Monday, February 7, 2011

The radicalisation process

The radicalisation process

The radicalisation process
From the Newspaper
By M. Zaidi
(20 hours ago) Today

MUCH has been written about radicalisation in Pakistan without emphasis on the conceptual grounding of what radicalisation really is. The Oxford dictionary, till 2006, did not provide a definition of `radicalisation`, `radicalism`, or even `radicalise`, which clearly shows the recent evolution of the term.

It does, however, list these terms as derivatives of `radical`, which means to relate to or affect the fundamental nature of something, or advocate thorough complete political or social reform which may be politically extreme. As is evident, these terms do not necessarily have negative connotations which are associated with the term today. However, negative connotations arise from the threat of extremism, labelled as radicalisation, which is usually defined as a process whereby an originally moderate individuals or groups of individuals become progressively more extreme in their thinking — and possibly their behaviour — over time.

This process is often associated with youth, adversity, alienation, social exclusion, poverty or the perception of injustice to self or others. The terms `radicalisation` and `Talibanisation` are being employed to refer to the increasing tendency to use a peculiar brand of religion as the justification for conquest and control over territory, populations and resources, and the establishment of specific forms of judicial and social systems by the use of force.

Some analysts like American author and counter-terrorism practitioner Marc Sageman reject the notion that radicalisation can aptly be described in terms of a fixed sequence of stages, while others view terrorism as the final stop along a path of radicalisation characterised by a fairly orderly series of stages.

A four-stage model has been proposed. This includes pre-radicalisation, self-identification, indoctrination and extremism stages, respectively. According to this model, in the pre-radicalisation stage the individual lives an ordinary life and has not yet accepted the radical ideology that will later provide the motivation for becoming an extremist. In the self-identification stage, the individual begins to explore that ideology and that change tends to be triggered by a cognitive opening, or crisis, which shakes one`s certitude in previously held beliefs.

In the indoctrination stage, adherence to a radical worldview is intensified, usually with support from likeminded group members under the direction of an ideological leader. Finally, in the extremism stage, individuals willingly accept their duties and commit to carrying out assigned acts of terrorism, or adhering rigidly to extremist views. Stage models essentially represent radicalisation as key transition points along a time course, leading from the normal life of individuals to their adherence to extremist ideologies or paradigms.

Such models, however, leave much to explain in terms of the psychological, organisational and social processes and drivers that lead people into the radicalisation process in the first place, and then reinforce their continued radicalisation to the point of committing acts of terrorism.

One pertinent analysis framework would be the degree to which ideologues and instigators of extremist movements rely on `black or white` or `all or none` thinking. Another set of cognitive factors that support extremism revolve around the extremist`s social perceptions of out-group members, namely people outside one`s own social and ideological group or `in-group`.

Violence towards a group is facilitated by the thinking of its members as being justifiably excluded from the moral considerations one would apply to members of one`s own group. Perceiving a social category of others as being morally excluded can free individuals to become morally disengaged in their behavioural interactions with members of the `out-group` social category.

Notwithstanding the attention paid to radicalisation as a precursor to terrorism — perhaps even a `root cause` of terrorism and socio-political violence — it is widely agreed that although radicalisation increases the potential for such forms of violence, it does not necessitate any of them. For instance, according to a recent Global Futures Forum report, radicalisation is a process, not an end unto itself, and it does not necessarily lead to violence. Simply put, radicalisation cannot be a sufficient cause of terrorism because most radicals are not terrorists.

This may be why the term `violent radicalisation` is often encountered in discourses on terrorism. If violence were indeed necessitated by radicalisation, the qualified term would simply be redundant. Prevalent usage of terms such as violent radicalisation or militant radicalisation would thus suggest that many theorists do not view radicalisation as a sufficient cause of terrorism or other forms of violence.

There is a commonly observed tendency to conceive of radicalisation in terms solely of ideology. Religious zealotry, extremism and militancy — or whatever one prefers to call them — are often regarded as signs of backwardness, lack of education, absence of a civilised mindset and a reflection of a barbaric or savage worldview. Recourse to colonial binaries such as backward versus modern, savage versus civilised, or illiterate versus enlightened serves to obscure the issues rather than clarify them.

These categories fail as explanations since they become tautologies, i.e. they committed the act because they are barbaric, they are barbaric because they committed the act. The reliance upon psychological and ideological categories, which refer to some kind of assumed inherent proclivity among certain people to commit heinous acts, becomes essentialist.

Such explanations become redundant for they obliterate history as well as the material reality that forms part of the dynamics of radicalism. The use of overarching ideological categories seems to rely on some form of biological determinism, thereby rendering such categories deeply racist, i.e. Fata was always a radicalisation-prone area.

Instead of characterising perceived extremism and violence as some kind of inherent flaw within a particular people, religion, culture or belief system, it is more fruitful to explore the political economy of radicalisation in order to lay bare the material basis that may have generated it. It seems to be more useful to examine the conflicts between competing social classes attempting to establish their hegemony and deploying religion, or a specific form of it, to justify their position in the social and economic hierarchies.

The writer is a security analyst.

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