Radicalization Series Part II – What is it? A plea for critical radicalization studies

This is part two of the radicalization series. In the first I gave a brief overview of different practices regarding counterradicalization, triggering (I think) the main question for part two: what the hell is radicalization.
Please consider the following statements:

  • The authority of the goverment is not based upon the people. This would amount to sovereignty of the people but Muslims only recognize the absolute sovereignty of Allah, while the people’s sovereignty only recognizes that state and the will of the people as her God.
  • If we will ever rule, we abolish democracy. There is not god but Allah and Allah is one. There is no room for other religions.
  • The only distinction that really matters, is one between belief and unbelief, between the party upholding Allah’s rule and accepting his word, and the party rejecting it.
  • If we ever rule, unbelieving journalists are the first who can enjoy their pension.

Would you consider the above statements as radical statements or perhaps even part of a radical ideology and/or movement?

What is it?
What is radical / radicalism / radicalization? There is a long standing tradition of evaluation and analysis of radicalization. The meaning of the term (political) radical usually pertains to a political orientation and/or means (sometimes including violence) that favor or promote revolutionary, fundamental changes in society. One of the first groups ever labelled (by themselves and others) as radical were the Radical Whigs whose writings played a major role in the American revolution with their ideas about democratic representation and taxes. Although nowadays radicalism is often linked to intolerance, anti-democratic views and means, the ideas of the Whigs their ideas will probably not considered as very radical in these days but rather as fair, Western and modern.

This example also shows that groups can call themselves radical. Another example is the Political Party of Radicals in the Netherlands in the past, which has merged with the Communist Party, Evangelical People’s Party and the Pacifist Socialist Party into the GreenLeft Party. Another term of used as a synonym to radical is extreme or extremism; but this is never (as far as I know) used by the groups themselves. Other similar terms are fundamentalist (in case of religion), subversive, fanaticism and far left or far right. Extremism or radicalism is not a prerogative from the fringes of society but can also occur in more mainstream parts of society.

Radicalism in Context: Bringing Cognitive Anthropology to Political Psychology

Political psychology research has recently converged on the realisation that any evaluation of ‘political radicalism’ cannot be undertaken in isolation, but must be done so with reference to specific social and cultural contexts (e.g. Haste, 2004; Marugesan, 2007). Meanwhile, developments in the field of cognitive anthropology offer a theoretical framework for capturing the interaction between universal cognitive modules and specific cultural contexts, the latter loaded with sets of ideological beliefs that can be taken on to differing degrees (Sperber, 1996). This paper presents the results of an attempt to utilise the lens of one such anthropological theory of belief maintenance, to analyse the arguments of those adhering to contextually radical beliefs: members of the UK Socialist Party. A combined qualitative and quantitative analysis of results reveals the negotiation of differing implicit and explicit beliefs, in a manner which sheds light on previous debates in cognitive functioning and socio-political ideology (e.g. Tetlock, 1984; Sidanius, 1985). It is concluded that useful theoretical insights can be garnered from the linking of political psychology and cognitive anthropology, while contemporary understandings of ‘radicalism’ will be enlightened by a sensitivity to differing socio-cultural contexts.

On Post-Fascism

As one of the greatest and most level-headed masters of twentieth-century political sociology, Seymour Martin Lipset, has noted, fascism is the extremism of the center.Fascism had very little to do with passéiste feudal, aristocratic, monarchist ideas, was on the whole anti-clerical, opposed communism and socialist revolution, and–like the liberals whose electorate it had inherited–hated big business, trade unions, and the social welfare state. Lipset had classically shown that extremisms of the left and right were by no means exclusive: some petty bourgeois attitudes suspecting big business and big government could be, and were, prolonged into an extremism that proved lethal. Right-wing and center extremisms were combined in Hungarian, Austrian, Croatian, Slovak para-fascism (I have borrowed this term from Roger Griffin) of a pseudo-Christian, clericalist, royalist coloring, but extremism of the center does and did exist, proved by Lipset also through continuities in electoral geography.

