Radicalization is an analyzable process, rather than the outcome of an ‘evil’ personality.
Based on other research on radicalization, Karagiannis, of the University of Macedonia, sees five main motives (or, ‘mechanisms’) that make people evolve from moderately adhering to a cause to exhibiting radicalized thoughts and behaviors. In his research, he focuses on radicalised converts to Islam, whom he calls ‘jihadi converts’, but the mechanisms he describes are helpful in understanding radicalization for all kinds of religions, ideologies, and causes.
The first mechanism is most often seen in people who feel that they are victimized by authorities. Discrimination and structural marginalization, when experienced personally and on a recurring basis, can easily give rise to anger, which can be transformed into rage and a consequent desire for revenge. For example, people who feel that they can no longer be themselves because of the racism or suppression they endure, can become so frustrated of being pushed out of (their) society that they see no other way but to turn to violence in order to voice their frustration and sense of indignation.
The second mechanism refers to a sense of group solidarity with others of the same affiliation (for example, of the same religion), and the knowledge that those who one identifies with are being threatened or attacked in other parts of the world. For example, in media reports of political events across the world, there is frequent reference to conflicts in Chechnya, Palestine, Kashmir, and the Balkans portraying Muslims as the victims of infidel aggression. People who feel a strong connection to a certain group (in this case Muslims, but the mechanism works the same when it concerns Christians, Jews, women, or any other group) may feel the urge to protect the other members of that group against whoever is posing a threat to them. The knowledge that one’s group is in danger and in need of protection can be a motivation to book a flight ticket and take up arms.
The slippery slope effect
The ‘slippery slope effect’ can best be described with the following example of a personal account.
I went to a mosque for the first time with some Muslim friends. It was really something, all those people praying. There was just this serenity streaming from their faces. The people were nice. I made friends. I learned Arabic. Then one day I made the leap: I converted. . . Some friends had spoken to me about Afghanistan, Pakistan. I was curious, and besides, I had never really travelled anywhere. I thought it would be great to go over there. So I went. They totally took care of everything.
So from one thing, the next thing follows, and gradually one becomes more and more committed to a certain cause. One hardly ever goes from lukewarm interest to radical views in one step – it is usually a process involving many small steps.
The power of love
The fourth mechanism is one that should never be underestimated; the power of love. When somebody loves someone that they cannot live without, and this person starts going down a certain path, it can be very difficult to not go along with them. Most people will recognise that when in love, we tend to suddenly find the other person’s interests, or musical taste, or background, so much more interesting than we did before… The same can apply for ideological or religious radicalization. Many terrorist attacks can be traced back to this phenomena when attacks are, for example, carried out by brothers or couples that are reported to have radicalized together.
The last mechanism in radicalization is the power of inspirational preaching. Karagianni states that as people are very perceptive to the power of speeches and preaching, the danger of preaching lies in the fact that it could change perceptions of reality and inspire individuals to act accordingly. This holds true especially when the preacher is seen as a figure of authority and a convincing speaker. If any of the other four mechanisms explained before is already set into motion, the power of an inciting and radical speaker could be the force to finish off the process.
In short, radicalization does not happen in a contextual vacuum or simply because people involved in the process are inherently ‘bad’. Especially the first two mechanisms, personal victimization and political grievance, show us that individuals can turn towards radical views because of the societal or political discontent they experience. Not knowing of any other way to voice this discontent or to improve the situation, radicalization may seem like the only way out – or forward – .
Karagiannis, E. (2012). European Converts to Islam: Mechanisms of Radicalization Politics, Religion & Ideology, 13 (1), 99-113 DOI: 10.1080/21567689.2012.659495
radicalization, terrorism, jihad, islam, religion, grievance, conflict, war, terro