Chapter 10 Discussion Question Pointers

End of Chapter Question Pointers

Chapter 10 – When do Individuals Radicalize?

Rik Coolsaet

  1. Is there any practical difference between political and religious narratives in the process of radicalization of individuals?
  2. This is really a question about how far the specific ideological content of an extreme narrative matters in exerting an effect on individuals. Look back to the argument on page 193 that radicalization is a compound effect of four factors of which ideology is only one.

    It would also be worth looking the discussion of ‘Old and New Terrorism’ in Chapter 17 of this textbook. One of the key claims of the ‘New Terrorism’ thesis was that religious terrorism tends to be less inhibited and more destructive than secular types of terrorism (pages 327-9). A common 1990s assumption was that ‘more extreme’ – i.e. religiously based – ideologies would motivate individuals towards more extreme violence. How far is this line of argument plausible?

    In practice, most work on religious narratives has tended to concentrate mostly upon routes into Islamist terrorism. Jewish or Christian or Hindu terrorisms have remained much less explored. Should we expect all religious narratives to work the same way?

  3. How would you assess the conducive environment that allowed for the emergence of left-wing terrorism in the United States and in Europe in the 1970s-1980s?
  4. As a starting point, make sure you make good use of the materials within this textbook. Chapter 2 has a brief discussion of the wider global context (pages 19-21). Chapter 6 surveys ‘processual approaches’ to understanding how political violence occurs: this body of research emerged directly from the German experience of the 1970s: see Case Study 6.1 on the Red Army Faction in particular (page 97). There is also a more general discussion of the New Left ‘wave’ of terrorism in Chapter 8 (pages 144-5).

    In Europe, the most long-lived left-wing terrorist movements occurred in Germany and Italy: the countries that had fascists pasts. Many left-wing activists seemed to fear that history might repeat itself. This may account, too, for why the terrorism here lasted longer than in the USA (where the withdrawal of the Vietnam War led to its rapid decline).

    Think, too, about communication and travel. This was the first age of Satellite TV and mass air travel – ideas and examples travelled very fast under these conditions.

  5. How can you elucidate that ISIS (Daesh, Islamic State) has been able to attract more than 40,000 volunteers with widely different backgrounds and from very different locations in the world to join its ranks?
  6. ISIS had a highly developed sense of political theatre. For a brief discussion of why their symbolic demolishing of border posts between Iraq and Syria mattered, see Chapter 8 of this textbook (page 135). It is worth thinking here not just of the power of symbols, but of wider much social and technological contexts as well. How far was the appeal of ISIS dependent upon its ability to master social media? Could anything like it have happened even just a few years earlier? How far was ISIS propaganda tailored to different niche audiences? How far did the appeal vary between men and women, for instance?

    Foreign fighters are not a new phenomenon at all. Western Europeans travelled to fight for Greek Independence in the 1820s; and for the Spanish Republic between 1936 and 1939. Should we see the ISIS mobilization as simply different in scale to these previous episodes? Or was it fundamentally different in kind as well?

  7. What might make extremists change their mind with regard to the ideas they hold? And what might make them change their attitudes towards the use of violence?
  8. These two questions are related: but also distinct. They relate to the distinction made in Chapter 27 between de-radicalization and disengagement outcomes. Some individuals may continue to subscribe to an extreme ideology: but no longer commit violence.

    Chapter 26 (on preventing and countering violent extremism) looks at efforts by outside actors to encourage these very processes. It would be worth thinking about how far it is possible to influence terrorist actors from outside their immediate operating environment or support networks.

    Chapter 19 (on whether terrorism is effective) and Chapter 29 (on how terrorist campaigns end) could also be useful to look at: they look at more internal processes. How far do extremists change their attitudes to violence when they feel it is no longer working to advance their cause?

  9. How can you explain that so few people end up becoming terrorists, while so many grow up in the same circumstances as those who decide to become terrorists? Does the same observation also apply to national liberation movements?
  10. In many ways, this has always been a Key Question of Terrorism Studies and one that has generated real controversy (see pages 28-29 of Chapter 2). Chapter 9 on Root Causes of Terrorism is a useful place to start your research here: it is easy to find ‘false positives’ – risk factors that occur in terrorists’ lives (but which also apply to much wider populations as well).

    Some space needs to be found for subjective motivations in your answer – the way that one person will react quite differently to another who is exposed to the same influences. How far, indeed, can we generalize at all?

    When successful, National Liberation Movements often manage to build a broad movement that combines an armed wing with a broader-based mass movement. Often this seems harder for Left-Wing or Islamist groups to achieve. It is worth reflecting on why that might be so.