Today there is nothing of any importance on the political horizon but the bourgeois center, therefore its extremism is the most likely to reappear. (Jörg Haider and his Freedom Party are the best example of this. Parts of his discourse are libertarian/neoliberal, his ideal is the propertied little man, he strongly favors a shareholding and home-owning petty bourgeois “democracy,” and he is quite free of romantic-reactionary nationalism as distinct from parochial selfishness and racism.) What is now considered “right-wing” in the United States would have been considered insurrectionary and suppressed by armed force in any traditional regime of the right as individualistic, decentralizing, and opposed to the monopoly of coercive power by the government, the foundation of each and every conservative creed. Conservatives are le parti de l’ordre,and loathe militias and plebian cults.

Now lets turn to the Dutch situation and have a look at a publication by the Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst (General Intelligence and Security Service – AIVD) I have blogged about earlier. The AIVD makes a useful distinction between terrorism and radicalism; both are obviously not the same but can occur together and being a terrorist would probably also mean being radical (but not the other way around I would add). One of the most striking findings is this one:
C L O S E R » Blog Archive » Terrorism and radicalization according to the AIVD

# A Moroccan national has been identified as a threat to national security because of his sympathy for the international violent jihad, has contacts with like-minded people abroad and support those people. He has been declared ‘persona non grata’ and will be deported to Morocco. In another report the AIVD concluded that an another man from the same family rejects the democratic order. This may prevent him to obtain Dutch nationality.
# The AIVD released a report about a Turkish man who travelled, via Turkey, to the Pakistani-Afghani border region to participate in the international violent Jihad. In the report the AIVD stated that he is a threat to national security and he also has been declared ‘persona non grata’.

It seems that ‘rejecting democracy’ is sufficient to label someone radical and declare him persona non grata. Also having plans to engage in global jihad (outside the Netherlands) is enough to be deemed a radical. Also the AIVD sees shared grievances as a main cause for (radical) activism but given the fact that the AIVD sees democracy and shared Dutch values as a yardstick for integration and radicalism, the danger exists that anyone Muslim who criticizes Dutch values or Dutch democracy is considered a radical.

For now the important thing is that radicalism is seen as a particular idea or act that goes against (a particular idea of) shared values and the existing (in this case democratic status quo) and that what is to be considered radical varies over time and across cultures. In an upcoming chapter in a volume on Politicization and Radicalization Roel Meijer and I have based ourselves upon a definition by Beach that captures the abovementioned aspects. He defines radicalization of social movements as

a change in one or more of the components of a social movement’s ideology and/or a change in the strategies and tactics employed or advocated by the movement such that the total of the change or changes brings the movement into a condition of lesser congruence with the values and means which are presented as legitimate by the dominant sector of the society in which the movement is acting.
Beach 1977, Social Movement Radicalization: the Case of the People’s Democracy in Northern Ireland. The Sociological Quarterly 19, pp. 305-318

This is a very useful definition, because it does not only focus on intra-movement developments but also on opinions and interests of other parties in society. Unfortunately in his worthwhile elaboration on this definition Beach (1977) conceptualizes the societally approved values as (‘initially’) static. Given the development of the Dutch Islam debate and the rise and toning down of the Salafi movement in the Netherlands it is however clear that what is approved in society can change rather rapidly in particular in the aftermath of shocking incidents such as 9/11. (See for example Van Bruinessen) In fact, what Meijer and myself are arguing that such a change was instrumental to the process of radicalization among young Muslims. We propose therefore a slightly changed and more precise definition of radicalization as

a change in one or more of the components of a group’s identity and/or ideology and/or a change in the strategies and tactics employed or advocated by the group such that the total of the change or changes brings the group into a condition of lesser congruence with the prevailing social arrangements, values and means which are presented as legitimate by the institutions and elites concerned with maintaining these social arrangements and values.De Koning & Meijer, forthcoming.

