“Beware the storyteller with a huge grievance and an artistic license.” ― Joyce Rachelle
“Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance.” Robert Frost
“I am committed to the principle that violence is never justified as a means of ameliorating a grievance.” —Justin Sane
As I was pondering how to introduce the subject of grievances and their intricate connection to the world of violent extremism, I was reminded of one of my favorite expressions from one of the world’s most famous cartoon characters: “Good Grief.” Good grief was the go-to expression of frustration in the world of Peanuts characters. We know that grief is a “cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow,” so how can that be good, Charlie Brown? If Marcie was on the case, the 33rd definition could be cited: “fairly large or great.” A large distress. If you miss kicking a football for the 100th time or crash your kite into a maniacal kite-eating tree, this phrase makes total sense.”
This week and next—and pardon the pun—I want to kick around the ideas that are often blamed to justify violent extremism in the world today. I am going to address this pretty generically, because the causes seem consistent across the board globally amongst extremely disgruntled violent terrorists.
Islamism, though still a rather significant player in the world of violent extremism, is just one of the expanding constellations of actors on the stage of devastating, unrestrained zealotry. The sphere of extremism is now generously shared by political nympholepts, extremist racial bigots, economic insurgents, and many who are pathological haters, such as the increasingly violent group known as Incels.
I want to explore a couple of ideas. First and foremost is politically and ideologically motivated scholarly sloppiness. In an attempt to satisfy their scholarly appetites for their subjective opinions, many scholars are simply perpetuating a circular form of reasoning that finds its basis in their like-minded colleagues, who quote one another enough times that it after awhile it begins to look like scientific inquiry, when in actuality it is not. It is more the result of a few guys with PhDs sitting around the table drinking organic beer and eating kale, pontificating and congratulating one another on their keen observations and superb discernment. (Sorry if that sounds a lot more sardonic than I intended). I am beginning to see patterns in much of the academic research, especially in the Social Sciences, that point to the diminishing of long-revered standards of scholarly excellence.
It just feels like the modern scholar’s assumption is, “If I can get enough other PhDs to quote me or cite my work, then it must be true.” This is a dangerous trajectory. It has and will continue to lead us down a pathway where academic rigor and accountability is replaced with demonstrative opinions and agendas. It lacks integrity and accuracy, something that was drilled into me during my graduate studies and has been the backbone of academia for centuries.
The Thesis for my last graduate degree was entitled, “THE UN-MAKING OF A RADICAL ISLAMIC JIHADIST: UNDERSTANDING THE ISLAMIC JIHADIST’S LIMINAL JOURNEY AND REFORMATION.” You may want to wait for the movie. It is a detailed, thorough discussion on the subject, but for our purposes I want to take a brief look at the motivations for why someone becomes radicalized and then how they might move from radicalization to extremist violence. I will attempt to be brief, and I hope you will see why I have come to some different conclusions from many of the authors and researchers who have attempted to study this subject.
The bottom line up front (BLUF): The current literature being produced today concerning the matter of Radicalization/De-Radicalization is extensive, but disjointed. It seems that every significant field of study has a cogent position on the matter. Psychology, in all its forms from social to cognitive, is making significant contributions to the field of understanding 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, and medical doctors are beginning to address the peculiarities of their field to this 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 of 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. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Clearly what is required is a new level of thinking.
After putting in much effort at re-looking at this worthy subject, I have determined to make this a two-parter, for your sake. Part one (this week) is designed to give us 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 uniform and precise 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. Part will conclude next week with a determined examination of the kinds 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 will also be my intention to pretty much eschew contemporary thinking about how and why people radicalized, either to the point of hostility or not. I will propose a couple of well thought ideas that ought to make more sense, but it does not fit the modern narrative, so it has been ignored at our own expense.
I want to start by clarifying the vocabulary. In the fields of scholarship there tends to be an unofficial categorization of different kinds of radicalization. This is important, because there are some forms of radicalization we can live with and other forms that are considered anti-social, criminal, and terroristic.
Fanaticism with malicious intent, Radicalism with no malicious intent, Adherent, Ambivalent, and Tergiversate. The use of these terms will assist with a greater understanding of the post-liminal condition that every young man and many young women will find themselves in sooner or later. Most are self-explanatory, but I will elaborate on some of them, because if we do not get the meanings of the words correct, we will pretty much miss the whole point.
- Fanaticism with malicious intent- This is the category that many of us fear the most. We fear those who so strongly believe their position that they are willing to commit acts of violence in the defense of their position. Frankly, we all harbor a bit of hypocrisy when it comes to this category.
This form of fanaticism is often referred to as zealotry. It is increasingly being regarded as one of the principal threats to liberal democracy in the twenty-first century. Yet even as it is universally disparaged, zealotry is a severely understudied concept. I say that many of us harbor a bit of hypocrisy because our zealotry can often be situationally delimited as well, depending on how strongly and passionately we hold to a certain personally-held reality.
For instance, the American abolitionists, such as Wendell Phillips, were passionate democrats. Yet many of them, such as Phillips, were also self-defined fanatics who believed in using extremist language and tactics on behalf of the slaves. Phillips’s speeches suggested a specifically political definition of zealotry as a strategy that sought to mobilize populations in defense of a particular position by dividing the public sphere into friends (those who support the position) and enemies (those who oppose it) and pressuring the moderates in between.
