Radicalization: The Road to Terrorism – Op-Ed

Radicalization: The Road to Terrorism – Op-Ed

© Photo: Open Minds Foundation


Today, there is growing anger in all areas of daily life – between neighbors, in religious discourse and other aspects of personal and social relations. Young people have been expressing their strong opposition to certain ideologies through violence. In other words, we are faced with a global wave of violent radicalization.

Radicalism refers to the attitudes of certain groups, which consider violent means, not just political instruments, as legitimate in the pursuit of wholesale political change. What distinguishes a radical act from any other demand for democratic rights is the adoption of violent methods.

Radicalism, which is sometimes used interchangeably with fundamentalism, refers to a broad spectrum of ultra-nationalist and separatist organizations, certain religious-social movements and, especially by the West, Islamist movements and ideologically motivated social structures. Radicals are generally assumed to be primarily motivated by religious concerns. However, many other factors contribute to the evolution of social movements into violent organizations. In particular, globalization has made it easier for social structures, organizations and the problems that stem from them to be designated with a common term.

At a time when ideological identities become fragile and borders disappear, urban centers and the shopping mall culture generate new social identities. In particular, cellphones and social media platforms, which have been by-products of rapid urbanization, have played an important role in this process. Social networks make it possible for individual users to contact each other and communicate by sharing personal information and setting up personal networks. As such, social networks have completely changed socialization, identity development and communication processes.

Under these circumstances, radical movements do not direct violence toward individuals or property alone, but to the cultural and spiritual values that keep societies together. At this point, it is important to note that a number of factors contribute to the adoption of violence by social movements. Social structures, a lack of proper channels of political representation, economic problems, cultural and ideological reasons, ethnic nationalism, the support of external sources and poverty can all trigger radicalism.

Today, technological developments make it possible for violent attacks to be carried out in original ways. Over the past two decades, radical movements have made so much technical and methodological progress that they came to place world peace, human rights and democratic life at risk.

Moving forward, it is possible that acts of mass violence will be carried out not just by terrorists, but also in the context of social upheavals. As such, one can predict that the number of social movements, which start out as non-violent protests and rapidly radicalize to become large-scale demonstrations, will increase significantly.

The rise of Daesh made it possible for the discourse on radicalism to reproduce and legitimize itself within a religious context, as all eyes were turned to Islam and Islamic traditions once again. Some researchers, who failed to grasp the nature of radicalism, made the case that the terrorists’ angry rhetoric was feeding off the Islamic tradition. French philosopher Olivier Roy, who coined the phrase “Islamization of radicalism,” instead maintains that the individual who makes contact with the tradition –not the tradition itself – is problematic. As such, he claims that radicalism was the driving force behind the terrorist attacks in Europe and added that the radicals had become Islamicized, or started to use Islam as an instrument. The majority of Western Muslims who became active in Islamic terrorist networks were born and raised in Europe. Others converted to Islam at later stages in their lives. A closer examination, however, reveals that such individuals lack adequate religious knowledge. Moreover, they mostly lead modern lives in terms of education and socialization. In an effort to become more knowledgeable about religious matters, they tend to train in small-scale masjids and cut off ties with their families and traditions during this process to adopt Salafi teachings. From the perspective of the Islamic tradition, this is a new and modern process. The Islamic tradition, which set out to raise the complete person, came to encounter the problem of the radical person in modern times.

Radicals are generally motivated and become organized in prisons as well as local social circles, university campuses and among young people with high drug abuse rates. The most common motivation among radicals is to reconstruct their characters through action and regain self-respect. As a matter of fact, this approach points to a certain level of ego-centrism. Therefore, they often choose to engage in direct action, which can lead to concrete results in the shortest amount of time possible, instead of making long-term contributions to their ideology. Another important aspect of this brand of radicalism is that it blends anti-imperialism with Islamic rhetoric and forms of expression.

The radical Salafist ideology came to develop a new destructive ideology by associating jihad with the violence prescribed in the Communist Manifesto and the capitalist state with “taghut.”

In fact, what is happening in the West today is the radicalization of revolutionary fervor as a source of global opposition amid the collapse of all ideologies and an ever-deepening crisis. In other words, the contemporary revolutionary spirit and its nihilist philosophy have respawned as radical Salafism. Therefore, radical Salafist ideology has been able to move from social movements to terrorist organizations. The deep intellectual debate that fascinates jihadists today is not related to the metaphysical concepts of theology of the philosophy of al-Insan al-Kamil of tasawwuf. Instead, it is about action and violence. As such, young radicals are drawn by a militarist lifestyle and violence rather than a prolonged process of education that leads to the cleansing from their ego and a life of suffering. Particularly among foreign fighters, there are many converts to Islam who did not choose Islam after careful deliberation or spent a long time socializing after their conversion. Instead, they rush to the conflict zone out of anger and hatred toward their own societies. Likewise, ordinary people suddenly find themselves in places like Syria.

Radicalization is a complex process that inherently features the seeds of action that leads to terrorism. Today, radical Salafist ideology must be considered not just an act of protest and rebellion but a journey toward self-sacrifice for the cause. Moreover, we must take into account that the process of radicalization has various stages that are triggered by a range of factors that give rise to localized manifestations to properly understand this phenomenon.

From radicalization to religiously motivated terrorism

The recruitment of individuals by radical organizations and their adoption of covert goals to inflict violence is not a momentary development but a lengthy process. In religiously motivated organizations, radicalization refers to a process of ideological, religious and faith-related awakening. The individual first feels sympathy for the organization to give it their heart. Then they subscribe to the organization’s ideals and ideology, along with the group identity, to give it their mind.

Radicalization starts at the intellectual level, which is followed by a process of religious-ideological indoctrination. Religious-ideological radicalization ends with the radicalization of actions. This final stage refers to an individual’s willingness to serve and, if necessary, die for the organization’s religious ideology and consider it legitimate to engage in criminal activities to break laws.

For a religiously motivated terrorist, violence is legitimized as a theological demand and a sacred action that is committed out of obligation. Provided that such individuals assume that resorting to terrorism is a demand from a supreme source, those who engage in acts of terrorism consider themselves immune to political, moral and practical limitations. Terrorists motivated by religion accept that this type of violence is not morally legitimate. However, they believe it is necessary to reach their goals. As such, the process of political and ideological propaganda both legitimizes violence and glorifies it as the only objective. In this sense, it is important to understand that radicalization is like a river that flows from intellectual radicalization to radicalization of action. As such, the most important point is to cut off the ties between the two categories to stop the flow. In particular, the only way to stop seemingly religious radical movements from recruiting new members is to provide such individuals with a healthy, rational and inclusive religious education supported by social policies.

About the author: Professor at the Faculty of Theology at Hitit University.

Source: Daily Sabah


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