Instead of recognizing wider society and its institutions, radicalization involves a turn away from wider society into an exclusive in-group membership of a group with an anti-systemic ideology and/or tactics (see also Beach 1977: 313). This also means however that we should not only take into account the intra-movement developments but also wider society and ask ourselves why do particular institutions and elites consider and label particular individuals, social categories or social movements as ‘radical’, how does the process of labelling occur and what are the consequences? Neglecting the latter will, I think, inevitably mean that counter-radicalization policies, or even radicalization research, is state-centric and problem-oriented (with its focus on short-term imminent threats that take the state’s framing as self-evident – not very remarkable for policies of course) and moreover reducing issues of poverty, islamophobia, religionization and religion-based activism, lack of political influence into a matter of (the threat of) violence and/or a dangerous lack of cultural integration and social cohesion (or short; deviance). The fact that global inequalities and ucertainties, imperialism and (Western) interventionism in for example Iraq and Afghanistan (or the lack thereof in for example Chechnya) also play a role and provide fertile ground for militant oppositional ideologies and politics, is obscured in this way. In that sense labelling an individual, social category or movement as ‘radical’ is a political strategy that serves to protect particular interests.
Towards critical radicalization studies
What I mean by this perhaps becomes clearer when we have another look at the statements mentioned above. There is a major chance such public statements by Muslims would have been subjected to the label radical given the apparent concern of the Dutch government and institutions such as AIVD with seeing radicalism as something that is going against and/or threatening democracy. Those statements however, although made in public, were never considered as such. Maybe (I know I know, it is a trick and perhaps a little too obvious and simplistic) because they were not made by Muslims:

  • The authority of the goverment is not based upon the people. This would amount to sovereignty of the people. The SGP (orthodox Christian party) only recognizes the absolute sovereignty of God, while the people’s sovereignty only recognizes that state and the will of the people as her God. SGP Program of Principles
  • If the SGP will ever rule, we abolish democracy. There is only one God, there is no other way to receive salvation. The Lord Jezus says: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. There is no room for other religions.Ton Crijnen in daily newspaper Trouw.
  • The only distinction that really matters, is one between belief and unbelief, between the party accepting God’s rule and his word, and the party rejecting it. Asking for Evangelist worshippers, then and now by G.J. Schutte, 2003, former leader of an orthodox Christian party, now part of the Christian Union with six seats in parliament and part of the government
  • If we ever rule, Clairy Polak (Dutch journalist, accused of being a Leftie) is the first who can enjoy her pension. PVV Leader Wilders in magazine HP/De Tijd

Original Dutch versions:

  • De overheid ontleent haar gezag niet aan het volk. Deze opvatting staat in verband met de volkssoevereiniteit. De SGP daarentegen erkent de absolute soevereiniteit van God, terwijl de volkssoevereiniteit slechts de staat en de algemene volkswil als haar god erkent. Beginselprogram SGP
  • “Mocht de SGP ooit regeren, dan schaffen we de democratie af”, Er is maar één God. Op een andere wijze kun je niet zalig worden. De Here Jezus zegt: “Ik ben de Weg, de Waarheid en het Leven”. Er is dus geen ruimte voor andere godsdiensten Ton Crijnen. In: Trouw, 5.1.2002.
  • het enige onderscheid dat echt ter zake doet, is dat tussen geloof en ongeloof, tussen de partij die het gezag van God en zijn woord aanvaardt en de partij die dit gezag verwerpt – Evangeliebelijders gevraagd, toen en nu”, G.J. Schutte, 2003.
  • ’Als wij het voor zeggen krijgen, is Clairy Polak de eerste die van haar wachtgeld mag gaan genieten.’ Wilders in HP/De Tijd

Radicalization is not a stable and objective phenomenon out there to be studied in a self-evident and uncritical way. Radicalization research therefore not only needs to take into account the developments among radicalizing Muslims or radicalizing right wing youth (or left or center) but also needs take critically examine broader processes in society and the ideas and practices of elites and state-institutions involved in counter-radicalization policies. Both form different parts of the same medal and both (may) produce and reproduce each other.

