be noted that organisations that have patronized Militant Atheism in the last century like (LMG) have seen banning orders in many countries because of their extreme views and culture of implied violence. Therefore, it is not necessary that religion is the cause of extremism. However this myth prevails because of the hostile views (against religion) perpetrated by the “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, who are popular among the youth of today.
On the other hand the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Buddhist monks also is an extremely telling case. Buddhism is considered as world’s most pacifist religion and yet within their ranks rose an army that committed the most heinous and heart wrenching crimes. The crisis lead to thousands of Rohingya Muslims-that were settled in Myanmar for generations- fleeing to neighboring lands.
Thus it can be safely concluded that the extremist mind-set is not borne out of any religion. However religion is often twisted to add impetus to an extremist ideology. And in all cases, where religion is used as a proponent, the focus of extremism is on selective rather than collective teachings of religion.
The Socratic paradox is a historic argument that can help to understand the radical mindset. Unlike its sophisticated name, it can be easily recognized and understood by the phrase “I know that I know nothing”. Although there are several tales based on the Socratic paradox, the following one is worth mentioning:
Socrates happens to pass by a village. When the village folks become aware of Socrates’ presence, they take him to the meet the village chief. Socrates is famous in all Greece for his wisdom. The village chief is also aware of Socrates’ reputation and wants to make an impression of his own knowledge, both on Socrates and his village folk.
By the order of the Chief, Socrates is ushered to the village green where all the villager gather. The Chief than announces a knowledge competition between him and Socrates and lays down the rules. He says that the members of the audience will ask three questions and whoever gives the most satisfactory answers will be deemed the wiser man.
Before Socrates could agree, the first question is thrown in. It is about the water well in the village. The question is whether the well is dry or not? Socrates, shrugs his shoulders while the village chief responds with the right answer. The audience cheer. The second question similarly is about the number of sheep in the village and third is about the number of people in the village. The village chief answers both of them right while Socrates doesn’t hide his cluelessness.
The Chief then claims in front of everyone that it has been proven that he was the more knowledgeable of the two. He further claims that all this hype about Socrates is ill founded. The audience applause and Socrates is on his way out before he is once again confronted by the Chief who asks him to acknowledge the outcome. Socrates simply responds “The difference between me and you is that you don’t know what you know. And I know what I don’t know”.
Socrates’ answer is worth contemplating as it entails the key to understanding a radical mind-set. It sums up beautifully the reason for Chief’s arrogance and Socrates’ own humility. It was simply the awareness of the lack of knowledge. In many ways this story also sizes up the certitude and arrogance of a radical mind. All extremist views thrive in the absence of knowledge. It should be of no surprise that in despotic regimes knowledge is controlled. On the other hand the story also informs us about modesty and level-headedness that is instilled by ones level of awareness.
So the first characteristic of a radical mind is limited or selective knowledge. It may well be that a subject has access to holistic knowledge, however due to their mental conditioning, they themselves ignore some bits for convenience. Else it creates an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance.
Parents who need to confront their children about their extreme attitudes should take heart from the fact that the information they will have to deal with is both limited and selective.
The question now is, what acts as a filter for selectivity in knowledge?
The plain and simple answer to this is a belief in an ideology. All that concurs with the prefabricated belief is accepted while all that goes against the ideology is ignored.
What seeds a radical ideology?
Belief in an Ideology could be part of positive behaviour. Human’s stand up for what they believe is right. It’s what constitutes as right and wrong that can be debated. The trouble comes when an ideology is founded on negative sentiments such as hatred or revenge. Such deep seeded negativity can be only tapped into when there is an existing grievance or sense of grievance. It should be noted that often exploiting grievance is the biggest tool of the radical leader to convince and mobilize people.
A society should have mechanisms to settle grievances in a positive manner. An ideology that tries to settle grievance by hook and crook is the problem. So the second commonality of a radical mind-set is the perception of grievance, be it genuine or not.
The other aspects of a radical ideology are:
Focus on end and not the means
There are many among us who long for a utopian world, each having their own idea of utopia. Each of us wants to share our version of utopia with others. In some cases, one wants to impose their version on others. The fine line between sharing and imposing depends upon the methodology adopted.
If one wants to propagate idea through proper channel, build consensus and bring change through mutual consent, than this strategy is generally accepted by the populace.
On the other hand if one wants to pursue utopian dream by working in the corridors of power, use force, operate covertly and topple the existing governing structure, than such change is generally not acceptable to the modern mind.
Another aspect of a radical ideology is a mechanism of differentiation. All radical ideologies have within them defined lines. These demarcations can be more easily understood by the question “Are you with us or against us?” There is always a criterion by which adherents of an ideology determine who/what constitutes its group and who doesn’t. It clearly bifurcates between friends and foes leaving little room for any middle ground.
Transition from Anarchic to Nihilistic Ideology
Any ideology no matter how radical can be quarantined as long as it has some reigns within itself through which it controls the call to action. There are hundreds of separatist movements operating in every major country. Even in the US for example, there are people who would like to free the state of California from the rest of USA. Can such groups be called radical?
The difference is that California separatist group is trying to bring change through referendum. On the other hand, if the leaders of any separatist movement call for arms to be taken up and start a conflict, without the backing of the majority of people effected by the issue at hand, then the outfit can enter a grey area.
Even than conflict can be reversed as long as there is discipline in the ranks and reigns held tightly by a commander. The problems starts when any anarchic movement, opens its doors to sadistic and criminal elements to balloon its number. It than becomes extremely hard to roll back or deescalate any confrontation. Only a little tweak in the ideology can push a group from anarchic to nihilistic, where very little difference stands in the way of damage and collateral damage.
Radical movements that do not have mechanisms to discipline its followers have an extremely high likelihood of turning Nihilistic. Once they adopt this modus operandi, their organic life is reduced due to their unsustainable nature. It is than a matter of time before they are wiped out of existence. However, they can cause serious damage before eventually fizzling out and hence have to be kept in check
When Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein was published in 1918, little was known about the timelessness and endearing quality of the tale that would make it a compulsory part of the curriculum for English literature. The story has inspired many Hollywood movies. Such has been its impact that the term “Frankenstein effect” is used frequently in pop culture to identify any entity that cannot be controlled or destroyed, even by its own creator.
Radical ideologies have a tendency of nurturing elements within its ranks that eventually go rogue. For someone that has been conditioned on extreme ideology, hatred and vile speech, any shift in stance towards a soft approach often results in defection. It is because of this tendency that the more radical the idealogy, the more important it is to hold reigns by the leaders and discipline followers. Fringe radical groups such as the Klu Klux Clan are often in the spotlight because one of their existing members or ex members commits an atrocious crime, that wasn’t sanctioned by the group.
It is a catch 22 situation because such groups need to constantly drip feed vile propaganda to main their Raison d’ Etre.
Having covered a few common aspects of radical ideology, focus will now be turned on the radical ideology among groups like ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Shabab. It will be noted that all the features discussed herein are common to the three mentioned groups.