Death cults and indoctrination

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by Neil Godfrey

Two excellent interviews today on Radio National‘s The Spirit of Things program, one with cult counsellor Steven Hassan discussing the techniques of mind control and recruitment used for certain suicide and Islamic cults, comparing them with more traditional cults such as the Moonies; another with Abdel Bari Atwan, Editor-in-Chief of the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, who first interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1996, discussing the desperation and indoctrination that leads people to join these groups.

Link to the interviews (podcast, livestreaming … transcript soon) and background details of the interviewees.

Points of interest that struck me with the interviews —

Steve Hassan’s interview:

  • Recruiters use deception — they are not up-front with all that they believe and want on first contact. So the one they are targeting is not making a fully informed choice.
  • Recruiters use specific mind control techniques (e.g. same as those used positively by therapists such as CBT)
  • Authoritarian structure controls behaviour, information, thinking and emotional responses.
  • People are recruited at a vulnerable time in their lives.
  • Their biggest vulnerability is ignorance of mind control techniques used.
  • People are isolated, manipulated and indoctrinated.
  • Love-bombing, making people feel part of a family, comradeship, is a strong magnet.
  • Talk in confident tones, as if one has the true answers, can sound very attractive.

[Vridar thinks: These are common in most indoctrination processes. And thinking about dysfunctional families and child-rearing — by using these same techniques on children a parent is in fact indoctrinating them, not truly educating them. Who is more vulnerable than a young child? Who is less able to make a fully informed choice? etc etc etc. There IS a difference between good education — that is, equipping a child to become a confident independent person capable of critical thinking and making competent decisions — and indoctrination. Fundamentalist parenting has a lot to answer for. But so do those who know better and let the sham continue without a word.]

But I’ve been through the cult experience myself and know Steve Hassan’s work, so this offered little that was new to me. Still, he addressed questions that still baffle many people today, such as the misconception that cults target the losers, the weak, those who have little to contribute to the organization.

I liked his comment that he himself could have flown a plane into a building, and that it’s people from good families and well educated who are regular targets for recruitment. He could never have believed such a turn in a person was possible. But my own experience relates to his and I know it is, too.

the suicide bombers interview:

  • The interview with Abdel Bari Atwan was particularly informative. He reminded listeners that suicide bombing, when used in conjunction with other strategies, does work, and gives the classic historical case study for this.
  • He explained that the Palestinians are manipulated not by parents so much as by the failure of the peace talks between the PLO and Israel years ago, and that it’s going to take both sides, not just one, to stop the killing, terrorizing and ongoing humiliation of the other to make real talks possible in the future.
  • Loved the way Abdel Bari Atwan corrected his interviewer by pointing out that suicide bombers are not attacking The West (e.g. no targets in Sweden. . . .) but particular Western governments. And it is misleading — misinformation — to think that they are against the whole of the population of any particular nation.
  • The obvious and usual explanations — though rarely truly appreciated so I guess they really do need repeating — about the reasons why Palestinians and others become suicide bombers.
  • I was interested to hear his reasons for the popularity of conspiracy theories among many Arabs over 9/11. He explained that few Arabs believe that Al Qaeda could possibly have managed the sophisticated planning and training required to carry out the 9/11 attacks and that is why many assume it had to have been done by Israel.
  • Coupled with that, they see the attacks as having resulted in nothing but harm to the Arab world, so the “who benefits” argument leads many to point the finger at Israel.

I don’t agree with this conspiracy theory — but was interested to hear explained why so many in the Arab world do.

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Neil Godfrey

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