Understanding the Menace of Radicalisation

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Rishabh Ahuja
Alexis Foundation

Radicalization can be broadly explained as a movement or transformation from (democratic) normality to (a form of) extremism, where the movement often starts with radical ideas and ends in violence.

Terrorist groups across the globe invest heavily in developing narratives to spread their radical ideology. Therefore, it becomes necessary for nations and societies to develop effective counter-narratives to inoculate people from the ideological attacks of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

However, understanding radicalisation merely on religious and psychological lines presents a distorted image to the policymakers, resulting in ineffective policies that targets, marginalizes and violates rights of particular communities.

A holistic comprehension of the issue of radicalisation would entail giving due importance to the social, political and economic factors that lead to people espousing radical opinions and committing violent acts.

President Emmanuel Macron of France in a speech on October 2nd, 2020, acknowledged that France had not dealt with the legacy of its problematic Algerian war. He also said French governments had to take the blame for ghettoising Muslim communities across the country and creating conditions of discontent and discrimination that are conducive for radicalisation.

Seldom do governments, scholars, or think-tanks accept that erroneous policies, both domestic and foreign, play a role in individuals being mobilized by radical groups. Therefore, it is a home-grown problem for governments to deal with. This is not to deny the fact that foreign powers are sometimes involved in funding these groups.

Radicalisation amongst the general population stems from certain individuals being attracted to the narrative propounded by extremist organisations, for several reasons.

A narrative is a fictional device (used in literature, politics and war) which constructs stories and ideologies based on the interlinking of events or concepts.

Radical ideological narratives may have several subsidiary narratives and a master narrative that combines all the radical narratives and drives them toward one overarching vision enunciated by a clear mission, objective and end-state.

There are several common themes found in all radical narratives:

Persecution complex – The narrative that the community has somehow been historically persecuted against by another community and now is the time for restitution.
The assertion of community identity – Based on geography, religion, language or culture.
The demonization of the ‘Other’ – Radicalisation works on individuals because it simplifies their reality. There are no grey areas, everything is black and white. There is one community to which they belong, and then there is the ‘Other’ community that is their enemy and root of all their problems – personal or societal.
The glorification of martyrdom – This can be seen in the ways slain terrorists are propagated as heroes and freedom fighters for their cause.

The negation of peace and moderation – The idea that peaceful dialogues and negotiations are fruitless and the only way these communities can assert their position and gain something is through violent means.

In the 21st century – the digital age – the echo chambers created by social media has made individuals more susceptible to accept extreme ideas and be mobilized remotely. The internet has made it extremely easy for any extremist organisation to spread its ideology and gain followers. Personalized content, persuasive targeted advertising and video recommendations all aid each other in polarizing a person’s identity.

The ideology of an extremist group is not necessarily connected to the source on which it is based. Therefore, the demonization of a particular religion for the deeds of the extremist organisations is just as good as serving that religion in a platter to feed the ideologies of the extremist groups.  The other problem with the radical narratives is the lack of knowledge of the indigenous culture of the radical group which makes certain terminologies prone to misunderstanding. The most visible example is the term ‘Jihad’. Instead of understanding the socio-religious connotations of it, it has been constantly used as synonymous to Islamist terror. Derrida’s theory of deconstruction talks of this very variety in the semantics of a single term in different socio-cultural settings.

Thus, to effectively counter the ideological underpinnings, the counter-narrative has to come from the culture/religion itself as any alien imposition can only increase the mysteries around it.

The most effective tool against radicalisation based on faith is sowing the seeds of doubts in the minds of the indoctrinated individuals regarding the futility of the socio-religious ends that they are trying to achieve.

The need of the hour is to create a coherent policy to create counter-narratives which should flow from a single source and engage with the “formidable” ideas rather than avoiding the tricky questions and politicising radicalisation.

With this in mind, on 2nd January 2021, Alexis Foundation presents its Shakti Dialogue: A Book Discussion on ‘Countering the Radical Narrative’ by Dr Adil Rasheed, MP-IDSA.

The book, Countering the Radical Narrative, by Dr Adil Rasheed, is meant for readers interested in understanding techniques of radical indoctrination, specifically those of contemporary jihadist groups. It could be particularly useful for counter-terrorism experts, military and security agencies operating in terrorism-infested regions and media organisations covering news about radical groups and their ideologies.

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