19 Mar 2014, Ideology Radicalisation

Student: Yuliya Pismennaya Candidate №: T91473 School of Social Science and Public Policy Department of War Studies Module: Homegrown Radicalisation and Counter-Radicalisation in Western Europe and North America Module Code: 7SSWM053 Assessment: essay (3979 words) Due: 19 March 2014 1

Transcript of 19 Mar 2014, Ideology Radicalisation

Page 1: 19 Mar 2014, Ideology Radicalisation

Student: Yuliya Pismennaya

Candidate №: T91473

School of Social Science and

Public Policy

Department of War Studies

Module: Homegrown

Radicalisation and Counter-

Radicalisation in Western Europe

and North America

Module Code: 7SSWM053

Assessment: essay (3979 words)

Due: 19 March 2014


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How important is ideology in processes of radicalisation?


Ideology continues to occupy the minds of political figures and researchers, for it makes a

message that motivates people to act (Gunaratna, 2007, p.21). It is powerful enough to shape

structures, motivate leaders and members, encourage recruitment and seek support for its

cause (ibid.). One of the issues related to ideology is whether extremist groups have relied on

ideology to encourage terrorism. Jenkins (2002, p.24) has gone far enough to say that

ideology is an enemy which relies on the set of beliefs to recruit future terrorists.

Nonetheless, the process of radicalisation provides no simple answer to this question.

The common understanding is that radicalisation is a process, when an individual’s beliefs

shift from the moderate attitude towards a more extreme under the influence of an “overtly

ideological message” (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2009, p.1). However, ideology alone

cannot trigger a change of attitude, while socialisation (social bonds, groupthink) provides a

motivation for such change. The instances of lone wolf activism via internet are excluded

from the analysis, due to the difficulty of identifying the presence of socialisation which

would force them to adopt extreme views. Also, this paper recognises the need to distinguish

between cognitive and behavioural aspects of radicalisation to avoid blaming the whole

radical ideology for terrorism, noted by Bjorgo and Horgan (2009).

Moreover, once a person adopts extreme beliefs in their entirety, they start to perceive an

ideological message as a literal guide to action. This idea corresponds with Bittner’s

definition of “radicalism” (1963, p.932), which identifies it as “a consistent interpretation of

the world” which becomes a rigid guide to action. Therefore, ideology “takes” control over a

person’s life, particularly when this person becomes an activist or terrorist. In practice, the

pool of justification for illegal and violent action is broader if ideology is religious.

This essay focuses on the role of ideology in cognitive and behavioural radicalisation. The

first part explains that ideology does not play a role in non-radicalised person’s decision to

join a radical movement. The second part demonstrates how ideology starts to influence a

member who adopts radical ideological beliefs in relation to the context of violence. The

third part highlights how religious grounds of a radical ideology make religious people more

receptive to the message. The fourth part puts the receptiveness to ideological radicalisation

in the context of external self-perpetuating polarization.


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The role of radical ideology in recruitment

A person with moderate political and religious beliefs is not likely to adopt extreme views

simply due to exposure to radical ideology, regardless of the intensity of the message.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that a person with weak ideological alignments would be as

resistant to radical ideology as any moderate or strong ideological supporter. Dawson (2009,

p.6) explains that fewer and weaker political alignments predisposes a person as “available”

for recruitment. Similarly, many researchers of new religious movements have confirmed,

that based on the studied data, a weak interest in religion and the lack of religious education

appear to be a common trait for people joining radical movements (Oliveti, 2002, pp.49-50;

Tindall, 2002).

More importantly, the research on conversion to radical ideology in social movements,

particularly the religious ones, finds that the latter recruit new members via social networks, t

affective bonds within intense social interaction settings (Stark and Bainbridge, 1980).

Furthermore, studies, such as Porter and Kebbell (2011), demonstrate that social bonds

encourage a person to fit in with the group. In other words, in order to maintain the treasured

relationship, a person is more likely to adopt a radical ideology. For instance, the case of Jack

Roche follows the typical pattern. A series of crises in Roche’s life have first triggered a

religious seeking which resulted in conversion to Islam, later with another crisis Roche

becomes friends with Ayub, a member of Jemaah Islamiya movement.

While strengthening social ties with Ayub, Roche has been increasingly dependent on them.

According to Roche’s words, Ayub has been kind and giving assistance and care, which

makes the latter a dear and precious friend (Roche, n.d., cited in Aly and Striegher, 2012,

p.855). This evidence is consistent with similar findings by Silber and Bhatt (2007) which

emphasise that people frequently become recruited to the movement once they establish a

relationship with one its members. Moreover, once the two become best friends, they,

together with JI members start spending long hours discussing JI ideology and the unfair

treatment of Muslims around the world (ibid.). In the next 1.5 years, Roche becomes an

activist of JI movement and together with other activists seeks the ways to fight the cause of

perceived injustices (Aly and Striegher, 2012, p.858).

