FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Language of Moral Panic: “Radicalization” vs. “Extremism”

The extraordinary brutality and reactionary nihilism of fundamentalist groups like Islamic State is beyond doubt. In the face of the heinous acts of such groups, mainstream counter terrorist beyond doubt. In the face of the heinous acts of such groups, mainstream counter terrorist narratives arising from the Terror Scare present deradicalisation as an imperative part of addressing the problem. Are radicalism and extremism however the same thing?

Mainstream counter-terrorist responses treat them as though they are. This approach is profoundly problematic for actually dealing with violent extremism insofar as it conflates radical opposition to things as they are with the extremist responses chosen as a result. The two are and remain two separate things and no good reason exists to assume otherwise.

In reality the only good reason for doing so is to further the goals of the Terror Scare, the moral panic over terrorism, which renders the institutions and ideologies represented by the status quo as cause and cure of the same problem.

By tarnishing radical opposition to things as they are with the extremist responses chosen, the moral entrepreneurs of Terror Scare narratives can continue to do so by adopting an attitude of militant ignorance towards facts associated with the phenomenon of terrorism and violent extremism for which they are the cause (as well as the cure).

One such fact is the basic reason why Islamic State exists in the first place, which is because of long-term intervention by the United States and its Western allies in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries for most of the last century. Al Qaeda grew out of CIA funding and training of the Mujahadeen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; Islamic State is the resurgent version of Al Qaeda in Iraq. You don’t want violent extremism? Don’t fund it.

Another such fact is that Islamic State are arch-conservatives; they are no more politically radical than the GOP (to the extent that the GOP is not radically reactionary at least). To conflate the cultish banditry of Islamic State with radical rebellion against the status quo is to purposely misrepresent its nature and goals for purposes that have nothing to do with preventing violent extremism.

The differences between the two couldn’t be clearer. For the archconservatives of Islamic State, the status quo is unsatisfactory because it doesn’t go far enough in undermining individual autonomy in the name of rendering its victims slaves to a fascist theocracy.

To radicals on the other hand, the status quo is unsatisfactory because it doesn’t go far enough in promoting such autonomy so that we might enjoy control over the conditions of our own work and lives. Not only could the two outlooks not be more different; they are literally at opposite poles of the political compass (see politicalcompass.org).

We should hardly need to insult anyone’s intelligence by spelling out what the political establishment might have to gain by associating radical rebellion with violent extremism.

And yet they do. Obama’s ‘Strategic Implementation Plan For Empowering Local Partners To Prevent Violent Extremism In The United States’ of December 2011 speaks nowhere of addressing the reasons why people might be upset with, say, the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, or the brutal treatment of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Instead, their focus is on

1) enhancing engagement with and support to local communities that may be targeted by violent extremists; (2) building government and law enforcement expertise for preventing violent extremism; and (3) countering violent extremist propaganda while promoting our ideals.[1]

The National Center on Counterterrorism elaborates on these goals, noting of the third in particular that ‘We must actively and aggressively counter the range of ideologies violent extremists employ to radicalize and recruit individuals by challenging justifications for violence and by actively promoting the unifying and inclusive vision of our American ideals.’[2]

The concern here is not to be with trying to understand what drives people into the arms of violent extremists and what their grievances are, but with reasserting American ideals — whatever those who conflate radicalism and extremism happen to decide they are. Should there be any wonder that the non-state form of terrorism that Terror Scare narratives treat as the only version in existence continues?

Others to their credit make somewhat more of an attempt to address root causes. Shiraz Maher, Senior Research Fellow at International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, acknowledges at least that ‘when Mohammad Sidique Khan led the 7/7 London terrorist attacks almost a decade ago, he said his actions were in retaliation for “the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people.’[3]

Maher’s analysis of radicalization is fascinating if for no other reason than because he points out the apparent paradox stemming from the fact that ‘Khan was killing his own people, the ordinary citizen-stranger commuting to work, when he detonated his bomb on the London underground.’ Mahar bristles in response against Khan’s claim that ‘he identified with the citizens of Iraq — a country he had not even travelled to and whose language he could not speak?’

For Maher the problem is one of identification, the fact that Mohammad Sidique Khan identified with the victims of an act of illegal and immoral military aggression — as did millions of other people in the West who protested the invasion of Iraq.

If Khan’s identification with the victims of Western aggression was a problem, then presumably that of millions of protesters, none of whom had been to Iraq or could speak Arabic either, must be as well. Naturally Mahar doesn’t follow through with his logic to that conclusion, but that is where it must inevitably end for approaches to counter-terrorism built on the dominant narratives of the Terror Scare.

Without distinguishing between grievances and the nature of the responses chosen to address them, such approaches, those that render the West cause and cure of the same problem, must inevitably become an excuse for blame shifting and a continuing refusal to address vital social problems.

This is particularly true to the extent that they set a precedent via those who make destructive choices in their responses to those who make constructive ones. To continue the myth that grievances against the status quo ultimately result in violent extremism is to whittle away at what remains of individual freedoms in the name of defending them, which at the end of the day is exactly what violent extremists are after irrespective of whether they’re in Iraq or Washington.

Notes.

[1] https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/sip-final.pdf

[2] http://www.nctc.gov/site/technical/radicalization.html

[3] http://icsr.info/2015/06/icsr-insight-roots-radicalisation-identity-stupid/

More articles by:

Ben Debney is a PhD candidate in International Relations at Deakin University, Burwood, Melbourne. He is studying moral panics and the political economy of scapegoating. Twitter: @itesau  

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail