The futility of teaching moderation to young extremists

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by Neil Godfrey

From Scott Atran’s Talking to the Enemy, pp. 482. 484

Besides, the data show that most young people who join the jihad had a moderate and mostly secular education to begin with, rather than a radical religious one. And where in modern society do you find young people who hang on the words of older educators and “moderates”? Youth generally favors actions, not words, and challenge, not calm. That’s a big reason so many who are bored, underemployed, overqualified, and underwhelmed by hopes for the future turn on to jihad with their friends. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer (well, at least for boys, but girls are Web-surfing into the act): fraternal, fast-breaking, thrilling, glorious, and cool. Anyone is welcome to try his hand at slicing off the head of Goliath with a paper cutter. . . .

If we can discredit their vicious idols (show how these bring murder and mayhem to their own people) and give these youth new heroes who speak to their hopes rather than just to ours, then we’ve got a much better shot at slowing the spread of jihad to the next generation than we do just with bullets and bombs. And if we can desensationalize terrorist actions, like suicide bombings, and reduce their fame (don’t help advertise them or broadcast our hysterical response, for publicity is the oxygen of terrorism), the thrill will die down. Then the terrorist agenda will likely extinguish itself altogether, doused by its own cold raw truth: It has no life to offer. This path to glory leads only to ashes and rot.

I highlighted the need to discredit their vicious idols because that ties in neatly with a 2014 article by Neil Van Leeuwen, Religious credence is not factual belief, that sets out the differences between religious beliefs and other kinds of beliefs. “Vulnerability to special authority” is one of the significant characteristics of religious belief systems. Hope to discuss in a future post.



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3 thoughts on “The futility of teaching moderation to young extremists”

  1. I agree that the narrative that leads to vicious radicalization needs to be “discredited”—but I don’t think the matter is as simple as that….without some radicalization—-the French revolution would not have happened—the Vietnam war would not have been abandoned….Civil rights, Independence movements, Anti-Apartheid….etc.
    If this proposal is about “discrediting” the “radicalization” that the West/U.S. does not approve and allowing the radicalizing of those that they do approve—it is too political to take seriously as scholarly work….After all, the U.S. was very happy to support the Wahabi “freedom fighters”of Afghanistan when they were targeting Russians….the same “narrative” that Al-Qaeda “believes”.

    There is also another problem…if actions x are “viciously radical”/immoral by “terrorist” then those same actions by a Nation or its employees /soldiers are also “viciously radical”/immoral—to say one is but the other is legitimate is hypocrisy. If you tell ISIS “don’t kill the Syrians”…you can’t turn around and say its O.K. for the U.S. to do so….Integrity would demand that discrediting another’s narrative also means discrediting your own radical narrative

    Attempts to discredit Western radical narratives runs into obstacles such as Patriotism/Nationalism, Identity/Culture issues, “Freedom of expression” excuses…..etc. Scholarly works that presume that “human problems”only occur with the “other” and if the other sides solves the problem everything will be fine—miss out on the big picture that these problems occur as a series of reactions and counter reactions—-In essence—Human problems are often relational(relationship) problems.

    Identity issues are also problematic—alienated youth—are alienated because they do not have strong identity bonds—but discrediting the narrative that creates these bonds—for example nationalism—-means they are left where they started off. Identity—and the narrative that leads to it—needs to be replaced….hopefully with a concept of multiple narratives/identities….beginning with strong family ties that lead to, and end with strong sense of brotherhood for all humanity….

    1. There’s no simple answer. I didn’t mean to suggest by the selected quotation that discrediting is argued as the sole answer.

      My point in singling out this one passage was to respond to those who argue simplistically that the violence is the result and direct consequence of extremist beliefs.

  2. Here is a point I made in “Philosophy Now” that went without refutation: As an individual I have the right, if I so wish, to defend myself and my family from aggressive violence, and our home from undeserved damage. This right can be extended legitimately to protect my community and my homeland from destruction. There are complications to this in practice, but you could find examples in human history that can be defended, even celebrated.

    There is a case for a sense of human brotherhood, but the lessons of history and the forthcoming consequences of overpopulation, especially in Africa and south Asia, and military technological innovation, make any “hope” for global political institutions as naively “utopian” as ever, and if it requires the effective suicide of western civilization in “our own” [sic] heartlands, a dystopian objective, whereby the entire world could become a failed state. A new hubris is now attached to so-called “ANTI-racism”.

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