2015-12-14

How Young People Become Radicalised

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

A former jihadist is interviewed for his views on the question “What makes vulnerable young Muslims prone to being recruited by groups like the Islamic State?”

It seems a silly question to many. After all, they’re Muslims. They believe in a holy book that commands them to kill, kill, kill. What else is there to know? If a specialist scholar in Islamic studies and advisor to government anti-extremist programs fails to mention the word “religion” when summing up the essential radicalisation process in a Time article then many will dismiss his words as an apologetic whitewash. If innumerable Muslims are themselves the victims of Islamic terrorism (with death tolls higher than Westerners by orders of magnitude) it seems to make no difference to the determination to insist that it is the Muslim religion itself (whatever that is) that is to blame!

Well this article was an interview with a former jihadist, not an ivory tower egg-head.

For those interested in garnering a wide expanse of data from which to prepare a hypothesis on the reasons for radicalisation I point to We Spoke to a Former Jihadist About How Young People Become Radicalized. Others can ignore this post, return to an Islamophobic [I use the term of those who express a phobia of anything Islamic] or other hate site for reassurance that their viscera are on the right cerebral track, and perhaps return to share their convictions and denounce whatever is expressed here. Others interested in genuine dialogue, questions and alternative suggestions are most welcome.

The question asked was this:

What makes vulnerable young Muslims prone to being recruited by groups like the Islamic State?

The interviewee was Mubin Shaikh. Who is Mubin? . . . .

Born in Toronto and raised Muslim, Mubin Shaikh became a radical Islamist after a trip to Pakistan in the 1990s. Back in Canada, Shaikh recruited other young Muslims for the cause of jihad. But 9/11 led him to question his path. After a stint in Syria studying the Quran, he returned home changed once again, this time determined to fight the militarism he had espoused. Working with CSIS, Shaikh was a government agent in the “Toronto 18” case, where a group of mostly young Muslims were convicted of plotting to attack Canadian institutions. Today, Shaikh campaigns against Islamophobia while also trying to stop radicalization in his own community, using social media to engage directly with Islamic State sympathizers. And while he still works with Western governments, he’s not afraid to criticize Western policies that he says fuel the radicalization he fights.

And here is Mubin’s answer to that opening question:

You’re dealing with a social movement. It’s beyond a terrorist group. And social movements have grievance narratives. The reason why those grievance narratives resonate is because they are based in fact. It might not be complete fact and it might be their way of interpreting world events, but the reality is that when they say that their grievance is about Western foreign policy, particularly the bombing of Muslim countries—they’re not wrong when they say that.

When I was around in 1995, we would watch videotapes [of jihadist propaganda], and then [DVDs] came out and we watched DVDs. But what modern day social networking has done is it’s accelerated that exponentially. You’re sitting there at a television screen or computer screen, you’re watching these images over and over and over—it’s traumatizing you. Your eyes will be overwhelmed with visual images of death, destruction, killing, torture, oppression [of Muslims].

The psychological term is “vicarious deprivation.” So now, I’m not deprived myself individually, but I’m watching these videos about my people being oppressed and suddenly their deprivation and their oppression becomes my deprivation and my oppression, and enter that extremist message, “OK, you see that now? You feel that now? What are you going to do about it?”

Following questions:

And what are the social conditions that young Muslims live in that make them susceptible to that?

You’re involved right now in efforts to stop Muslims from being radicalized, how do you go about that? What do you tell them and what do they tell you?

But you have the Islamic State themselves and also [critics of Islam] like the New Atheists, quoting passages like Chapter 9, Verse 5 saying, “Kill all the non-believers.”

I won’t take the time to discuss. It appears this discussion is more about polarisation than it is about mutual learning. There are several additional follow-up questions, too. (Only) For those interested.

 

 

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)



If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!


39 thoughts on “How Young People Become Radicalised”

  1. The sad reality is, you have people on the right who might as well directly take the marching orders from ISIS because they’re doing the work for them.

    -Again, I ask, why should we contort policy to be the reverse mirror image of what your enemy wants, instead of going by, you know, what works?
    After all, it was Hitler who declared war on the U.S. first. Might the U.S. Congress in 1941 “as well directly take the marching orders from Hitler”?
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/marginoferr/2015/11/23/if-is-wants-war-then-we-should-give-is-precisely-what-it-wants/

    But this is assuming that this smear is sincere, rather than merely a shoddy attempt to paint one’s political opponents with the black flag.

    “They bring in French-speaking Muslims who are largely coming from North Africa, the Arab states that the French colonized. So there is that grievance narrative that’s still there and this is what feeds and drives some of those radicalized individuals, and there’s most definitely a group of people who are like that in Quebec”

    -Solution: don’t bring in people who easily develop grievances.

    “It can help, but I note that in the Senate hearing that looked at radicalization, in Quebec especially, lo and behold, 75 percent of extremism cases were not religiously motivated—they were white supremacist extremists”

    -Not impressive. That’s about the proportion of White people in the Canadian population.

    “Usually, colonizers tend not to be able to integrate the colonized populations very well in their own host societies.”

    -Depends. Wasn’t Vietnam part of colonial France?

    Nevertheless, this perspective is not completely useless. It provides a view of a Muslim justifying his deconversion from militant Islam. It’s helpful in that sense, but not in much else.