Through his defense of fanaticism and his argument for disunion, Phillips articulated a democratic form of fanaticism that challenged common pejorative associations of zealotry with irrationality, intolerance, fundamentalism, or terrorism. Where would we fall on Phillips’ scale of zealotry and how far would we have gone in defense of the abolition of slavery? There are an increasing number of issues that are being passionately debated and many are resorting to malicious intent, justifying their violent extremist behavior on the grounds of moral superiority.
- Radicalism with no malicious intent- This is one of the most difficult categories to deal with. At this point no laws have been broken. Becoming radicalized online and posting, possessing, or espousing extremist views are not necessarily criminal activities. Under the First Amendment individuals are granted freedom of speech, religion, and the press. As long as these individuals do not partake in, conspire to engage in, or facilitate the engagement of acts of violence or commit other crimes in support of violent acts, individuals and groups espousing the most radical of views must be protected.
These individuals have been radicalized, no doubt. But their radicalized opinions do not break the law. This poses many 1st Amendment dilemmas. Do they go on a watchlist of some sort in case they decide to go rogue? That would be disastrous if every person whose opinions differed from that of some political party or government analyst went on a watchlist. This would be a trainwreck in the making. There are many who fall into this category.
- Adherent- According to the Oxford Dictionary, an adherent is someone who supports a particular party, person, or set of ideas. A large percentage of the populations in the US and around the world fall into this category. They believe in something, and even though they may not be fully adept at all the doctrinal positions of their belief system, they hold on tightly because it flows from the community they identify themselves with.
I would go as far as to say that most of the world falls into this category, even those who come from Islamic cultures. Most Muslims I know might quote a religious line, but would respond when confronted with committing extremist acts on behalf of Islam, “Wait… what?” If they actually were to commit a violent act on behalf of Islam it would be only after intense social duress.
In my analysis, you will see that I fall into a rather small camp that believes that not only is the radicalized camp of Muslims not extremely large, but also most would be seriously hesitant to commit acts of violence on behalf of their Imams or Mullah’s simply because they were told to do so. There are a few countries that I categorize as exceptions to this, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and, possibly, Somalia (one simply has no idea what the general Muslim population there will do). Atrocities are committed in the name of Allah daily and are considered virtuous.
- Ambivalent- Many people are just too tired, too distracted, and too dispassionate to really care. War, famine, economic turmoil, terrorism, pandemics, and anxiety has created an ambivalence in so many people globally. I would say this is an increasing category worldwide. Many are simply just unsure what to believe anymore. This is creating a lot of space for dialectical materialism.
- Tergiversate– Many people are bouncing from one ideology to another with the hope that one day they will land on the truth. Part of this is the fear of being wrong, a symptom of increasing education levels around the world. People have more information so they feel as if they have some sort of epistemological privilege that others do not, so they walk into new realms thinking that they have discovered something new under the sun. Then something else comes along, and creates a paralysis until one finally feels like they need to make a choice, so they land either on a very narrow brand of the new reality or a combination of several belief systems, in essence taking a stance on nothing.
In remarks before the Senate Homeland Security Committee in September 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray described the tendency of some terrorists to be motivated by what he referred to as “a mishmash” or “salad bar” of ideologies, the most prominent feature of which is an attraction to violence.
It is imperative that we understand the motivation behind violent extremism. What grievances are touching me deeply and why? So many want to tell us that the causes are external—and certainly external stimuli can foment the deep seated feelings or passion within us—but ultimately I am convinced that there is a systemic need within all of us that, if fed, fear and hate, can lead to violence. It will be this primal need that I will address in the next edition of More than Meets the Eye.
Start by evaluating your own framework for belief. One of the things that struck me as I was writing is the question, “What drives an individual from one extreme to another?” There appears to be a correlational factor surrounding the whole idea of passion. It causes us to move from one level of grievance to another. It is always dangerous to overgeneralize, but there appears to be a functional difference between the kinds of questions you ask depending on your worldview. It feels to me the radicalizing question for a genuine Christian is “what am I willing to die for?” Only based on personal experience and not an empirically based study, Islam appears to instead ask, “what am I willing to kill over?”
I make that generalization, once again, not based on some sort of universal truth, but based more on my understanding of the Qur’an, Hadithic teaching, and global actions of extremist violence. I base it on discussions with many Imams, Mullahs, and Sheikhs.
What are you willing to die for? Is there anything you are willing to kill for? These are just a couple of questions that we should all probably ask ourselves from time to time.
Iran, Israel: Iranian Statement Sparks Rhetorical Tit-for-Tat on Iran’s Nuclear Program…https://worldview.stratfor.com/situation-report/iran-israel-iranian-statement-sparks-rhetorical-tit-tat-irans-nuclear-program
*** By my analysis, when a country such as Iran says they have the capability to build a nuclear weapon, but are choosing not to, you can be pretty sure that they do not have the capability to build a nuclear weapon. But then again, who wants to take that bet, which is exactly what the Iranians are betting on.
CTC-ICT Focus on Israel: What Can We Learn from the Spring 2022 Terror Wave in Israel… https://ctc.westpoint.edu/ctc-ict-focus-on-israel-what-can-we-learn-from-the-spring-2022-terror-wave-in-israel/
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: email@example.com