By Manzar Zaidi
Oct 12, 2013
A lot has been written about radicalization in Pakistan without emphasis on the conceptual grounding of what radicalization really is. The Oxford dictionary till 2006 did not provide a definition of radicalization, radicalism, or even radicalize, which clearly shows the recent evolution of the term. It does, however, list these terms as derivatives of radical, which means to relate to or affect the fundamental nature of something, or advocate thorough complete political or social reform which may be politically extreme. As is evident, all these terms do not necessarily carry negative connotations which are associated with the term today
These negative connotations arise from the threat from extremism labeled as radicalization, which is usually defined as a process whereby an originally moderate individual or group of individuals becomes progressively more extreme in their thinking, and possibly their behavior, over time. This process is often associated with youth, adversity, alienation, social exclusion, poverty, or the perception of injustice to self or others. The terms ‘Radicalization’ and ‘Talibanisation’ are being employed to refer to the increasing tendency to use a peculiar brand of religion, as the justification for conquest and control over territory, populations and resources, and the establishment of specific forms of judicial and social systems by the use of force.
Some analysts like American author and counter terrorism practitioner Marc Sageman reject the notion that radicalization can aptly be described in terms of a fixed sequence of stages, while others view terrorism as the final stop along a path of radicalization characterized by a fairly orderly series of stages. A four stage model has been proposed. This includes pre-radicalization, self-identification, indoctrination, and extremism stages, respectively. According to this model, in the pre-radicalization stage, the individual lives an ordinary life and has not yet accepted the radical ideology that will later provide the motivation for becoming an extremist. In the self-identification stage, the individual begins to explore that ideology, and that change tends to be triggered by a cognitive opening, or crisis, which shakes one’s certitude in previously held beliefs. In the indoctrination stage, adherence to the radical worldview is intensified, usually with support from like-minded group members under the direction of an ideological leader. Finally, in the extremism stage, individuals willingly accept their duties and commit to carrying out their assigned acts of terrorism, or adhering rigidly to extremist views. Stage models essentially represent radicalization as key transition points along a time course, leading from the normal life of individuals to their adherence to extremist ideologies or paradigms.
Such models, however, leave much to explain in terms of the psychological, organizational, and social processes and drivers that lead people into the radicalization process in the first place, and then reinforce their continued radicalization to the point of committing acts of terrorism. One pertinent analysis framework would be the degree to which ideologues and instigators of extremist movements rely on “black-or-white” or “all-or-none” thinking. Another set of cognitive factors that support extremism revolve around the extremist’s social perceptions of out-group members, namely, people outside one’s one social and ideological group or “in-group” . Violence toward a group is facilitated by thinking of its members as being justifiably excluded from the moral considerations one would impact on members of one’s own group. Perceiving a social category of others as being morally excluded can free individuals to become morally disengaged in their behavioral interactions with members of the ‘out-group’ social category.
Notwithstanding the attention paid to radicalization as a precursor to terrorism-perhaps even a “root cause” of terrorism and socio-political violence, it is widely agreed that although radicalization increases the potential for such forms of violence, it does not necessitate any of them. For instance, according to a recent Global Futures Forum report, radicalization is a process, not an end unto itself, and it does not necessarily lead to violence. Simply put, radicalization cannot be a sufficient cause of terrorism because most radicals are not terrorists. This may be why the term violent radicalization is often encountered in discourse on terrorism. If violence were indeed necessitated by radicalization, the qualified term would simply be redundant. Prevalent usage of terms such as violent radicalization or militant radicalization would thus seem to suggest that many theorists do not view radicalization as a sufficient cause of terrorism or other forms of violence.
There is a commonly observed tendency to conceive of radicalization in terms solely of ideology. Religious zealotry, extremism and militancy, or whatever one prefers to call them, are often regarded as signs of backwardness, lack of education, absence of a civilized mind-set and a reflection of a barbaric or savage worldview. Recourse to colonial binaries, such as backward versus modern, savage versus civilized, or illiterate versus enlightened, serves to obscure the issues, rather than clarify them. These categories fail as explanations since they become tautologies i.e. they committed the act because they are barbaric, they are barbaric because they committed the act. The reliance upon psychological and ideological categories, which refer to some kind of assumed inherent proclivity among certain people to commit heinous acts, becomes essentialist. Such explanations become redundant, for they obliterate history, as well as the material reality that forms a part of the dynamics of radicalism. The use of overarching ideological categories seems to rely on some form of biological determinism, thereby rendering such categories deeply racist, i.e. FATA was always a radicalization prone area.
Instead of characterizing the perceived extremism and violence as some kind of inherent flaw within a particular people, religion, culture or belief system, it is more fruitful to explore the political economy of radicalization, in order to lay bare the material basis that may have generated it. It seems to be more useful to examine the conflicts between competing social classes attempting to establish their hegemony and deploying religion, or a specific form of it, to justify their position in the social and economic hierarchies.