  2. not an ivory tower egg-head

    It’s selfreporting by a reformed individual. Not exactly a guarantee of factuality. The article is somewhat informative, but mostly a repeat of the usual, going back to a restatement of OBL’s demands.

    What i think bothers me the most about some of these articles (there are more reformed violent jihadis), is that they usually uncritically report feelings/reason/justifications without a shred of critical thought applied to them. This article is better then usual, by the grace of the interviewee himself, since he actually points out a rather important detail that is often omitted:

    “It might not be complete fact and it might be their way of interpreting world events”

    A late entry for the understatement of the year. Things that influence the way you interpret world events, who you count as ‘brothers’ & ‘sisters’ to have empathy with, who you count as outsiders to have no empathy with. Might be an important contextual background for someone watching said vhs/dvd/social media.

    Also an important detail, these videos are most if not all, onesided propaganda, there’s even scenes of an old 90’s american porn video showing the re-enacted rape of a woman in muslim attire that goes ’round in these circles of ‘radicalizing’ youths.

    It seems to me that you could whip up fundamentalist christians to a froth in the same way if you could collect enough similar video material, push their rage buttons a bit. So, if you feel you have to, put me down for some religiophobia please.

    1. I realized that re-enacted doesn’t actually mean what i wanted to get across. It was just another scene in a video originally, actors/actresses all around, no “re-enactment” just acting, and then cut and edited for disinformation purposes.

  3. ‘Western foreign policy, particularly the bombing of Muslim countries—they’re not wrong when they say that.’

    So they are upset that we got rid of Chemical Ali?

    Why are mosques in Pakistan, the Lebanon, Nigeria and Kuwait being suicide bombed?

    And why are tourists being killed in Tunisia?

    And if Western foreign policy is to blame, why was Beslan school attacked in Russia in 2004, with the loss of 186 children?

  4. If innumerable Muslims are themselves the victims of Islamic terrorism (with death tolls higher than Westerners by orders of magnitude) it seems to make no difference to the determination to insist that it is the Western foreign policy itself that is to blame!

  5. Steven, I have been addressing just these questions in recent posts. I don’t expect you to go back and do your homework because I will continue to post on these.

    There is no contradiction at all as you suggest. But it does help if we actually understand and learn a little about the people responsible for this barbarism.

    The answers to all your questions have been set out in the jihadi literature that has long been available online. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf for all to read and know in advance what he planned. The terrorists and jihadis have done the same.

    I look forward to doing more posts (though I know they cost readers and even friendships, very sadly) because I believe they are far more important than deciding whether Jesus was historical or not. I do hope you will pop in more regularly from time to time to see the references to the online literature promoted by these terrorists.

    Just hating religion and Islam in particular and attributing all evils to our pet hates is not the way to a constructive solution.

    Meanwhile, of course tourists in Tunisia and innocents in Paris, California, Australia et will all be targeted for the very reasons I have already cited from the literature of the terrorists themselves. — i.e. the desire to eradicate “the grey zone” of tolerance, secular democracy, and to force the West to respond with polarisation, ideally another invasion of a Middle Eastern country…. And of course they target the Shia Muslims in particular because of their, yes, RELIGIOUS ideology — We have addressed all of this and I will do so again — it is all in the literature, both Islamist and (sorry) Western scholarly research.

    1. It is true that I have not been doing my Vridar homework as religiously as before.

      ISIS have just released a video showing them advancing on the Colosseum in Rome for a final battle. I have not see the video, on principle.

      ISIS do want to polarise the world.

      ‘Born in Toronto and raised Muslim, Mubin Shaikh became a radical Islamist after a trip to Pakistan in the 1990s. Back in Canada, Shaikh recruited other young Muslims for the cause of jihad.’

      So how did he recruit young Muslims for the cause of jihad a decade before Iraq was invaded?

    2. Keep it up Neil, you’re doing great. While you may have a branding problem due to the changing focus of the blog, I predict an audience just as large will eventually find you. And it is entertaining reading a vigorous back and forth in the comments. Especially with those that seemed such sharp commenters on the Jesus myth (when we agreed). Echo chambers like WEIT are so tedious. Two cheers for you and one for Tim!

      1. I just shared the home page on Facebook to get some new blood over here. Hope it works. The photo was a bombed out building with red brick buildings in the background. While the tag line explains a bit, the strange name and that photo probably aren’t that inviting. Or maybe it’s jarring and will grab attention. Don’t know.

        Shared the Facebook page as well, but that photo is pretty strange too. Email me if you want to look at updating some things to attract some attention on Facebook.

  6. This is why I lament the absence of dialogue. It seems one side in particular is only wanting to denounce and close their ears to what the other side is saying.

    But here I am not facing disagreement from just the Right, but also from those on one form of the Left who appear to stand behind Islamists, and from one Islamist him/herself.

    And so far I have had three on the Right walk away playing the victim card — in preference to engaging in the points raised by the serious research that rubs shoulders with the actual terrorists themselves.

    Someone even foresees the collapse of Western civilisation. The irony of his perspective clearly eludes him.

    1. One side wants to see an apocalyptic battle at Dabiq, the name they have chosen for their propaganda magazine, between the crusaders and the believers.

      I don’t see how dialogue is possible.

      I still don’t see why the Iraq of Saddam and Uday Hussein, the Iraq of Chemical Ali, the Iraq that invaded Kuwait and Iran, why was that Iraq a Muslim country?

