Dealing with an Extremist Mindset

Dealing with an Extremist Mindset

Extremist mindset
Part 3: Dealing with an Extremist mindset

This is the third part of the guide to de-radicalization of Muslim youth. In this part, the sensitive topic of dealing with extremist mind-set will be explored.

A quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is appropriate to mention here:

“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

There are two important lessons that can be extracted from this quote. First is to find what a person aspires to be. In almost  all cases it is the simple idea of making the world a better place. However, the manner in which a better world is pursued is not a matter of a single opinion. What has to be changed is what the person ought to be. The second lesson is to have a degree of empathy towards the one deemed a radical. It should be remembered at all times that in the process of de-radicalization, it is the person that has to be won and not necessarily the argument.

In the Quran (Chapter An-Nahl Verse 125) it says:

Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.

The making of an extremist mindset almost always involves chats behind closed doors. For a person deemed radical, the the outside world (the mainstream) is viewed with suspicion if not hostility. Therefore the first and foremost step that has to be taken is to gain trust and engage in a dialogue with the individual in question.

It should be noted that in a person who longs to join organizations like ISIS, there are both positive and negative motivational factors. The positive motivational factors are empowerment, fresh start and gratification (of lust in most cases). The negative motivational factors are hatred and revenge that take root in the harboured grievances.

The process of engagement is most effective if a close friend, close family member or one of the parents strikes a conversation on the aspirations and intentions of the concerned individual. A person normally opens up about his feelings if shared values exist.

Therefore it is important to establish common grounds by discussing both the positive and negative motivational factors. A good place to begin is undermining negative motivation factors and than building on the positives.

Negative Motivational Factors

A conversation on grievances -that are most commonly embedded in the mind-set of a radical Muslim- can be a good starting point. It is these grievances that one on hand manifest themselves in hatred for the status-quo and  on the other hand develop empathy towards organizations like ISIS. Two things are important to note here. Firstly,  not every individual that may have empathy for a militant Islamic organization and harbours suspicion towards western governments can be deemed a radical. Secondly there is also the factor of “sympathy for the underdog”. Many neutral observers often favour the weaker opposition in case of a David Vs Goliath scenario. Our inclinations are best placed when they are based on truth and justice.

It is important to dig out the grievances before any other conversation is embarked on.

For young Muslims, the following grievances constantly irk their minds :

1. Lack of Muslim role in global politics and economy.

2. Lack of voice on pertinent issues in particular the situation in Palestine and Syria.

3. Lack of support for dismantled countries like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

4. Lack of right of self determination even after UN resolution, like in Kashmir and Palestine.

5. Lack of credible Muslim leadership.

6. Permeation of a single globalized culture and rise of the modern western civilization.

After the fall of the Ottoman empire, Muslims lost their unifying political institution, the Caliphate. Picot-Sykes agreement further compounded the problem by unfavourably dividing regions into Nation States. Lines were drawn on the world map that in most cases ensured  chaos and conflict throughout the life of many countries.

For almost the last 100 years, Muslim voices of distress have not been heeded. This has caused genuine grievances among Muslims. It is a must that the person dealing with a young radical Muslim must recognize this injustice. It is only the manner in which these grievances are dealt that is the issue at hand. And these concerns have to be addressed in the most civilized manner. The resentment does not have to result in blanket hatred towards west or for any nation for that matter. When it comes to ideology, radical Muslims would not trust any opinion by a scholar that they feel are more lenient towards the enemy. They are likely to consider text from Quran or Hadeeth. Therefore it is paramount that his attention is brought to those verses in the Quran that counteract an extreme viewpoint. Such verses or hadeeth are conveniently ignored by the radicals and their mentors.

Regarding prejudice based on grievance, there is Quranic guidance for believers. In Chapter Al Maeda, it says:

"O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah , witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do."

Islam as a religion is extremely pragmatic. For the present state of Muslims, two events from the life of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) should be highlighted that will give guidance on collective behavior of Muslim community.

The first event is the policy of non-confrontation during the early days of Islam. When Islam as an idea was being disseminated, the early Muslims were tortured and persecuted. However, confrontation was avoided and focus was kept on building a critical mass of followers. This period stretches to 13 years in Mecca or the Meccan period. Muslims should take note that at times when they feel week and oppressed, they should look inward, regroup and focus on their own shortcomings before putting the finger on anything else. They should endeavour to gel together. This is extremely important in current scenario as it is exactly this disharmony among Muslims that has made their collective political voice inaudible.

The second event of significance was the Truce of Hudaybia. In this agreement between the Muslims of Madina and the Quraish tribe of Mecca, unfavorable conditions were accepted by Muslims for  establishing peace. This agreement was made despite Muslims at the time being in the position of power. The moral victory from Hudaybiya eventually transpired into a political victory for the Muslim. This truce is an example of patience and long term thinking.

