“I am committed to the principle that violence is never justified as a means of ameliorating a grievance.” —Justin Sane
What are you willing to die for? What are you willing to kill for?
“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”— Albert Einstein
“It is all the above and none of the above at the same time. It is a subject which will require some new ways of thinking and framing.”
This may come as a bit of a surprise to most of you, but this will be my last week publishing the “More than Meets the Eye” weekly intelligence briefing. Due to some rather serious health conditions and a need to focus on a strategic initiative that is picking up steam I need to create some more band-width in my life to really hone in on some things that I need to finish.
Writing the More than Meets the Eye briefings each week over the past 260 weeks has been a wonderful journey for me. If I was the only one to get anything out of it, it would have been worth it. We have covered just about every imaginable area of global security, terrorism and Islamist Jihadism that one can imagine. It has been a very worthwhile venture. Thank you for walking this road with me. Starting in a few weeks, I will be publishing a different genre of weekly. I will let all my active readers know how to access that publication in the next week or so and you will be able to choose if you want to consider receiving it or not.
Before concluding, I wanted to finish this two part series “A Potpourri of Grievances.” Last week we discussed a framework for understanding the different categories by which people often pigeonhole themselves into a certain kind of thinker or non-thinker if you will. I want to make sure that the vocabulary is concise and that we are all on the same sheet of music as I break down the kinds of grievances that each category shares and how it leads them into a lifestyle of either violent extremism, non-violent radicalization or ambivalence.
The conclusion of this series will address the manners of categories that are being put forth and the types of grievances that each category brings to the table establishing the framework of violent extremism. It is also my intention to eschew contemporary thinking about how and why people are radicalized, either to the point of hostility or not. I will propose an idea that ought to make more sense, it however does not necessarily fit the modern narrative, so it has been ignored at our own expense.
Ahmed is 17. He was born and until today lived in Maastricht, Netherlands. Ahmed’s parents are first generation immigrants from Morocco. Ahmed’s father owns a small Moroccan bakery in the heart of the city. Ahmed is a gregarious teenager with many friends, both Dutch and North African. He is an avid soccer player on the local junior league team. His grades are good. His life is good. He plans to go to the University upon graduation. He is interested in studying Electrical Engineering. Earlier this morning, Ahmed awoke to the call to prayer. It is still dark outside. Today is going to be a momentous day. Ahmed will begin his journey from a southern Turkish city to his new home in Raqqa, Syria. It will be in Raqqa that he will begin his new citizenship in the newly established Caliphate called, the Islamic State (IS) or in Arabic “Daesh.” His training as an Islamic Jihadist is soon to begin in earnest.
The above story is a fictional story about a not-so-fictional character, living out a non-fictional life in an ever-so-real drama. It is a liminal story, in a sense a metaphor; a metaphor which is representative of many lives throughout Europe today. Ahmed’s story is lived out thousands of times a day around the world. His pilgrimage is a confusing one to most. How does a seemingly well adjusted young Muslim man go from local soccer star, awarded student and loved son to an extreme Islamic Jihadist in such a short period of time? What are the antecedents that compel this kind of transformation to happen with such ferocity and speed?
In the opening paragraphs of this article, it is extremely important to place Ahmed’s story within a realistic global context. Ahmed’s life story, although a tragic one, represents only a small population segment within the greater population of Muslim background immigrants globally. Newspaper articles, television news stories and Internet blogs remind us daily of the seriousness of Ahmed’s journey, but few voices are being heard that place his story within a greater narrative. For every Ahmed, there are tens of thousands of normative cases of conditional adjustments that take place daily as well.
So what makes Ahmed’s story so frightening, while at the same time so compelling, if he represents such a small group? One only has to look at the trail of dead bodies of the naive and innocent to answer that question. The development of weapons of mass destruction, technological developments of biological and chemical weapons and delivery systems, communications technologies and transportation systems; all these create a global environment where a small few can create such destructive mayhem.
