Violent Radicalization: An Impending Public Health Issue

Empathy Gap

Violent Radicalization An Impending Public Health Issue

Labilles, U., Noboa, C., Riddle, J., & Beckles, W.

Background

Over the past 15 years, the incidence of violent extremism has increased worldwide. Adapa et al. (2016) noted a sharp increase in the number of attacks and deaths since 2012 based on data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (NCSTRT), while the Global Terrorism Index (2014), showed that there was an increase of 41% in the number of violent attacks between 2012 and 2013, and an increase in deaths by 61% reaching around 18,000. Moreover, terrorist/violent attacks rose 81% globally in 2014, causing 3.2-4.4% increase in fatalities with more than 5,000 attacks against private citizens and property (NCSTRT, 2015). Violence related statistics had already increased if the 2015 Paris and San Bernardino California attacks are included; and the recent attacks in Turkey, Orlando, Dallas and Nice, France are quantified.

Jerkins (2010) examined the extent to which radicalization has occurred within the United States (U.S.). For example,  between December 2009 and September 2011, there were 46 cases involving domestic radicalization and recruitment into jihadist terrorist groups, and 125 out of 46 cases were identified. There are 3 million Muslims in the U.S., and the incidence of radicalization among this population is 1 in 30,000 (Jerkins, 2010). The NCSTRT (2015) stated that from 2001 to 2014, the number of deaths related to terrorist attacks was 3,066, while 2,961 occurred in the U.S. were 2,902 took place during the September 11, 2001, attacks. The Institute for Economics and Peace (2014) showed that 82% of deaths (killed) globally occurred in five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria. Moreover, as compared to homicide, there were 437,000 homicides which are 40 times greater than compared to deaths related terrorism (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2014).  Radicalization rates were found higher in regions of  South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (2006-2012). Furthermore, the typical profile of a radicalized individual was younger than average, less educated than average, unemployed and struggling to meet ends, less religious than average, and willing to sacrifice his/her for (Kiendrebeogo & Ianchovichina, 2015). Despite radicalization prevention, it has been estimated that 20,000 individuals from around the world, including 500 from the United Kingdom, and 3,000 from Europe could be considered under the spectrum of violent radicalization (Bhui, 2015). Channel (anti-radicalization scheme) a study conducted by the United Kingdom (U.K.) police, found that 44% of 500 are vulnerable as it relates to mental health or psychological difficulties, while 15% found to have possible vulnerabilities, but requires further assessment (Dodd, 2016).  A survey conducted by the Department for Communities and Local Government, U.K. (2010) focused on attitudes towards extremism in England and Wales, 85% of participants stated that it was ‘always wrong’ to use violent extremism to protest against things that are unfair or unjust; 95% indicated that it was ‘always wrong’ to use violent extremism in the name of religion to achieve a goal; 92% stated that it was ‘always wrong’ for political campaigners to distribute leaflets that encourage violence towards other ethnic groups, and 81% indicated that it was ‘always wrong’ for animal protesters to use violence to protect animals.

Prevailing Theories and Conceptual Frameworks

Empathy gap and social movement theory.  A Facebook live feed of Philando Castile dying next to his fiancé with a 4-year old girl in the back seat could have convinced Micah Johnson to drop his bigger plan, and commit a tragic event that killed five Dallas police officers on the street, one through a second-floor window. What is the role that empathy plays in establishing individual or group identity? Failures of empathy are especially likely if the sufferer is socially distant, for example, the perceived social injustice among black Americans for being unfairly treated by the police authority. Emile Bruneau, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has spent the past eight years studying intractable conflicts around the world. Bruneau’s theory on “empathy gap” states that while empathy signals might be great at improving prosocial behavior among individuals, boosting a person’s empathy could also increase hostility toward the enemy (Interlandi, 2016). Therefore, it is paramount to explore the significance of “empathy gap” parallel to social movement theory’s potential social, cultural, and political consequences that empower social mobilization.

Criminal justice system approach. Bhui et al. (2012a) suggested a criminal justice model to understand violent radicalization. This theory is focused on comprehending the motivation and pathway that leads to radicalization and eventual terrorism, and it assumes that it is capable of handling crimes regardless of their origins and context, and terrorism can be prevented through intelligence and specifically geared justice system versus theories and practice. Bhui et al. (2012a) go on to argue that an epidemiological approach, along with psychology, sociology and other behavioral sciences.

Situational action theory (SAT). Based on a theory of offending, aimed at providing fundamental insights into the causal processes leading to acts of crime, or more generally, moral rule breaking (Wikstrom et al., 2012). This theory serves to understand the violent extremism and consequently conceptualize acts of violent extremism as the result of the interaction between an individual and the environment (Schils & Pauwels, 2014). There are some assumptions related to this theory including; 1) the individual propensity to violent extremism and exposure to violent extremist settings can be seen as direct causes of political violence, and 2) the impact of exposure to violent extremist settings is contingent on the level of individual violent extremist propensity (Schils & Pauwels, 2014). Bouhana and Wikstrom (2008) mentioned that the likelihood that a person will commit political violence depends on his/her propensity towards violent extremism and its interplay with exposure to violent extremist settings.