Therefore, this case demonstrates how the radicalisation process starts from adopting

ideology because of the intense exposure to the message coming from one’s closest social

circle (FBI, 10 May 2006, p.5), as Roche agrees it has been the case (Roche, n.d., cited in Aly


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and Striegher, 2012, p.855). Also, other scholarly research, such as the studies of Bakker

(2006) and Sageman (2004) confirm that cognitive radicalisation is initiated within the

framework of long-term social interaction. For instance, Bakker (2006) finds that, based the

analysis of 242 “jihadi” recruits, the latter become radicalised because some of their friends

or relatives already have adopted extreme beliefs. Silke (2008, pp.111-112) explains that such

dynamics is commonly described in psychology as a “risky shift”. In addition, this dynamics

is likely to emerge even if there are only a few members with extreme beliefs, and regardless

of whether the radicalisation was intended or not (Bakker, 2006).

Behavioural radical ideology and violence

The studies such as Zald (1996, pp.262-63) assume that ideology does not radicalise a

person’s beliefs if they have just started interacting with the movement. Nonetheless, such a

perspective fails to account for the reason why members of radicalised movements choose to

become either an activist or terrorist in the first place. Hence, it is rather true that ideology

becomes an important factor in the process of radicalisation once a person decides to become

a member of the movement. Furthermore, the role of ideology is particularly crucial to

behavioural aspects of radicalisation, such as which means can be used to fight for the cause

(Orsini, 2011, pp.66-82). In this respect, terrorist ideology makes an appropriate focus for the


Terrorist ideology attempts not just to radicalise beliefs of their followers, but more

importantly, to shape their behaviour in the frame of social struggle. Therefore, it seeks to

motivate its followers to take action, both a non-violent and violent, against the oppressing

force, as it happens in the case of the Red Brigades, for instance (Mannheim, 1953, p.7). In

this case, the Red Brigade’s ideological literature is formulated to be understood as a form of

“concrete thinking”, and an “instrument of collective action” (ibid.). Moreover, Cordes

(2001) highlights that any form of ideology that justifies the use of violence has to

communicate the purpose and persuade the audience of their courage and willingness to

sacrifice the life for their sake. Consequently, terrorists commonly seek to demonstrate their

commitment to a noble cause and mobilise the public to take part in the movement (ibid.).

Glees and Pope (2005, p.65) note this tendency and find that Islamism is far more likely to

produce terrorists than any radical ideology which does not justify the use of violence. For

instance, Hizb ut-Tahrir’s ideology justifies violence against the “imperialist” agents that

prevent the establishment of Khalifate (Wiktorowicz, 2005, pp.7-10). Therefore, it does not


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encourage the violence on the non-Muslim soil, although it still allows for it if the Muslim

community is threatened, as it happened with the Uzbekistani Embassy (BBC News, 17 May,


Also, there is no evidence suggesting that a person seeking violent activity can find any

operational connections with Al-Qaeda of a group such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, which holds a

limited mandate for activism and terrorist activity in the Western state (Gunaratna, 2007,

p .23; Wiktorowicz, 2005, pp.9-10). Hence, such a person would rather join or link to, an

organisation such as, Al-Muhajiroun- Hizb ut-Tahrir’s offspring- which is far more keen to

propagate violence against Western institutions and symbols and believed to have links with

Al-Qaeda (Whine, 21/05/2003).

The process of radicalisation which terrorist ideology seeks to trigger is explaines by

Ferracuti’s concept of a staged war (1982. It holds that, by ideological means terrorists

attempt to virtually construct the conditions in which a war against an “oppressor” is

justified. Consequently, the references to the “worldwide struggle” (Action Directe, 1985),

“armed struggle” (RAF, cited in Bouguereau, 1981, p.98) should help an ideologue to instil

the sense of insecurity which would trigger the will to fight the threat.

Moreover, terrorists have to convince of this idea both the public and themselves. The

ultimate importance of ideology’s function of “auto-propaganda”, identified by Cordes (2001,

p.151) holds prominence in academic research on violent radicalisation to date. Similarly,

this auto-propaganda becomes powerful only once an activist had overstepped illegal

boundaries. Also, Cordes (2001, p.157) draws on the research about the People’s Will

movement propaganda and points out that terrorists have to prove morality of their actions,

since there is no clear line between crime and political activism. Likewise, Rapoport (1977,

p.47) writes that military action does not need justification in a legal war, but since terrorists

commit to fight in illegal war, they have to justify every action they make. This position

explains why when media portrays movement as illegal and immoral due to the violation of

legal and political norms, the latter tend to produce more communiqués (see, for instance,

CCC, May 1985).