They have within their capacity the ability to destroy entire financial, social and physical eco-systems. The potential of these few have staggering implications. Besides the value of each single human life, it is because of these intense combat multipliers that the study of this small representative group is so important. Not only are these few so potentially dangerous, they also have the ability through technological advances in communications to be a catalyst for even greater movements, that can spread with great speed and agility across the entire globe.
Understanding what makes these few so potent is only the beginning of the solution. Clearly after 21 years since 9/11, scholars and analysts have yet to really grasp a comprehensive understanding of the process that leads a young man or woman from a normative state in a developmental process to a place where he is committing atrocities beyond the pale of a civil society’s wildest imagination.
It is recognized that even the terminology, Islamic Jihadist radicalization might be misunderstood by some and will invite criticism from the very beginning. It is not intended to singularly impugn any specific group, but is used to define more clearly the group being studied. In a recent study by the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) they reported that “Sunni extremists accounted for the greatest number of terrorist attacks and fatalities for a third consecutive year. More than 5,700 incidents were attributed to Sunni extremists, accounting for nearly 56% of all attacks globally and about 70% of all fatalities.” The group targeted for discussion is only representational and is not to imply that this is solely a characteristic of this particular group.
What is clear, is that if some new typologies are not developed and some creative means of reframing the conversation are not discovered, the movement of young men and women will continue unabated, therefore, what is being referred to in this article as the “Ahmed problem” will only become exacerbated in the future. It is critical that the best global minds be brought to bare on this matter and that they frame the discussion in a holistic framework rather than a singular disciplinary approach which is what appears to be currently unfolding.
The current literature being produced today concerning the matter of Radicalization/De-Radicalization is extensive. It seems that every significant field of study has at a minimum a self-confident cogent position on the matter.
Psychology, in all its forms from social to cognitive, is making significant contributions to the field of understanding in these phenomena. Juridical apologists, sociologists, intelligence analysts, anthropologists, religion theorists and anybody that deals with the human psyche has something to add to this field of study. Economists, political scientists, medical doctors are beginning to address the peculiarities of their field to the subject of study. But few are taking a meta-narrative approach and getting the larger picture of what is happening at a deeper sociological and anthropological level. The breadth of the multi-disciplinary requirement is staggering. It is not simply a psychological problem or an economic matter or a deep religious concern. It is all the above and none of the above at the same time. It is a subject which will require some new ways of thinking and framing.
What I am proposing is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the radicalization problem. There are so many scholars who are far better equipped to deal with those weighty matters. What is intended is to look at the problem of radicalization soberly, to ask some fundamental questions about the framing of questions regarding radicalization and de-radicalization, and then to propose a socio-anthropological framework for re-framing the study of radicalization as a whole. Specifically, a refined Arthur van Gennep and Victor Turner’s Liminality Framework Theory will be proposed. This research will seek to demonstrate that this theoretical framework is a valuable conceptual tool that can be used to frame a more complete study of radicalization and de-radicalization.
The value of such a tool is immeasurable. Until an accurate understanding of the radicalization process is fully comprehended, a clearer picture as to how to de-radicalize extremist jihadist behavior will be elusive. The current de-radicalization ‘process reversal’ programs show few signs of long-term success and are in greater need of study. A harder look at recidivism is greatly needed as well.
It appears from reviewing much of the literature being produced, that there are some consistent assumptions which are being made when it comes to the matter of de-radicalization, namely, that de-radicalization is a reversal of the radicalization process. A pre-dominant theme is, that there was at one time a normative state, that something came into the subject’s life and caused radicalization to happen. This brought about abnormal violent behavior. Somehow that violent behavior needed to be abated and a change of heart, along with a change of mind needed to take place. The primary de-radicalization programs in existence today emphasize that in order for effective de-radicalization to take place, there needs to be a return to the initial normative state. De-radicalization as is currently practiced is an attempt to programmatically return radicalized subjects back to an initial normative state.