Radicalization research also needs to consider the motivation of those apparently radicalizing individuals, groups or movement more seriously. The focus on deviance, lack of integration or even downright evil (as in the case of terrorists) lead to a situation in which the motivations and actions are only taken into account very superficially and/or one-sided. In the case of Muslim radicalization we now are faced with a situation in which the apparent radicalization of Muslim youth is unprecendented, more threatening than ever before and exceptional although the terrorism throughout the 1970s has been more serious in the Netherlands in terms of the people targeted and killed. Although the current motivations for radicalization differ from those in the past and the transnational connections also make Muslim radicalization much more complicated and unpredictable, an important difference is also that the motivations of for example the Moluccan radicals in the 1970s received recognition and understanding (although the means were disapproved of), but for radical Muslim youth there seems to be less understanding let alone sympathy. (See HERE for Fighting terrorism in the Netherlands; a historical perspective). The state’s policies, the politics of labelling and the ‘extremism of the center’ should therefore be as much part of radicalization research. Lacking in much of the analyses is a critical reflection on the role of the state and its institutions. Why do states and their institutions label particular individuals, groups and movements as radical and what are the consequences in terms of rights, policies and the position and daily lives of the targeted groups?

Researchers of radicalization can benefit from the critical terrorism studies as proposed by Gunning, Jackson and Breen Smyth. Consider for example the next statement by Jackson
e-IR » Why We Need Critical Terrorism Studies

an acute sensitivity to the politics of labelling and the acceptance of the fundamental ontological insecurity of the ‘terrorism’ label and thus extreme care in its use during research; a commitment to inter-disciplinarity and a willingness to engage with research from disciplines outside of international relations (there is some excellent terrorism research from anthropology, for example); a commitment to transparency regarding the values and political standpoints of researchers, particularly as they relate to the geo-political interests and values of the states they work in; a willingness by researchers to expand the focus of their research to include topics such as the use of terrorism by states, gender dimensions of terrorism, ethical-normative analysis of counter-terrorism, and the discursive foundations which make ‘terrorism studies’ possible in the first place; adherence to a set of responsible research ethics which take account of the various users of terrorism research, including the ‘suspect communities’ from which terrorists often emerge and the populations who bear the brunt of counter-terrorism policies; a commitment to taking the subjectivity of both the researcher and the researched seriously, particularly in terms of being willing to ‘talk to terrorists’; and a commitment to normative values and a broadly defined notion of emancipation. These commitments go beyond simply the call to engage in more rigorous and self-reflective research. In their normative dimensions in particular, these kinds of commitments amount to an orientation that shares many of the same attitudes and approaches as the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory and the Welsh School of Critical Security Studies.

The call for the establishment of a new, more reflexive ‘critical’ terrorism studies (CTS) is a self-conscious and deliberate attempt to try and overcome some of the problems that have been noted about the broader field of terrorism studies, and to attract scholars who study terrorism but are uncomfortable associating with a field that has historically been closely aligned with the state. The initial aim of CTS advocates has been to map out a new ‘critical’ set of approaches to the study of political terrorism, and to generate a new, broader research agenda.

Also work from social movement theory has, already, been very useful in treating different forms of radicalization as (for example) islamic activism. In particular an anthropological social movement approach can among others things take into account the differences in trajectories of radicalization and differences in commitment, levels of participation and motivations of radical actors and can offer a critique of state policies and actions (as does CTS). This should lead us to open up novel areas of investigation and interrogate wider processes, discourses, practices and experiences that produce, nurture and reproduce reframings of politics that appear to become anti-systemic and oppositional.

This was the second blog entry. In two months part three will be published here, which will focus more on my own research. After that part four will be published, focusing on the Dutch state institutions. If you want to stay updated, please register HERE.
C L O S E R » Blog Archive » Radicalization Series – Part I: The slippery slope of ethnic profiling

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