Furthermore, in order to reduce the guilt from killing, the ideology activates the mechanism

of “disengagement” via particular frames, which is also called the “pedagogy of intolerance”

(Orsini, 2011, pp.59-92). This process strengthens the emotional distancing from the act of

violence against any person. For example, the case of RAF (Red Army Faction) demonstrates


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that dehumanising the “opponent” is a very effective method of rationalising the guilt. Klein,

a defected member of RAF, confessed that dehumanising discourse is so effective that it

becomes quite easy to perceive the outsiders as subhuman with some practice (Bouguereau, 8

Oct. 1978). Consequently, Klein states, it becomes automatic to the extent that using a

weapon is easily to justify in the forethought (ibid.).

Another feature of the terrorist ideology which shapes activist’s behaviour is the “feedback

loop” process (McBride, 2011). The idea is that a commitment to terrorist ideology reduces

one’s existential anxiety as it gives meaning to life. It is particularly important to recognise

that an ideological intervention which relies on this process is particularly strong before

committing violence (Orsini, 2012, p.676). This observation is made based on a confession of

left-wing terrorist M. Ferrandi who explained that surge for violence has been the result of

ideological stimulus (Zavoli, n.d., cited in Orsini, 2012, p.373).

However, the feedback loop process ensures that acts of violence exasperates the sense of

existential anxiety, forcing one to justify the ideology which motivated them and strengthen

their attachment to it. RAF and Action Directe in essence demonstrate the externally

observable products of such anxiety. Hence, the “feedback loop” explains the relationship

between ideology and violence to be mutually enforcing, given the presence of violent action

being executed.

Overall, research tends to support the model of “feedback loop” reinforcement of existential

anxiety. For example, Solomon et al. (2003) find that the presence of, or participation in, a

terrorist activism increases the likelihood of existential anxiety, expressed in the form of

pondering over the meaning of one’s existence. Furthermore, existential anxiety becomes

acute in the aftermath of severely negative events, such as terrorist attacks (Koole et al.,

2006, p.212). Similarly, Landau et al.’s research (2004, p.1142) demonstrates that the

thoughts about a terrorist attack are likely to result in the increasing access to thoughts about

mortality, although the participants represented a moderate public.

Why religious ideology finds more cognitive and behavioural resonance

The religious roots of terrorist ideology attract an extraordinary degree of attention of

Western scholars and policy-makers. The counter-terrorism strategies, formulated by the UK,

Australia, and the USA target those Muslims who are “vulnerable” to the Islamist extremist

ideology (Aly and Striegher, 2012, p.849). Therefore, these countries recognise the fact that

religious underpinnings hold several advantages to a violent extremist ideology.


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Silber and Bhatt’s research (2007) explains that religion plays a role in persuading the

audience, it is criticised by Azzam (2007), Al-Lami (2011) due to an overestimation of

detrimental consequences of adopting a religious ideology. Nonetheless, social scientists such

as Aly (2011, pp.95-97) confidently assert that religion gives an ideology a greater legitimacy

to authorise the use of coercion and strengthens the collective sense of identity.

Religious grounds of an extremist ideology make the message more persuasive due to several

reasons. One reason is that some communities have distrust towards the secular order, more

specifically, they see a threat of secularisation, which is imposed upon a religious community

(Dekmejian, 1995; Faksh, 1997). For instance, the Sikh violent movement, inspired by

Bhindranwale’s ideology, successfully takes advantage of this fear and manages to produce

an extremist ideological outlook. The struggle between secularism and religion has facilitated

a process of radicalisation among Sikh traditionalists, who regard the Indian government as a

threat to the very existence of religious communities (Juergensmeyer, 2001, p.173).

On the cognitive level, religion holds the ability to escape the logic of reality, first noted by

Arendt (1951, p.471). Moreover, Bellah (1969, p.907), among others, argues that religion is

an opportunity for a believer to reach beyond the physical reality. In addition, Berger (1980,

p.38) indicates that faith is based on the idea of sacred, something that leads a believer to a

different reality. Hence, there is some form of sacred experience that people professing to the

same faith can share. Consequently, Durkheim (1976, pp.38-39) infers that the ideological

dichtonomisation of “good versus evil” reaches a superior level of credibility. This is not only

so because religion assumes the existence of such binarism, but due to the consistent

validation of invincible power of a true believer over the profane (ibid.).