Psychoanalytic theories. Psychoanalytic theorists applied their knowledge to the reasons behind sociopolitical conflicts, the origins of violent terrorist activity, and the psychodynamics of organizations (Reid & Yakeley, 2014). This theory suggested that terrorism is meaningful communication expressed as violence (Reid & Yakeley, 2014). Psychic determinism, the notion that unconscious forces control the conscious thoughts, actions, behaviors, and symptoms describe how violence may represent communication from conscious and unconscious fantasies, wishes, memories, and defenses (Reid & Yakeley, 2014). Furthermore, terrorism is influenced from past trauma and manifests itself into the present as violence (Reid & Yakeley, 2014). The psychoanalytic theory suggests that individual behaviors determined by the culture and large group identity (Reid & Yakeley, 2014). Large group dynamics influences individuals where rational thoughts give way to terrorist views (Reid & Yakeley, 2014).

Construal level theory (CLT). Initially proposed by Trope and Liberman (2010) and stated that as psychological distance increases, thoughts become more abstract and distal, while as psychological distance decreases thoughts become more concrete or immediate. CLT under the lens of a public health professional, policy maker local and state leader, an ethnic enclave could be like a forest, to see the trees in a forest you need to move closer. Adapa et al. (2016) related to this angle as someone in a high-level construal will use an abstract thought process, perceiving the big picture (the forest), whereas someone in a low-level construal will use a real process of reflection recognizing its details (the individual trees).

Evaluation of Methods within the Literature

Szlachter et al. (2012) explored how psychosocial adversity, economic, psychological, social, political and religious factors aligned in the process of violent radicalization among Islamic believers living in Poland. A survey method was used to collect economic, psychological, social, political, and religious factors among 536 individuals. The researchers used mixed data collection strategies including individual and small group survey at particular settings to ensure the anonymity. The scales of socio-political attitudes and beliefs included in the survey method demonstrated reliable score, where Cronbach’s alpha values ranging from 0.60 to 0.91 (Szlachter et al., 2012). However, they used a convenience sample which might result in biases findings, where the sample might not be representative of the study population.

Bhui et al. (2014) explored depression, psychosocial adversity, and limited social assets and its perceived effects to violent radicalization vulnerability. A cross-sectional design and an interview survey method were used to identify risk and protective factors (e.g., depression, psychosocial adversity, limited social assets, and demographics and psychological characteristics) associated to violent radicalization. The interviewers were trained to handle sensitive and personal experience, data aggregation using a computer-assisted format, among 608 individuals of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origins, aged 18 to 45, of Muslim heritage and living in East London and Bradford. The interview survey includes questions about social, lifestyle, health outcomes, safety issued for Muslim, and demographic characteristics.  These methods measured radicalization by 16 items including a comprehensive literature review and focus groups assuring the face and content validity. However, this approach excluded factors that might be associated to violence radicalization; as well the respondents’ perceived anonymity could be influenced, which may affect the validity of the study. Also, the cross-sectional design the causality cannot be directly inferred.

Adapa et al. (2016) hypothesized that high-level construal could increase an individual’s likelihood to engage in ideologically based violence, and low-level construal decreases an individual’s likelihood to engage in ideologically based violence. Vignettes were developed and refined in the pilot study and were used in the second stage. Construal level manipulation (high construal, low construal, or no construal) was performed in the second stage. Multi-part statistics analysis was conducted in the final stage to analyze the impact of construal level manipulations on likelihood to engage in ideologically based violence. A total of 1,112 individuals completed the pre-screening process, and 139 qualified participants completed the entire study. Adapa et al. (2016) found that many of the statistical results did not support the hypothesis of the study which could be explained by the vulnerability in the study paradigm, and the construal level does not affect or has a non-significant effect on willingness to participate in ideologically based violence. While the study design aimed to establish a robust data aggregation model, the logistical limitations, vignette ideology issues, and novel features of this study that could have adversely impacted the results. Researchers asserted that future research could use vignettes time distance manipulations to induce construal shifts, rather than using low-level and high-level manipulations. The understanding of decision-making patterns and ideologically based violence is dependent upon a fundamental knowledge of the way abstract and concrete mindsets alter thought processes.