      There were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq during the invasion. Why were they not radicalised?

      1. I still don’t see why the Iraq of Saddam and Uday Hussein, the Iraq of Chemical Ali, the Iraq that invaded Kuwait and Iran, why was that Iraq a Muslim country?

        I don’t understand where you are coming from. Are you asking why Jihadis would consider a “secular” Iraq to be a Muslim country if their understanding of true Islam was different?

        If that’s what you mean then again, that is set out very clearly in their writings. Iraq is a Western-created state. It was ruled at the time (2003) by Sunnis who had embraced Western politics (Baathism/socialism). The entire Mid East was ruled by apostate regimes. Hence the need for the future Caliphate.

        Their aims according to their own ideologues was to polarise the Muslim nations, to sift the true from the false. I don’t know how much further to explain here because I don’t know your background in this. Have you read, for instance, The Management of Savagery/Chaos? How much of their goals do you know? Where do we start to dialogue?

        As for the 1.5 million Christians and why they were not radicalised — I simply don’t understand how you can raise such a question, sorry. Where are you coming from? I don’t know how to respond because I cannot understand how anything I have understood and expressed could prompt any suggestion that Christians should be radicalised.

        It is at this point that I have a habit of asking my interlocuteur to outline what they understand my argument to be (I would really like to know) — and the last time that happened my interlocuteur walked away muttering insults.

        1. There were of course other reasons for drawing the West in to an invasion — it was not just to polarise the Muslim world. Draining the resources and credibility of the West was also vital — and fomenting public distress over their wars . . . . but again, all this is in their literature, and it would help if I knew where you are coming from.

        2. I agree. Christians were not radicalised by having their homes bombed because they are not Muslims.

          There is no suggestion ever made by anybody that Christians would be radicalised, although they were also bombed.

          1. It appears you are unable to articulate the argument you think you are opposing and persist in to labouring under straw man presumptions. I guess that’s easier than making any effort to try to understand “the other”.

            I don’t know if anyone really wants to hear a serious answer to a rhetorical question but I’ll type it anyway….

            In Iraq we have seen reports of how many Iraqis, mostly Muslims, initially welcomed the invasion of their country in 2003 despite the destruction that necessarily accompanied it. Many were on the side of the occupiers. But then followed the disaster of the occupation that opened the gateways for the sectarian wars with certain factions being supported by the occupiers and Shia Muslims and religious minorities being the main targets of the Sunni terrorists. Recall Zarqawi: http://vridar.org/2015/12/10/terrorists-as-status-seeking-adventurers/

            If radicalisation is a consequence of people making ethical judgments about others then we all know, don’t we, that people judge actions differently according to whether they are perceived to be malicious, well-intentioned for the benefits of certain others, accidental (collateral damage); uncaring….

            The argument we are making, Steven, is about humans and human reactions and motivations.

            Christian terrorists:

            We know that there were three Christians and five Islamic jihadis among the suicide bombers in Lebanon from 1982 to 1986 in response to foreign occupation. The rest, 27 in all, were socialists/communists. All in response to foreign occupation. http://vridar.org/2013/06/01/terrorism-facts-3-is-occupation-or-religion-to-best-predictor/

            The Christian Phalange terrorists responsible for the massacres of women and children prisoners in 9/82.

            Jewish terrorists:

            The Jewish Irgun and Lehi terrorists in the 1940s were responsible for killing innocent British and Arabs. http://vridar.org/2015/09/22/comparing-jewish-and-islamic-terrorism/

            Others:

            Hindus and Buddhists have been and still are engaged in terrorist attacks today throughout South and South-East Asia.

            Why did we never hear about Islamic terrorists back in the 60s and 70s?

            I have asked several others here to actually attempt to explain what they believe the opposing argument is and to date each one has either walked away playing the victim card or simply repeating their straw man rejoinders. Why is that?

        1. Are you responding to the note about Christian suicide bombers and other Christian terrorists in Lebanon?

          If so, three points:

          1. the Christian suicide bombers did not see the foreign occupiers as legitimate governing powers.

          2. the Christians who massacred the refugee elderly, women and children did so in collaboration with the foreign occupying power

          3. your point is a reminder that sacred texts (religion) very often serves as a justification for our actions, not a primary motivator. People very generally interpret their sacred texts according to the cultural and group characteristics and interests they belong to.

  7. I am indeed unable to articulate the argument I am ‘opposing.’

    ‘Why did we never hear about Islamic terrorists back in the 60s and 70s?’

    The Islamic Revolution only seemed to start with the return of the Ayotallah Khomeini in 1979.

    When the British occupied Aden it was nationalism rather than Islamism which fuelled the resistance and the blowing up of planes and the throwing of grenades.

    Since the Islamic Revolution it seems to be Islamism rather than nationalism which is the driving force for such actions.

    1. The Islamic Revolution only seemed to start with the return of the Ayotallah Khomeini in 1979.

      The Iranian revolution did not come from nowhere. Jason Burke shows how branches of Islamism turned their attention to the West from 1979 on.

      Islamism is about far more than resistance against foreign invasion/occupation. Far, far more.

      Should I take it you have not read or heard the arguments themselves, only read or heard about them?

