Monday, April 04, 2016

Evading Causation

"After all this funding and this flurry of publications, with each new terrorist incident we realize that we are no closer to answering our original question about what leads people to turn to political violence."
"The same worn out questions are raised over and over again, and we still have no compelling answers."
Marc Sageman, psychologist, government consultant

"They [governments] want to be able to do things right now. Anybody who offers them something right now, like to go around with a checklist -- right now -- is going to have their attention."
Clark R. McCauley Jr., psychology professor 

"A lack of systematic scholarly investigation has left policy makers to design counterterrosm strategies without the benefit of facts."
Jeff Victoroff, University of Southern California psychologist

"Not all individuals who become radicalized have unmet personal needs, but those who do are more vulnerable to radicalization."
2012 National Counterterrorism Center report
A soldier checking the identification of a person entering Midi train station in Brussels. Credit Carl Court/Getty Images
The questions: why do people become involved in political violence? ... Can they be persuaded to reconsider? ... The answers evade, although theories abound. But with the rise of the Islamic State and their horrific acts of violent atrocities, along with the attacks in Europe and the United States, those questions take on new urgency with authorities anxious to find a level of understanding for a phenomenon that refuses to be placed in a neat little box.

The journal Terrorism and Political Violence in 2014 published Dr. Sageman's findings on the issue. His conclusion: whys, hows, whens and what's to be done are all open to speculation, unsatisfied by theories. Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger undertook to test the assumption that poverty remains a key factor in the evolution of a terrorist. He analyzed economic figures, polls and data on suicide bombers and hate groups, finding no link existing between economic distress and terrorism.

Despite the educated analysis leading to the conclusion that the popular view of underprivilege and poverty leading to fanatical appeal is not supported by reality, law enforcement and government-funded community groups continue to consider financial problems leading to radicalization. In Montgomery County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, a Muslim-led interfaith group called Worde feels it has a solution.

Providing vulnerable families and faith leaders with warning sign lists such as depression, trauma, economic stress and political grievances as hallmarks to look out for. Should those signs be identified, Worde is to be called in to arrange mental health or religious counseling. Only when there arises a threat of imminent danger are police to become involved, according to Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of the group.

While the program remains unproved with respect to its efficacy, the Obama administration considers it to be a model, awarding it $500,000 in grants. Ms. Mirahmadi speaks of 20 people whom her group has counseled, taking pride that help was proffered that existed nowhere else. On the other  hand, she said, it is not possible to know with any confidence whether any of those 20 people who received counseling would have become violently involved in jihad.

It is a concept, however, circulating elsewhere among the vulnerable population; warning signs to be aware of, then making inside assistance available to help lead the suspected individual vulnerable to the appeal of jihad away from making a commitment, and only calling in police should the situation escalate beyond what the counsellors are capable of handling in the fear that it could erupt into full-blown threats, aligned with jihadist terrorism.

Because of a desperation to attempt anything that might work, this formula appeals to law enforcement agents and Islamic groups themselves as a potential for success, so they have adopted it, in Canada, and in parts of Europe, feeling that intervention at a critical time in the evolution of an emerging jihadist might set that emergence aside as cooler heads prevail.

Of course it is exceedingly rare that researchers have direct access to questioning the motivation of terrorists directly with the subjects. Control group sessions seem somewhat improbable; why would any self-respecting, ruthless jihadist be interested in lending his thoughts to a process meant to turn others away from the process he has chosen; alternately aiding the perceived enemy to 'understand' his 'reasons' for jihad.

Of course, reasons are sought, imagined and theorized, in ongoing efforts to discover plausible 'reasons for' why incitement to jihad is as successful as it is among alienated, angry young men and women, often third-generation citizens of western nations whose families have long since settled in democratic countries only to discover that among themselves are the generators of religious hatred and entitlements.

So poverty, or victimization, or dashed aspirations, or resentment of non-Muslims all appear as explicatory.

These are all examples that are seized upon by those who look sideways at the causes and the effect. Those who view the situation head-on have no difficulties reaching their own conclusion, the one that is, in actual fact, the only reason: Islam.

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