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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 22-Nov-15


Sunday 22-Nov-15

Terrorism, radicalization and the polarizing politics of outrage

There has recently been another terrorist attack, this time in Paris, with simultaneous gun and bomb assaults leaving many dead and injured, and millions horrified.

Why do they do it? It's a common cry.

Aside from martyrdom, the real reason is to escalate their cause, which is to spread their fundamentalist religion and ultimately to destroy western civilisation. They believe in a prophecy of Armageddon and are working to create it.

How do they do this? Through the politics of outrage.

The first step is to outrage their enemy, who they largely see as western governments. This is the first purpose of the terrorist acts. The governments then feel obliged to respond in various ways, from rounding up suspects to intensifying proxy wars in regions where those who seem to have energized the terrorists operate.

Outraged citizens may also take the law into their own hands, attacking innocents who are seen as linked to the terrorist group, typically by religious affiliation. The media join in too, for example pressing for total condemnation by people of the religion and then condemning them for an insufficient response.

The terrorist organisation then amplifies and plays this back to their potential supporters, highlighting the oppression of their people, outraging and radicalizing many in the process. It's a game of polarization, dividing and pushing either side to opposite extremes, where outrage is used to justify extreme measures.

And so the cycle spins. With a few acts of barbarity, the terrorists create huge chaos, fear and knee-jerk reaction that is food for their cause. They will use France's understandable reprisals to persuade more to radicalism.

They also cause massive ongoing security and other costs that weakens their target enemies. The UK, for example, is spending billions more on defence at the same time they are cutting back on welfare.

If we want to break this cycle of hate, outrage and reaction, we each must step back from recrimination, even verbally so. We must try to understand realities and beware of demonizing the innocent majority. We must work to change minds rather than fall prey to outraged polarisation.

It may be hard, but it is the best way to peace.

Your comments

I agree wholeheartedly with this, I think we are dangerously locked in a cycle of escalating violence which only feeds the problem rather than solves it. I think you don't defeat an idea with violence, but supplant it with better ideas. What I don't know is how we combat the ideas of radicalisation in the middle east. I think we are also combating the desire in the west to respond with violence and to "neutralise the threat".

-- Dan H.

Terrorism and radicalization, like many topics, are argued on a continuum. Problem is, with this subject, world stability and tens of millions of lives are at stake. Talk (negotiation) is not in the vocabulary of a caliphate( holy war). My analogy is the ratcheting socket wrench. There can only be one operator and progress is made in only one direction. The question is, who is the operator? Additionally, it can be argued that recruitment is a very small part of the radical growth, at least in the near term. It starts in childhood education. Then when there is a justifiable caliphate the Muslim male is obligated the join the fight. But the West sees the conflict as political and therefore hard to justify all out offensive response to attack. Neither side can bring understanding to a table that does not exist. We will not see peace. We haven't for 1400 yrs. It will be oppression or annihilation. The question is by whom?

I just found this excellent web site. The mechanics of the above are addressed in many of Changing Minds' areas. I think David may save the world.

-- Tom M


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