Furthermore, the recurring theme of symbolic violence in religious texts helps the radical

activists to bridge the gap between the mental and physical struggles. There is some place to

scepticism (Fair et al., 2012). Some scholars suggests that symbols of violence framed by

religious language help people to express their negative feelings without resorting to violence

(Jurgensmeyer, 2001, p.180). Nonetheless, religious rituals underpinned by symbols of

violence are capable of initiating a violent activism, as it happens with Sikh movement.

According to their view, Sikhs are allowed to use violence in order to defend their faith.

In addition, religious ideology helps to make the person feel like an actor in the cosmic

struggle, as for instance, radical Muslim ideology does with the concept of “holy war”

(Smelser, 2007, p.85). The struggle between morality and sin within one’s soul is a common


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theme for Buddhism, Sufism and some other religious traditions, and it alone does not make a

struggle real (Smelser, 2007, p.79). However, the ideological framing of the battle between

social forces added to the sense of personal struggle, triggers one’s feeling that the person has

to contribute (Wiktorowicz, 2005, pp.29-30). Hence, this person feels that their mental battle

is a part of a large-scale struggle of societies. Bhindranwale (December 31, 1983, p.8) tells

Sikhs that they do not obey by their faith. Then, after they recite the story of Guru asking an

army of 80,000 to sacrifice themselves for the sake of faith, and only 5 people agree,

Bhindranwale (December 31, 1983, p.13) tells Sikhs that they still have time to decide

whether they want to be such as those 5. In such a way, external and internal struggles make

believers want to demonstrate to God and others that they are willing to fight for good.

Global ideological polarisation

While cognitive radicalisation is not immediately dangerous to the society, behavioural

radicalisation, or terrorism, continue to trouble the West and developing democracies. It is

sensible to focus on the reasons why terrorist ideology is on the rise at this particular time,

although the answer is inevitably subjective (McBride, 2011, p.568). Nonetheless, the

recurring idea of clashing civilisations is inevitably a part of an answer, which directly affects

the success of any counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation strategy. The lack of reflection on

irrational claims results in the ongoing ideological rhetoric of good versus evil on both sides.

Consequently, “competition of ideas” undermines any attempts of constructive dialogue

between the West and Muslim communities, and pushes both sides to the ideological

extremes (Payne, 2009).

For example, the US and the UK continue resorting to the Cold War propaganda strategy

(Brown, 7 January 2007), and boldly assert that democracy is the only acceptable form of

political organisation. The simplification of “us” versus “them”, politically enforced by the

rhetoric of Bush (20 September, 2001) remains at the heart of the ideological battle. Also, it

forces, other Western countries, Muslim states, and the Muslim societies from the conflict

zones, to decide on which side they want to be. Moreover, the discourse of the national

programmes implies that democratic values should be upheld because they are “crucial” to

the success of any counter-radicalisation strategy (HM-Government, 2010; MIKR, 2007).

On the more fundamental level, the Western culture is perceived by the USA in particular, as

the ultimate form of modernity. The religious movements as such, are immediately treated

with suspicion, because their lifestyle rejects the merits of individualisation (Beckford, 2003,


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p.28). Moreover, a radical religious movement, notably an Islamic one, is de facto treated as

undemocratic and threatening the liberties of others. Such an understanding is a

misconception on the part of the West. For instance, the statement by one of the 7/7

bombers’, M. S. Khan, posted online (The Times, September 2, 2005) elaborates upon the

responsibility of voters for the actions of the elected government and stop the latter from

committing atrocities. Khan’s words seem to acknowledge the system of democratic

accountability and do not give any indication of rejecting the idea of democracy (Pisoiu,

2013, p.250).

Also, Western academia continues to contribute to the dynamics of polarisation and

securitisation of Islam. Specifically, the phenomena of radicalisation has been invented solely

in response to Islamist terrorism (Pisoiu, 2013, pp.248-249). For instance, Silke (2011, pp.18-

21) highlights that up until 9/11, there have not been any claims made about Irish Republican

Army supporters being “radicalised” and no one refers to “radicalisation process” as such.

Hence, the development of radicalisation discourse focuses not on the quality of radicalising

beliefs, but of radicalising Islamic beliefs. Consequently, social scholars, such as

Zimmermann and Rosenau (2007), Witte and Notten (2008), and many others, focus on

“vulnerable” Muslims and radical Muslim diasporas.