      1. Neil, I do have to sympathize with Steven Carr who laments that he finds it difficult to articulate the argument he is opposing, namely the one put forward by yourself, supported by others. It seems inordinately complex with nuances seeming to change periodically. You appeal a lot to Scott Atran, and I have to thank you for the recent posting on his views which reveal and clarify a lot of the basis from which you are arguing. And yet I am still confused by the application to which you have put him. I agree with much of Atran’s analysis, and yet it does not eliminate the ‘problem’ which you seem so determined to condemn and eradicate from view, namely what role does religion play in all of this? You often lament that people like myself are guilty of some kind of “black and white” attitude toward the Islamic issue in the development of ISIS and terrorism in general, and yet there is really no one more black and white than yourself. Or rather, it seems that you are endeavoring to make everything white. In your picture there is simply no black worth taking into account. It’s all been misinterpreted and misapplied, vastly exaggerated, and if we would only consult the sources you continually point to, we would somehow come to see all that.

        Well, I may have a still limited knowledge on the viewpoint of people like Atran, but what I see does not necessarily resolve the problem in your direction. Despite what Atran says, I still see no justification for eliminating the black from the picture. And I think it does not help the overall discussion to have a viewpoint that involves both black and white ridiculed and dismissed as you’ve done in this posting. I and others are hardly advocating a “religion tells us to kill kill kill” analysis as providing the sole reason why terrorists are created. That is almost to demonize those who hold an opposing viewpoint and to portray them as something like Neanderthals, foaming at the mouth.

        And I fully admit that your follow-up remark, that if the word “religion” is not mentioned in an analysis of the Islamic issue (let alone have it rejected as having no significant relevance at all) some will dismiss such an analysis, is absolutely true in my books. I make no apologies for that.

        Let’s try to draw an analogy. The Spanish conquest of the New World could be said, on one level, to express the desire for new lands and for gold, for adventurism and simply something for a Spanish soldiery (now freed up after the recent elimination of Muslim Spain) to do. But it was to a large extent justified in Spanish policy by maintaining that Christ needed to be brought to a heathen people, and the desire to spread Christianity was a justification for that conquest in the minds of its perpetrators (and a salve to its conscience). The two were intertwined. Any analysis of that conquest which sought to eliminate any and all religious motives, justification or input would be patently false and misleading. It seems to me that what you and Atran are essentially doing is much the same thing.

        There is no question that some passages in the Islamic scriptures do advocate “kill kill kill”. Are we really to believe that the barbarism of ISIS, including against fellow Muslims (“kill the apostate”), is not being expressed here on some level? Just because a majority of Muslims do not follow those injunctions, choosing different ones instead, does not eliminate them as a force for some minds, regardless of what other factors may also be in play. We see the same thing in the Christian scriptures. Jesus tells his followers to “hate your father and mother”, to “take up the sword”, to kill witches, to “compel them to come in” (the latter taken as fully justifying forced conversion or consigning to outer darkness or the stake those who refuse). Do the majority of Christians even think of following those injunctions, rather than the more peace-loving pronouncements? Of course not. But in the past there have been many Christians of both the hierarchy and the rank and file who have followed them, and for whom they provided full justification for the horrors they visited on others, whether Jew, heretic or New World heathen. Where Christianity was centuries ago, radical sects of Islam are today.

        Even the cruelest of jihadists, especially supporters coming from other countries to fight for ISIS, are human beings, and rarely is any human being irrevocably evil. Jihadists are not all unredeemed psychopaths. But as that common expression suggests, it takes religion to get good people to do evil things (not that I would ever call ISIS “good” by any definition). When God wants you to do something heinous, what better justification for it is provided than religious faith and directives? Christians could burn fellow Christians at the stake. They could lay waste the territory of a different sect in vast religious wars which plagued the 16th and 17th centuries. And there is not the slightest doubt from their own writings that the vast clerical machinery which accompanied the Spanish soldiery to the New World fully drew on that justification. Yet you would deny any possibility that such psychological support is supplied to Islamic terrorists and fighters today, who cheerfully behead others and slaughter different Muslim sects en masse? As I’ve pointed out in other postings, the very cry “Allahu Akbar” is sufficient proof of this, regardless of what interviewees may choose to tell Scott Atran.

        You continually say that we cannot solve the Islamist problem if we don’t recognize the factors that are at play in it, and I would fully agree, it’s just that I don’t see the wisdom (or accuracy) of eliminating religion as one of those factors. One must also keep in mind that Islam is a very politically oriented religion, and has been historically, which ISIS is trying to revive in its Caliphate, and it is quite natural that religious beliefs and motivations will be intertwined with and express themselves through political contexts and historical backgrounds. But that does not justify simply erasing the black when focusing on the white. (And please, let’s put an end to the old canard that everything is the fault of Western colonialism. Africa, for example, has long since sloughed off European colonialism, and yet it is still in many ways a political basket case.)

        Steven Carr tries to put forward arguments (as have I) that are simply dismissed as appealing to straw men or suffering from a fatal lack of familiarity with research which is used to back your own position. To echo a comment you made recently to me, that is a shame. I, too, lament the compromising of long friendships and cooperation between opposing viewpoints that can result over issues like this, and it’s not for nothing that a warning against the discussion of religion and politics is an axiom, but the key issues of the day are at least as important as the investigation of Christian origins and the existence of Jesus. I think it’s a good thing that Vridar can encompass them all, hopefully in an atmosphere of fair and civilized discourse.