One of my additional proposals is that we consider the possibility that the normative state is an anathematic concept to the average radicalized mind. The process of de-radicalization inherently fails because the normative state was at the core of the rejection of the radicalized subject’s initial condition. What my research portends is that de-radicalization, as currently understood, may be based on some seriously errant assumptions and is therefore the wrong pathway, when pursued with this philosophical principle. I have understood for years that if we ask the wrong questions we will always arrive at our destination with the wrong answers.
Perhaps, a more accurate way of thinking about the problem of un-making radicals is to think more along the lines of gradational reliminalization, a process which moves a subject from one state of a personal liminal journey to another. What if, rather than trying to return a person to their initial state, they were assisted as they matured to a more advanced state of what some would deem as radicalism, rather than the degraded state of fanaticism? What if radicalization were to be considered a liminal journey on which these individuals embark that leads them down anti-social alleys rather than onto the highway of social benefit and tolerance? What if, rather than de-radicalization, a whole new concept of re-liminalization was considered? To be fair there is an increasing tendency towards seeking to understand the radicalization of Muslim youth in terms of developmental drivers. In a 2015 study commissioned by the United Nations on Countering Violent Extremism, there was a sentence in the report which attributed the possibility of terrorist recruitment to the youthful search for a “sense of belonging, purpose and/or identity.” This elusion is significant, but it continues to hold the discussion of genuine causes at bay, primarily because it circles around the real etymologies. This study vigorously promotes the inclusion of the Liminal Framework theory into the discussion because to provides not only a significant framework, it adds an extensive vocabulary to the discussion which will enrich understanding and possibility.
Over the years my studies have sought to determine through a qualitative literature review and analysis how young disenchanted Muslim men enter into a world of violent Islamic extremism. I then turned to the matter of how some progress along their liminal journey and continue to find greater levels of purpose and meaning, not through violence or hatred, but through dialogue, activism, service and genuine connectivity with the local and global community at large. At stake in my research, was the notion that the predominantly held view that de-radicalization is the reversal of the radicalization process and that what was needed most is more and clearer information. What I have landed on is the notion that de-radicalization is not in fact a reversal, but a gradational step in the already initiated process of radicalization in an individual’s liminal stage of life. The notion that it is not necessarily a bad thing when accompanied with the social norms that the world has come to welcome will present a challenge that will require further research and dialogue.
The research framework was designed to enhance present scholarship through an intensive review and analysis of current literature which helped to reveal the liminal nature of radicalized Islamic Jihadist behavior. This analysis applied several variables of Victor Turner’s liminal model, emphasizing his approach to describing ritual behaviors. This research will also seek to substantiate that the behavioral patterns of young Islamic Jihadists differ little from those of tribal liminality models. It will also approach the subject that modern European communities are rapidly becoming liminoid in nature and that this liminal vs liminoid social clash is part of the causational culprit of radicalization of young Muslim men.
The re-framing process for a subject matter as extensive as this is a complex matter. The language alone presents many possibilities. The words used to describe the issue are many and understanding the vocabulary is immensely important to grasping any of the conceptual tools being used to re-frame them. Words such as radicalization, de-radicalization, radicalism, Islamism, radical Islamic Jihadism, Extremist Islamic Jihadism, Violent Islamic Extremism are all words which carry differing amounts of meaning and weight. Some are designed to clarify; others are designed to propound a specific agenda, whether political or ideological. For the purposes of this study, the possibilities of potential or real operational states will be simplified into 5 categories. The hope is that these words will be neither political or ideological, but will be representative of the post-liminal conditions that any young person might find themselves in upon exiting their liminal season of youth. Those categorical names are: Fanaticism-with malicious intent, Radicalism with no malicious intent, Adherent, Ambivalent, and Tergiversant. The use of these terms will assist with a greater understanding of the post-liminal condition that every young man and woman will find themselves in either sooner or later.
Without a clearer understanding of the language, there will be no adequate understanding of the problem. Without an adequate understanding of the problem, policy-makers will continue to fund and implement programs which are built on faulty premises which will will only exacerbate the problems at hand and not help them in any conceivable and functional way.
