Recently, I’ve been doing some reading on radicalization processes. In general, I’ve been completely dissatisfied with the post-9/11 writings on radicalization as they focus narrowly on al Qaeda and usually repeat common narratives of terrorism shown endlessly on Saturday afternoon National Geographic specials chronicling Osama Bin Laden.
However, there have been several studies of radicalization published recently that buck the post-9/11 research trend. I’ve already noted the work of Brooks, Kurzman and the UK Home Office. Today, I’m reading the new book of Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko entitled Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us.
From what I’ve read so far, this is a really well done set of research by two specialists in social psychology – a good and alternative perspective to political science. The book goes back through the history of terrorism and explores radicalization through a variety of different contexts from the individual, group and mass movement levels. Each section demonstrates a series of case studies. I’m not done with the book yet but so far I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read and find it a useful way of examining the differing varieties of AQ radicalization seen over the past decade (Core, affiliate, inspired, etc.). The book provides a well-structured analysis if nothing else and a different perspective from mainstream al Qaeda research.
Here are some of my favorite quotes thus far (page 5) reference ideology – which they see as a factor but not the direct cause of radicalization:
“A common view of jihadist terrorism, for instance, is that it is the product of a strand of Islamic extremism associated with Wahhabism and Salafism. This is both too simple and too general to be useful for understanding radicalization…The first difficulty is that most Wahhabists and Salafists do not support terrorism…The second difficulty with making bad ideology the explanation of terrorism is that ideas are not the same as action…still another difficulty with the bad-ideology account of terrorism is that it is not easily generalized from one kind of terrorism to another.”