        1. Religious beliefs can provide a purported justification or pretext for coercive actions and/or they can inspire them. Sorting them out in the Islamic case is difficult, but essential if effective measures are to be proposed, and hopefully, implemented to reduce coercion, especially the killing of harmless people in that particular area of the global conflicts. We must consider the widespread view that American-Israeli “aggression” in the Middle East is both imperialist and (therefore) Satanic.

          We can talk of Political Islam, but Islamic beliefs are themselves particularly “political”, unless arbitrarily reduced to a few simple desiderata such as (1) Allah exists and deserves some worship & (2) Muhammad existed and had some good ideas; and that’s it. This leaves out clerical rulings on methods of prayer and fasting, charity, pilgrimage, sex, taxation of Jews & Christians, the Last Days, &c. It leaves out issues of so-called Lesser Jihad, and in what circumstances it can and should be undertaken, and what criteria determine its military form.

          I still maintain there is much more this-world “militancy” and far less this-world “pacifism” in the Qur’an than in the Four Gospels.

          PS – I have now ordered your book on the Jesus Myth, Mr Doherty, as a generous seasonal gift to myself – given its retail price!

          1. Apparently the Jesus Myth book is o/p – sadly. Amazon’s price is high. But you can still get from them at 1 penny sterling Maxim Ghilan’s “How Israel Lost its Soul”, whose chapter “The Racialism of Belief” relevantly discussed the link between religious conviction and group self-preservation; very interesting, although his implied solution, the effective dissolution of all distinctive collective cultural identities, seems as unattractive as it is impracticable.

            My preference would be for the co-existence, communication and co-operation of cultural groups. Our “instinctive” fear of interference, disruption, invasion or destruction by the Other(s) of our own familiar attachments – mother-tongue, family and friends, locality and customs, is not unreasonable, as many Palestinians will confirm. The major problem is peaceful access to space and resources in an overpopulated world.

  8. 1. In reply to Earl @ 2015-12-17 18:13 UTC

    Neil, I do have to sympathize with Steven Carr who laments that he finds it difficult to articulate the argument he is opposing, namely the one put forward by yourself, supported by others.

    If we cannot articulate someone’s argument then we presumably do not understand it. Before arguing against it it is better to try to understand it first.

    Let me try, just to be sure we are on the same page at this point:

    I understand you (and Steven) to be saying that a sufficient explanation (if not the only explanation) for terrorist acts is religious belief in certain passages in sacred texts. (I have avoided the word “religion” because that strikes me as too vague or abstract to be meaningful or useful as an explanation of human behaviour.)

    Hence Steven Carr’s confidence in his reply that Christian Iraqis are not among the terrorists. Christian Iraqis experienced the same bombing as the Muslim Iraqis so if bombing house is the explanation for terrorism then we would expect Christian Iraqis to be among the terrorists, too. They are not, so we can discount bombing as a sufficient explanation for terrorist acts. The only difference between Christian and Muslim Iraqis is their religion. Therefore the Muslim religion itself is a sufficient explanation for terrorism there.

    Your own argument is that it is patently obvious that Islam is a cause or reason for terrorist extremism because the perpetrators advertise their Islamic beliefs as they murder (e.g. shouts of God is Great).

    Is that a correct understanding of your position?

  9. 2. In reply to Earl @ 2015-12-17 18:13 UTC

    It [my argument] seems inordinately complex with nuances seeming to change periodically.

    An example would help me to understand your difficulty with any of my posts or comments.

    You appeal a lot to Scott Atran, and I have to thank you for the recent posting on his views which reveal and clarify a lot of the basis from which you are arguing. And yet I am still confused by the application to which you have put him. I agree with much of Atran’s analysis, and yet it does not eliminate the ‘problem’ which you seem so determined to condemn and eradicate from view, namely what role does religion play in all of this?

    I am at a complete loss here, Earl. I do not understand why you think I am “so determined to condemn and eradicate from view” the role of religion “in all of this”.

    Let’s look at the post above. It is about Muslims. It is an attempt to explain why some Muslims are susceptible to radicalisation. It comes with the inference that not all Muslims are susceptible to extremism. The post is, moreover, an invitation for interested readers to read the full article. I only gave a few intro remarks about its content.

    I fail to see how this post demonstrates a determination to condemn and eradicate from view the role of religion in radicalisation.

    The targets for radicalisation are themselves Muslims as I take for granted throughout the post. The question posed is why some of those Muslims are susceptible as I said.

    Are you objecting to this post or my implied views in it on the grounds that the original article of the interview or my presentation of it fails to single out an emphasis in preaching certain passages from the Koran?

  10. 3. In reply to Earl @ 2015-12-17 18:13 UTC

    You often lament that people like myself are guilty of some kind of “black and white” attitude toward the Islamic issue in the development of ISIS and terrorism in general, and yet there is really no one more black and white than yourself. Or rather, it seems that you are endeavoring to make everything white. In your picture there is simply no black worth taking into account. It’s all been misinterpreted and misapplied, vastly exaggerated, and if we would only consult the sources you continually point to, we would somehow come to see all that.

    Do you mean that you believe I am attempting to deny the role of religion — or more specifically, the role of beliefs in certain texts in the Koran that have to do with killing and hatred of certain peoples?

