Militant ideology causes people to act in harmful ways. Radical beliefs cause people to believe militant ideology is necessary. People acting in harmful ways are treated poorly by others. People who are treated poorly by others find militant ideology necessary. This self-perpetuating circle of self-identification can occur in many ways. Some of the most common, or most talked about, forms of radical and militant behaviour are racism, misogyny, terrorism, and advocates for brutality. To boil the social equation down to its most basic principles, we can assume a certain dynamic. The person does not like you, and they have reasons that they believe are true. The natural response to the reasons, if true, would be to dislike, and so because the person wants to make the world a better place, they decide you must be stopped or harmed. The key factor is that if the reasons were true, the action would be understandable even if not reasonable.
Recommended read: Extremism: A Philosophical Analysis by Quassim Cassam
Before we ascribe criminal acts to the mentality of the act, it is vital to acknowledge human beings as sensitive and thoughtful beings. We can think and feel all manner of ways without breaking the law. It is only in action and the process of manifesting our wrong thoughts and hurtful feelings that we cross the line. To get an understanding of what this means, people who find themselves attracted to children and act on this attraction are criminals. Other people may become very angry and hold a desire to cause harm to this person. We have criminal thoughts, but only a true criminal would act on their thoughts to take revenge. The police system only works because we consent to it, and that means you have to stay within the framework.
Recommended read: Rethinking Social Media and Extremism
A radicalised person has to be given the information that makes the radical idea make sense. To their knowledge, a list of grievances and opinions can be layered into their perceptions of the target until the level of dislike boils over into hatred. This can be done with religious overtones thus making a person an enemy of God, political overtones thus making a person your polar opposite, comedic overtones thus making a fool of someone, or any number of other ways that create a dynamic of otherness and less than. We need to wait a minute here because it could be easy to protest innocence. It is a fact of life that you will be treated differently because of who you are. The law in modern nations prevents this from being professional behaviour but in the real world we all have our preferences, assumptions, and personal walls to climb.
Recommended read: American Extremist: The Psychology of Political Extremism (2nd edition) - Imperium Press
The modern world is also not as perfect as you might wish it to be. Especially for the white European nations, history is littered with wrong-doing harm, and reasons to dislike. The slave trade, the crusades, the colonisations, the looting and pillaging, and many more acts have given these countries a bad name. Now with the modern economic world where money is the new sword and shield, those with money have the ability to completely dominate those who do not. Rather than helping the world to catch up and find their own way in today’s century, many organisations deliberately refuse to let this happen. It is understandable that some people find this hard to tolerate in the developing world and those who identify with them in the developed world. Like FIFA boss Gianni Infantino said “We should be apologising for the next 3000 years”.
Recommended read: Terrorism, Radicalisation & Countering Violent Extremism: Practical Considerations & Concerns by Shashi Jayakumar
As mentioned, acting on our dislikes and issues can lead to criminal acts, but you can appreciate that we are all fallible human beings. We have good reasons to mistrust the governments if we take history as our example, we have reasons to mistrust the west in general if we take the history books as example. To appreciate the reasons for radicalisation in the anti-west sense, we need to be aware of this valid perspective but not to tolerate criminal action. The fact that the social world is made of human individuals with their own minds and ability to see the world as it is can show us how extremism can arise and how we can show it is misplaced.
Recommended read: Digital Extremisms: Readings in Violence, Radicalisation and Extremism in the Online Space (Palgrave Studies in Cybercrime and Cybersecurity)
Young people are especially vulnerable to extremist grooming because they are less able to mentally defend themselves. Without a broad knowledge of the real world and a text-book only education, it can be easy to show lines of best fit that lead to just anger. This just anger can lead to harmful hatred. Teenagers have a specific part of the mind that looks for alternatives. The mind of a teenager is wired to rebel, not to get on their parent’s nerves, but because adaptation is how human beings advance in culture. The curiosity of the teenage mind and the adhesiveness to anti-authoritarian sentiment can be a lure too much to refuse. When led down the path of harsh judgement, assumption, and excited consequence, the power of the story and its moral structure can overwhelm the actual reality.
Recommended read: Insurgency And Terrorism (13 book series)
Being given a place or a group to belong in, a higher purpose outside of them, an anger-inspiring narrative, and lies about the scale and scope of the issue, young and older people can be drawn into hate groups and gangs. No one of these elements is responsible for the extreme action, however in partnership an individual can be drawn into hate. The source of the individual foundations need not be the same, relatively harmless narratives can coalesce to create a much more powerful and harmful story. A place to belong is attractive to people who feel isolated and separate from the wider world. Young people often find themselves looking for another group or family that will help them find their identity. They want another layer of life that can give them stability in a continually changing world. Arts and culture offer this and so do fraternities. A sense of something outside and bigger than the self draws people in as to feel connected personally with something bigger than you is a way to inspire positive self affirmation. People adhere to their nationality, to their religion, to an ethic of taste, or to many other things. Often, if the higher purpose is strong enough, people are prepared to take great risks and even die in order to strengthen the greater purpose. Laying down your life for your country in war is still today seen as a valiant thing to do, even though it creates sadness and suffering for many - often including the one who pulled the trigger. An angry narrative is primal and reaches into our core being. If we agree with the story, or even in part agree, we can quickly be conducted into a sense of anger and desire to take action. The arts offer a wide array of proper actions and politics can too, if democratic process is given a chance. Minds are changed by books and paintings more than leaflets and speeches. A lot of art draws on the angry narrative to make people pay attention. The majority of this is for a good reason too. A twisted sense of reality is what draws all these items together to form the opposite of right action. A sense of hate and the desire to act on it comes from a combination of the three things mentioned plus a deceptive and testing element. This is where people stumble, because they do not want to give up the other three things.
Recommended read: Extremism, Free Speech and Counter-Terrorism Law and Policy (Routledge Studies in Extremism and Democracy)
An extremist is therefore dangerous to you because they do not like you and they are prepared to act on that. These people are human beings, all the same, and their method is reasonable just like your own. The passion that causes their hatred and desire to act on it is the barrier we must break down. We can only do this by offering a genuine and understandable sense of the actual reality. By explaining in passive terms and demonstrating the ways things are and why, and by showing that we too are made of individuals who cannot be summed up by history, the idea of acting on the hatred can be whittled down. Without taking anything for granted, after-all, a strong mental signal to act on heroic or religious stimuli can be much stronger than conversation and inclusion. Risks must be assessed, and the individual cases need to be addressed considering everything we know. The idea is to prevent harm being done and to prevent young people from being drawn into hateful ways by demonstrating that there is more to the world than its previous crimes and the things that make you uneasy. In a nutshell, the idea is to be as likeable as you can. Isn't that what we do anyway? If we can offer a sense of belonging, a genuine and truthful story, and a connection to higher purpose, the hateful narrative will lose all of its power.
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