Malthaner and Waldmann (2014) conducted a systematic review of social movement studies that involved protests, studies that examined terrorist groups and their social environment, and works about to the influence of the social environment. Researchers introduced the radical concept milieu to focus attention on interactions and patterns between terrorist groups and their social environment (Malthaner & Waldmann, 2014). Through this method, researchers identified the relationship between these groups and individuals and the impact of their social environment, providing critical data on how individuals influence political violence from relationships and the dynamics of interactions. However, these methods lack to examine how the immediate social environment further influences the terrorist. Reid and Yakeley (2014) conducted a literature review of theoretical databases over the past 15 years from a psychoanalytic perspective, and introduced the stratum of lone-wolf violent radicalization with the argument of conscious and unconscious reasons to exert violence towards others. The lone wolf terrorist includes suicide bombers in the Middle Eastern conflict, or mass shooters in the U.S. Lone wolf terrorists rationalize their violence as moral outrage based on personal grievances which outweigh any moral reasoning (Reid & Yakeley, 2014). These mental disturbances are thought to begin in adolescence but may be earlier because of genetic influences and environmental adversity (Reid & Yakeley, 2014). This method was focused on the psychodynamics of the lone wolf to determine what motivates them to act violently towards others. Conversely, through this approach, it is difficult to attribute the disturbed state of mind of lone wolf terrorists to the high-risk developmental probability. Researchers review of empirical research of the psychoanalytic thoughts of lone wolf terrorists and future research should include large groups and case study analysis.

References

Adapa, A., Caporale, C., Griffin, N., Hrab, M., Jeong, C., Kim, M., … & Vanarsdall, R. (2016). The Effect of Psychological Distance on Willingness to Engage in Ideologically Based Violence (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://drum.lib.umd.edu/bitstream/handle/1903/18086/Judgment_PDF.pdf?sequence=1

Bouhana, N. &Wikstrom,  P.O. (2008). Theorizing Terrorism: Terrorism as Moral Action. UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science: London, UK.

Bhui, K. (2015). Radicalisation: A mental health issue, not a religious one. New Scientist. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22630160-200-radicalisation-a-mental-health-issue-not-a-religious-one/

Bhui, K., Everitt, B., & Jones, E. (2014). Might Depression, Psychosocial Adversity, and Limited Social Assets Explain Vulnerability to and Resistance against Violent Radicalization? Plos One, 9(9), e105918.

Bhui, K. S., Hicks, M. H., Lashley, M., & Jones, E. (2012a). A public health approach to understanding and preventing violent radicalization. BMC medicine, 10(1), 16.

Bhui, K., Dinos, S., & Jones, E. (2012b). Psychological process and pathways to radicalization. Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense, 2014.

Cudeck, R. (2000). Exploratory factor analysis. Handbook of applied multivariate statistics and mathematical modeling, 265-296.

Department for communities and local government, United Kingdom. (2010). Citizenship Survey: April – December 2009, England and Wales: Attitudes towards Violent Extremism (experimental statistics). Retrieved from http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20120919132719/http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/corporate/statistics/citizenshipsurvey2009extremism

Dodd, V. (2016). Police study links radicalisation to mental health problems. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/may/20/police-study-radicalisation-mental-health-problems

Global Terrorism Index. (2014). Measuring and understanding the impact of terrorism. Institute for Economics and Peace. Retrieved from http://www.visionofhumanity.org/sites/ default/files/Global%2 0Terrorism, 20

Interlandi, J. (2016). The Brain’s Empathy Gap. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/magazine/the-brains-empathy-gap.html?_r=0

Jenkins, B. M. (2010). Would-be warriors: Incidents of jihadist terrorist radicalization in the United States since September 11, 2001. Rand Corporation.

Kiendrebeogo, Y & Ianchovichina, E. (2016). Who Supports Violent Extremism in Developing Countries?. Middle East and North Africa Region: World Bank Group.

Malthaner, S., & Waldmann, P. (2014). The radical milieu: Conceptualizing the supportive social environment of terrorist groups. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 37(12), 979-998.

National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (NCSTRT). (2015). Annex of statistical information: Country reports on terrorism in 2014. Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/239628.pdf

Reid Meloy, J., & Yakeley, J. (2014). The violent true believer as a “lone wolf”–psychoanalytic perspectives on terrorism. Behavioral sciences & the law, 32(3), 347-365.

Schils, N., & Pauwels, L. (2014). Explaining Violent Extremism for Subgroups by Gender and Immigrant Background, Using SAT as a Framework. Journal of Strategic Security, 3(7), Article 3.

Szlachter, D., Kaczorowski, W., Muszynski, Z., Potejko, P., Chomentowski, P., & Borzol, T. (2012). The radicalization of religious minority groups and the terrorist threat – report from research on religious extremism among Islam believers living in Poland. Internal Security, 4(2), 79-100.

Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2010). Construal-level theory of psychological distance. Psychological review117(2), 440.

Wikstrom, P.O., Oberwittler, D., Treiber, K., & Hardie B. (2012). Breaking Rules: The Social and Situational Dynamics of Young People’s Urban Crime. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

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