    Are you saying that I seem to be arguing that all the factors that contribute towards terrorism are somehow rationalised and justifiable or inevitable as a result of certain past political or other circumstances such as colonialism, invasion, Israel…. — that ultimately it is all somehow “our fault”? And that if terrorist acts are rationalised in such ways then they are somehow excused?

    I think three comments is enough to digest at one time. I’ll pause here, at least for a short while.

  11. “But as that common expression suggests, it takes religion to get good people to do evil things (not that I would ever call ISIS “good” by any definition). When God wants you to do something heinous, what better justification for it is provided than religious faith and directives? Christians could burn fellow Christians at the stake. They could lay waste the territory of a different sect in vast religious wars which plagued the 16th and 17th centuries.”

    It may take “religion” (God) to get good people to do “evil”—but even without it we “good people” are very capable of doing evil–“Good people” burned the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,(atom bombs) of Vietnam (Napalm) of Iraq (White phosphorus) without “God” as justification…..
    One could argue that the expression above about “good people” and religion is propaganda to obscure the practice that “evil” without God is acceptable/right…?…..
    This makes is acceptable that to fight “for God” is worse than to fight “for nation”—-though it can be argued that both national boundaries and theological concepts are man-made myths.

    1. “It takes religion to get good people to do evil” is not an argument but a slogan. An equally “true” slogan is “It takes religion to get bad people to do good” — as many, many converts (to both Christianity and Islam) testify.

      As I have explored the accounts of radicalisation to violent Islamism I have always been struck by the overlapping similarities with all that I once read (and personally experienced) about the reasons people are attracted to religious cults.

      I used to blame Christianity itself for the cults that sprang from it, but came to learn that while there is a sort of very general “truth” to that, it is a pointless and misguided effort. Christians themselves attack all the anti-social beliefs and practices of cults. If we were to attack Christianity and try to rewrite, say, the gospels to get rid of all the passages that cults use, then we would solve nothing. The same factors that led certain persons to the cult would still exist and lead them to some other form of rationalisation or justification for whatever extremist ideology/belief system they adopted.

      1. >>“It takes religion to get good people to do evil” is not an argument but a slogan.

        And a false slogan, at that.

        When I first heard it, I thought, “Yeah, obviously.” But over the years since, I’ve noticed some good people doing bad things for reasons having nothing to do with religion. Political reasons come first to mind.

  12. 4. In reply to Earl @ 2015-12-17 18:13 UTC

    Well, I may have a still limited knowledge on the viewpoint of people like Atran, but what I see does not necessarily resolve the problem in your direction. Despite what Atran says, I still see no justification for eliminating the black from the picture. And I think it does not help the overall discussion to have a viewpoint that involves both black and white ridiculed and dismissed as you’ve done in this posting.

    What do you mean by “black and white” here? Do you mean that we should be morally outraged and fight in any and every way we can against anyone who commits barbaric acts? If that’s what you mean, I don’t think anyone would disagree.

    Do you mean we should see the problem of terrorism as a problem of moral evil? I do consider anyone who knowingly kills innocent civilians as morally evil.

    The Bible divides people into good and bad and would require us to fight, expel, kill the bad people. The Koran does the same. Nazis and Stalinists branded whole classes of people as evil.

    Most of us, however, think that it is more just and effective to understand the causes of evils in society and to address those as the root of the problem.

    Criminals (including terrorists) should be targeted and stopped. That goes without saying.

    At the same time it is smart to try to understand why we have an ever increasing amount of crime. If studies indicate deep-rooted injustices or lack of opportunities are in fact breeding grounds for criminal activity then it is smart to understand whether there really is a causal relationship and address those issues.

    It is the same with “criminal” ideas. Historians study the rise of the Nazism and can identify the political, economic, cultural and other factors that led to its rise to power.

    No-one suggests any of these studies are making “excuses” for Nazism or attempting to “whitewash” Nazism or criminal behaviour of any sort.

    If you saw my post as ridiculing and dismissing anything then I do admit some of it was written in frustration at those who insist that the sufficient explanation for terrorism (though it’s always coupled with lip service to “though it’s not the only reason” phrase, and without any discussion of what these other factors might be) is the Koran, or Islam. Full stop. Such an explanation is surely patently false. If Islam were “the cause” then we have a much bigger problem or question to face: why do we see so very few Islamic terrorists and why do most Muslims condemn them?

    Later in your comment (I know I am jumping ahead here) you say I would deny any possibility of terrorists finding psychological support for their barbarism in religion. Such a comment leaves me dismayed. I cannot imagine why you would interpret my remarks in that way. Of course they find psychological support and thrill in the justification of a holy text.

    It takes more than reading a holy text, however, to turn an ordinary person into a mass murderer, and surely one of the most fundamental of truisms is that religion is used to rationalise/justify/cloak a host of sins.

    Surely the more profitable question is to ask why certain people are attracted to violent Islamism — despite pretty much whole world including the overwhelming majority of Muslims condemning the ideas of violent Islamism.

    And such a question requires a cool, calm head. It cannot be clouded by the natural and right emotional outrage against the acts we are trying to understand and stop.

  13. In preparing subsequent responses to the rest of your comment, Earl, I am coming across several points of yours that I have responded to before, yet without any indication that you have read my previous responses when you expressed the same points earlier. So I am not sure if you are seeing these replies in this thread, either . . . . ?