In addition, radicalism is broadly understood as an opposition to the status quo (Y Gasset,

1923, p.2). As a consequence, the 90% of the population of the Arab states can be easily

regarded as radical, because they want a radical change in the currently prevalent social,

cultural and political structures (Sedgwick, 2010, p.482). Moreover, Western democracies do

not only regard Arab countries this way, but also act upon this consideration, as G.W. Bush

had done when trying to democratise the state of Iraq (Sedgwick, 2010, p.483).

The Muslim communities also treat Western states’ foreign policy with suspicion, and

terrorist organisations exacerbate this feeling to gain support. For example, Al-Qaeda

frequently say that the ideological struggle is taking place, and believe that the major weapon

in this “war” is propaganda. For instance, an Al-Qaeda “deputy”, A. Zawahiri (2001) writes

that the confrontation between the Muslim people and the West is “a battle of ideologies, a

struggle for survival”. Also, O. bin Laden (February 2003) says that propaganda of the USA

demonstrates that the “defensive” jihad needs to rely on psychological means of warfare.

Moreover, the message of jihadi movement resonates with Muslims not simply because the

former claim to comply with premises of Islam, but because many Muslims see the West


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spreading secularism on their land. Thus, Al-Qaeda’s strategy holds a high chance of

persuading audience because it addresses the narrative elements that touch upon people’s

concerns (Payne, 2009, p.110). For instance, the American occupation of Iraq has only served

to confirm the fears of Muslim people, and given credibility to Al-Qaeda’s claims that the

USA wants to take away the resources from Muslim land and undermine their strength

(Payne, 2009, p.118). Similarly, the deployment of US troops in Saudi Arabia, and US

involvement in Afghanistan have been framed as acts of aggression against Muslims

(Blanchard, 2005, pp.5-6) and spawned a widespread support for Al-Qaeda (Gunaratna, 2007,


Therefore, extremist ideologies continue to take advantage of the cases when cultural

structures treasured by the communities are being attacked (Brachman, 2009, p.101), and

exacerbated the sense of insecurity. For example, not only it is true for jihadism, but also for

Marxism (Marx, 2000, p.4). Furthermore, McBride (2011, p.568) is one of the few current

thinkers admitting that Western culture has in a sense subverted the indigenous cultures

which served as meaning-giving constructs. Also, Arendt’s book (1951, pp.475, 478) makes a

similar observation about the 20th century. The marginalised communities in the face of

modernity experience loneliness, which is exploited by totalitarian structures (ibid.).

Similarly, Tillich (2000, p.98) argues that modernity destroys the traditional meaning giving

constructs. As a result of the changing conditions the old constructs lose their meaning, the

need for new such institutions is dire (Tillich, 2000, p.50).

Moreover, Lewis (2007, p.112) points out that the anti-American stance of the currently

thriving radical ideologies is entirely reasonable. It reflects the grievances of the indigenous

people, which suffer from the enforcement of an “alien” and “infidel” culture upon their

communities. Consequently, Islamist extremism has managed to direct the dispersed, erratic

resentment and anger of Muslims against the force (the West) which seeks to destroy their

culture (2007, p.114).


To conclude, this essay has discussed the role of ideology in different phases of

radicalisation. It argues that ideology does not appear to drive the process of cognitive

radicalisation, particularly in comparison to social networking, which is one of the major

reasons why people join the movement. Moreover, it is actually after joining the movement,

the social networking gives an opportunity to ideological propaganda to penetrate one’s


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thinking and significantly shape their behaviour in the future. As a result, some people

become persuaded by an ideology to an extent that they overcome the fear of death.

Specifically, a violent radical ideology focuses on fundamentally changing behaviour of a

member of the movement and encourages them to willingly commit violence.

Also, since extremist Islam has been recognised to be one of the most prominent concerns of

the West, the role of religion in enforcing the ideological understanding in the community has

been discussed. The paper highlights that religion holds particular advantages for an

ideologue who seeks to target particular religious community. For instance, the battle of good

and evil finds a widespread resonance in the hearts of true religious believers, and helps to

foster a physical response against the “evil” agent. However, the jihadi movement’s attacks

of the West have not only served to revive the good versus evil rhetoric but caused a counter-

reaction of the Western states. As a result, the polarisation between the West and the

“radical” Muslims has fed the antagonisms on each side, and enormously impacted upon any

chances to build trust between the two civilisations.

There are several issues of particular relevance, which have not been addressed. Such as, for

instance, the role of ideology, particularly in regards to the typical predictive strength of

social bonds in cognitive radicalisation of “lone wolves”. Another issue which can notably

enrich the discussion is the effect of internet-based networks, together with potential impact

of online propaganda means upon the target groups.

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