As highlighted earlier, the fissures within Muslim community and the lack of long term planning are issues that are hurting Muslims across the globe. Learning from the two events mentioned above can go a long way in healing the Muslim populace.

Positive Motivational Factors

In various studies, it has been shown that many individuals that are involved with extremist outfits have previously suffered from an identity crisis. It is the alienation they feel in their respective societies  which fuels the need in them to abandon it. Organizations like ISIS not only provide their followers with a sense of identity but also assign roles to their members that are empowering. For someone that has not been exposed to the horrors of war but has been shown the imagery of the weapons they can wield, it is very likely to be seduced by the perception of power.  Many teens get inclined to pursue the fulfillment of their fantasies. It is no wonder that organizations like ISIS have amidst their ranks mostly young men.

Strangely in many cases, it is fulfilling of carnal desire that leads to enlisting. Pre-martial sex in Muslims community is frowned upon. Arranging marriages on the other hand is also getting extremely complex and expensive affair. In a world obsessed with sex, where nudity sells products, it is becoming harder for many Muslim teenagers to complete studies, get a job and become eligible bachelors before they can think of  marriage.

ISIS cashes in on this genuine void to reel in many youngsters. It promises them all the pleasure of the flesh in this world and hereafter. It preaches them that access can be gained to an exclusive club of virgins with the press of a button.

Muslims families therefore need to support their children on the idea of marrying at an early age if the issue arises. They should also help them financially if required.

Common Problems of the World

Many of the problems that are experienced by Muslims today are also shared by many non-Muslims. A lot has been written on the ruthlessness of Military -Industrial complex. From activist Naomi Klein to the politician Ron Paul. From Professor Noam Chomsky to many other academics, all have identified the disparity, the exploitation of people / resources and the injustices of the modern civilization.

There is frustration in the world about the way many of the issues are being dealt. However, would resorting to militancy, resolve those issues? most certainly not. In fact any military conflict only goes to provide further fuel to Military Industrial complex.

To be able to talk to a radicalized person about the challenges humanity faces is a daunting prospect. The challenging aspects of this dialogue is not the issues but the solution to them. The radical thinks there is only one way and its their way. Secondly speaking on global issues muddies the thinking that there is a clear enemy that can be identified by religion, race or  nation.

In the Quran it is specifically mentioned that it is the means and not the end that is important. Muslims have been asked to strive to seek the path of god  and not necessarily focus on the ends.

Extremist give credence to their views by stating that their ideas come directly from the Quran and are not based on prevalent practices  or are not based on someone’s interpretation of the Holy book. In either case of guidance by prevalent practices or interpretation, they feel that ideas (in religious text) are open to corruption or bias.

The word of god is un-corruptible but is open to interpretation. To approach the truth, one has to study the context as well as tone of the text. Is the text metaphorical or is it literal? These questions becomes clear when the scenario in which the revelation was made is studied.

This brings us to a point where a short story by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf would be fitting to add. The sheikh told about a scholar who was giving a lecture on Islam’s message of peace. Midway through his talk, he was interrupted by a young man who apparently looked disgruntled. The young man rose up and read out a verse from the Quran, which apparently sanctioned violence. He told the scholar not to tell lies about Islam. The scholar responded with a few questions of his own. The young man was asked if he knew the verse preceding the one he just read out. His response was negative. He was then asked if he knew the verses after the one he has mentioned. His response was again negative.

The scholar then turned to him again and asked “what is your profession?” The young man told that he was a mechanic. The scholar told him to stick with his day job.

This story encapsulates very well the limited knowledge of the followers of extreme narrative. As pointed out earlier that it is often the selective knowledge than the complete lack of it that is the problem. The two questions asked by the scholar to contextualize the verses can be similarly used on someone that would quote a verse or hadeeth in isolation and derive a extreme narrative.

This particular infographic does a great job in extracting the more rounded meaning of the text in question by probing what comes before and after the text.

To re-iterate, the golden nugget for parents to take away from the above mentioned passages is that whenever a text is presented from the Quran for justification of any vile act, ask the following three questions:

  1.  What was the verse before the mentioned text?
  2. What is the verse after the mentioned text?
  3. What is the context in which this verse was revealed?

For indeed there is no picking and choosing of the holy text. The Quran itself declares (Chapter 2: Baqara, Verse 208)

"O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy".

An extremely useful resource for explaining the extremist ideology of Khawarij which is also applicable to ISIS can be accessed from this link.

The whole idea of this chapter is to instill the doubt of pragmatism in an a dangerously idealistic mind.

The next section will discuss the options available for a radicalized individual for re-entering the mainstream and purge the lure of extremism for good. The positive motivational factors discussed earlier will be examined along with how one can build upon them.