  14. 5. In reply to Earl @ 2015-12-17 18:13 UTC

    I and others are hardly advocating a “religion tells us to kill kill kill” analysis as providing the sole reason why terrorists are created. That is almost to demonize those who hold an opposing viewpoint and to portray them as something like Neanderthals, foaming at the mouth. . . . .

    There is no question that some passages in the Islamic scriptures do advocate “kill kill kill”. Are we really to believe that the barbarism of ISIS, including against fellow Muslims (“kill the apostate”), is not being expressed here on some level?

    I fully agree that much of the barbarism of ISIS does indeed act out their interpretations of certain passages in the Quran. (Not all do, though, as McCants, a specialist scholar in the Quran, demonstrates in ISIS Apocalypse — I hope to post something on that work soon.)

    But how did such an organisation as ISIS come to exist in the first place? Did some people happen to read and focus on horrific passages in the Quran and, contrary to all other Muslims before them, just decide to act on those passages? If so, how do we explain their choosing to do so?

    Anthropologists, political scientists, psychologists, historians, sociologists and others offer explanations. What they seek to explain is why certain groups are attracted to such extremist ideas and why they latch on to and determine to act on certain barbaric precepts.

    Just because a majority of Muslims do not follow those injunctions, choosing different ones instead, does not eliminate them as a force for some minds, regardless of what other factors may also be in play. We see the same thing in the Christian scriptures. Jesus tells his followers to “hate your father and mother”, to “take up the sword”, to kill witches, to “compel them to come in” (the latter taken as fully justifying forced conversion or consigning to outer darkness or the stake those who refuse). Do the majority of Christians even think of following those injunctions, rather than the more peace-loving pronouncements? Of course not. But in the past there have been many Christians of both the hierarchy and the rank and file who have followed them, and for whom they provided full justification for the horrors they visited on others, whether Jew, heretic or New World heathen. Where Christianity was centuries ago, radical sects of Islam are today.

    We can explain why Christians have interpreted their scriptures differently in different ages. As a rule they are responding to the social and economic mores of the day. Where slavery has been accepted as part of the natural landscape Christians have used scripture to justify slavery. When social attitudes towards slavery came under some questioning as a result of other intellectual and humanistic revolutions, a few Christians took up the anti-slavery cause and now that slavery is no longer a part of our economy it is effectively universally condemned by Christians.

    Probably every society has had its “misfits”, its “alternative thinkers” etc, and specialist studies on today’s groups, such as minority cults, has enabled us to understand why certain people are attracted to groups like the Moonies and other cults, and why the teachings/biblical interpretations of such cults appeal to a few.

    You speak of certain ideas being “a force” in some minds. They certainly are, but the question to answer is how they came to be so. The ideas were sitting in a book, mere print on paper. We read and interpret these passages in a way that facilitates our own personal interests.

    The words are not “a force” in some literal sense of being a demonic-like power to compel people to act in certain ways. This is where the psychology of religious belief — and religious conversion — helps us to understand what is going on.

    Why do some people find it in their personal interests to find a justification in scriptures to kill innocents even at the cost of their own lives?

    That question is what the research I have written about (I have not just asked readers to go off and look it up for themselves) addresses.

    Even the cruelest of jihadists, especially supporters coming from other countries to fight for ISIS, are human beings, and rarely is any human being irrevocably evil. Jihadists are not all unredeemed psychopaths. But as that common expression suggests, it takes religion to get good people to do evil things (not that I would ever call ISIS “good” by any definition). When God wants you to do something heinous, what better justification for it is provided than religious faith and directives?

    I think this is a significant area where we disagree.

    If I understand you correctly, you appear to me to be conflating a justification for an action with the motivation or cause of an action.

    Your last sentence appears to me to be a tautology. “What God wants you to do” is itself communicated through the “religious faith and directives”. The two are one and the same.

    We cannot begin by assuming any particular motivation or cause for an action. It would be naive to simply assume that a perpetrator’s words justifying his actions are necessarily his true motivations. They might be, but we cannot assume. If studies in psychology have taught us anything it is that we were right all along to be suspicious of the true motives of the predatory priest or other devout claiming to be acting on behalf of God.

    I will address this point further in the next comment.

  15. 6. In reply to Earl @ 2015-12-17 18:13 UTC

    And I fully admit that your follow-up remark, that if the word “religion” is not mentioned in an analysis of the Islamic issue (let alone have it rejected as having no significant relevance at all) some will dismiss such an analysis, is absolutely true in my books. I make no apologies for that.

    I don’t think anyone has ever suggested religion is of no relevance to ISIS. That would be absurd. I have never read any such analysis. What I have read (and posted about) are some studies that focus on specific factors that explain why certain persons are attracted to ISIS and its extremist religious ideology. See, for example, my ongoing series on Friction.

    Or are you thinking of those who deny Islam itself as an abstract idea that is used to label a host of groups claiming to be Muslims, and/or the text of the Quran, are responsible for ISIS?

    Let’s try to draw an analogy. The Spanish conquest of the New World could be said, on one level, to express the desire for new lands and for gold, for adventurism and simply something for a Spanish soldiery (now freed up after the recent elimination of Muslim Spain) to do. But it was to a large extent justified in Spanish policy by maintaining that Christ needed to be brought to a heathen people, and the desire to spread Christianity was a justification for that conquest in the minds of its perpetrators (and a salve to its conscience). The two were intertwined. Any analysis of that conquest which sought to eliminate any and all religious motives, justification or input would be patently false and misleading.