Back to Ahmed or our story’s protagonist. Living in a disoriented world, not sure of many things, Ahmed finds himself alienated, often marginalized and on the recipients end of racism and bigotry. Ahmed turns inward and finds himself often alone and lonely. One cool autumn just after Soccer practice one of Ahmed’s classmates introduces him to an older Muslim young man named Amir. Amir seems to really have it together. He wears nice clothing, drives a nice car, is articulate, and pretty cool. Amir asks Ahmed if he wants to go to dinner and hang out with some of the guys. Not having anything else to do, Ahmed agrees to go and hang out.
Eventually, the evening dinners and hangout times turned into hours of discussions, training and reading turned into a deep relationship of commitment with Amir and his other disciples. Ahmed finally found a group of young guys he could really connect with, share life with and share his hopes and dreams. Ahmed was a part of a community. From time to time, Amir would ask Ahmed to run errands for him and complete some tasks that he needed done. Amir would always pay him well and ensure that he was taken care of. Amir even helped Ahmed’s Dad and brother find well-paying jobs in the city. Things were going quite well for Ahmed in his increasing role of influence within this community of other young Muslim men.
One day, Amir came to Ahmed and pulled him aside. He explained that there were those who were trying to tear the community apart and that they needed to be dealt with. Amir, unembarrassed, asked Ahmed to come with him to deal with this person who was causing harm to the community. Ahmed, though hesitant, yet devoted to the community agreed to go with Amir to take care of this situation. They left their gathering house and proceeded to a young man’s home where they knew he would be at this time of the evening. Together Amir and Ahmed entered this young man’s apartment and stabbed him to death 20 times before exiting quietly out the back window.
Amir’s life just entered a new stage in the liminal process. He stood at the threshold of confusion and shame. He has just committed a horrific act that he knew would change his life forever. Faced with the decision to commit a violent crime to a fellow Muslim and stay within the safety of his community or find himself on the other end of the knife himself for not only himself, but for his father and brothers. Ahmed’s life had just taken a turn that he would never be able to come back from.
The story you just read though fictional, accounts for a large number of young men who radicalize into Islamist Jihadism. Ahmed has been the reason that I have spent the past 8 years of my life researching and writing. When does his radicalization become ideological and not just practical? Ahmed will spend the rest of his life trying to justify his actions that day. He will talk with with his friends, read the Qur’an, and speak with his Imam. All will provide input which will help him deal with his guilt. He will eventually reject Islamist Jihadism or he will decide that staying within the security of his community is too important for him to leave. He will learn to reject the tension or learn to live within it, justifying his behavior for not only that evenings murder, but for many others. Killing will become a way of life for him, both to protect himself and his family.
In some forms of Sociology this is simple Gang member recruitment 101. I am not pre-disposed to disagree with it completely. Gaining an understanding of how we can somehow enter into the lives of these young men and women is a key to helping them reject a life of violent extremism or turn to positive ways to express their need for community. All communities have a choice in this matter. We can watch another re-run episode of Seinfeld or we can choose to get out in our communities to reach out to these who are lonely and marginalized. It is easy to sit by and ignore their pain as they walk into a life of violence, or we can do something about it.
It is possible to intervene into the lives of these young men and women who are being trafficked in a sense into a world of violent extremism. But it will take work. They are out there. They are wondering how they will make it in life. They exist in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.
Our role? Love them enough to help them. Full stop.
Once again, I want to thank you for journeying with me down this road. It has been a fascinating season of exploration for me and I hope for you as well. I will be leaving the articles archive up on my website in case you want to review something. If nothing else it will be a treasure trove of resources as I have faithfully cited with links every article that I have written. Just go to morethanmeets.co for this resource/archive. One of the things I want to make sure I do is mention that the photos on the website were made available by both https://unsplash.com and https://pixabay.com It served as a great resource for me each week as I sought to put a bow on each issue on the website.
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org