    It seems to me that what you and Atran are essentially doing is much the same thing.

    Justification for an act is not necessarily the same as the real reason for the act — as the Spanish conquest of the New World demonstrates. The conquest can well be explained without reference to religion, but naturally religion is necessary to explain the particular character of the conquest.

    Ditto for the nineteenth century age of imperialism that I am more familiar with.

    As for Atran, are you referring to the post ISIS is a Revolution? If so, I’m not sure if you missed the religious factors throughout that post and why some youth are attracted to them — the Caliphate, the central place of The Management of Savagery and Elimination of the Grey Zone — all central to ISIS ideology and grounded in Quranic interpretations.

    What Atran does is to focus on the elements of Islam that are directly pertinent to ISIS and that make it so pernicious; he also explains in that article why other forms of Islam are rejected by ISIS.

    (In hindsight I wonder if you are mistaking the post above as referencing Atran. Atran is referenced in other posts.)

    Christians could burn fellow Christians at the stake. They could lay waste the territory of a different sect in vast religious wars which plagued the 16th and 17th centuries. And there is not the slightest doubt from their own writings that the vast clerical machinery which accompanied the Spanish soldiery to the New World fully drew on that justification. Yet you would deny any possibility that such psychological support is supplied to Islamic terrorists and fighters today, who cheerfully behead others and slaughter different Muslim sects en masse? As I’ve pointed out in other postings, the very cry “Allahu Akbar” is sufficient proof of this, regardless of what interviewees may choose to tell Scott Atran.

    As mentioned in an earlier comment, I truly am mystified how anyone could think I “would deny any possibility that such psychological support is supplied to Islamic terrorists.” Do you have any particular post or comment in mind where I could have given any such impression?

    Again, you are speaking of justifications as if they are causes. No-one denies the religious justification.

    “Regardless of what interviewees tell Scott Atran”? Again I don’t understand where this comment comes from. In the full article to which my post referred Atran explains how he asked them what Islam meant to them and tells us their very clear reply: “Islam is my life!”

    Atran (and I) regularly refer to the writings of the terrorists themselves, and the writings that inspire them. These are all couched in justifications from the Quran and supposed example of Muhammed.

    You continually say that we cannot solve the Islamist problem if we don’t recognize the factors that are at play in it, and I would fully agree, it’s just that I don’t see the wisdom (or accuracy) of eliminating religion as one of those factors. One must also keep in mind that Islam is a very politically oriented religion, and has been historically, which ISIS is trying to revive in its Caliphate, and it is quite natural that religious beliefs and motivations will be intertwined with and express themselves through political contexts and historical backgrounds.

    There is a difference between Islam and political Islamism (the desire to impose Islamic law over a society). Some graphic illustrations of this are the biographies of two former Islamist members of an extremist organisation with the aim of plotting military coups in Muslim countries. One of these is Radical by Nawaz — the same person who has co-authored Islam and the Future of Tolerance with Sam Harris. The other is The Islamist by Hasain. I recently posted on the role Saudi Arabia has played in spreading this version of (political) Islam — a version that is deplored by many of the more traditional Muslims: The Origins of Islamic Militancy.

    It is important to understand Islam and what Muslims believe and why many of them oppose (political) Islamism.

    But that does not justify simply erasing the black when focusing on the white. (And please, let’s put an end to the old canard that everything is the fault of Western colonialism. Africa, for example, has long since sloughed off European colonialism, and yet it is still in many ways a political basket case.)

    Are you referring to my older posts on Pape’s Dying to Win? What you fear might be my response is a misleading distortion of what Pape argues. Besides, Dying to Win was written prior to the current mutation of Islamic terrorism that we are witnessing today.

    I would prefer it if you could refer to actual comments I have made rather than to what you suspect or fear I might say. Or if you wonder what I might say, then ask without presuming.

    Steven Carr tries to put forward arguments (as have I) that are simply dismissed as appealing to straw men or suffering from a fatal lack of familiarity with research which is used to back your own position. To echo a comment you made recently to me, that is a shame.

    I have never seen Steven try to put forward an argument but he does offer what look like attempts at “gotchas”. When I do answer and point out the details and explanations to show his “gotcha” is misinformed I might get another gotcha in response but then he disappears — only to return months later with the very same “gotchas”. So my responses appear to be ignored and there is no attempt to present an argument or justify a “gotcha”.

    When I refer to background reading it is usually to works I have discussed here on this blog, or to point out that my views are not ill-informed but are in fact based on what specialist researchers are concluding. I think these do deserve at least equal weight to the opinions of others who have no specialist knowledge on Islam, Islamism and terrorism but rely on mainstream news media and their reading of the extracts from the Quran.

  16. 7. In reply to Earl @ 2015-12-17 18:13 UTC

    I, too, lament the compromising of long friendships and cooperation between opposing viewpoints that can result over issues like this, and it’s not for nothing that a warning against the discussion of religion and politics is an axiom, but the key issues of the day are at least as important as the investigation of Christian origins and the existence of Jesus. I think it’s a good thing that Vridar can encompass them all, hopefully in an atmosphere of fair and civilized discourse.

    I was greatly relieved to read your last sentence, Earl, and it because of what you express here that I have taken the time to attempt to explain my perspective and address some of our differences.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.