David Firester’s Critical Review of McCauley & Moskalenko’s book, Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us

4 Sep

cvr_frictionDavid Firester’s Critical Review of McCauley & Moskalenko’s book, Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us

The Path to Policy Hell is Paved with Well-Intentioned Academic Work

Summary, Analysis, Observations and Questions:  McCauley C. & S. Moskalenko.  2001.  Friction: How radicalization happens to them and us.  New York: Oxford University Press.

By David Firester

I wrote the following long critique on the above book last year.  However, I never published it here, until now.  Since it has received such great acclaim in academia, I felt it was important to critically assess its place in the academic world of terrorism studies.  To this end, I have authored what I would say is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of exposing academically misguided research.  I offer it to you, the public, to consider what I have said and juxtapose it to the book’s content itself.

The authors begin the book with an effort aimed at considering “radicals” as operating under relatively normal psychological conditions.  To do this, they discount the oft-cited insinuations that radicals (implied here to be synonymous with violent terrorists) are not necessarily crazy, evil or otherwise unlike ourselves (the apparent target audience of their book).  They strip ideology from the equation as an insufficient impetus for radicalization.  Instead, they “identify six mechanisms of political radicalization that are consistent with the Western default of individual attribution.” (12)  They also consider a number of additional mechanisms.

Some preliminary definitional observations and subsequent questions:

Observation #1: They define “radicalization” as “…the development of beliefs, feelings, and actions in support of any group or cause in conflict” (4).  In the same paragraph, they sanitize any value ascribed to radicalization by stating that it “can happen to any person, group, or nation” and that it “can occur for causes both good and bad.”

Question #1: Does such a definition and its contours seem too broad?

Observation #2: They discuss the “fundamental attribution error” on p. 11, defined as the “tendency… to see the individual as primarily responsible for his or her actions, no matter how strong the situational constraints…”  This definition seems to intimate that it is erroneous to view individual responsibility apart from their situation, with an implied emphasis on the situation being more salient in causing individual actions.

Question #2: Can it be the case that a reversed causal arrow also depicts a fundamental attribution error?  That is, could it be said that, in error, situational elements are inappropriately ascribed a causal value in determining individual behavior?  (Hint: the inference here is that the fundamental attribution error is exactly backward.)[1]

Level of Analysis: Individual (Chapters 1-2)

Profile: Andrei Zhelyabov, terrorist– born a serf, rebellious, personal family tragedy, humiliation, anger, bitterness against the nobility (the tragedy was a crime committed by a single noble against a close family member, whose prosecution was blocked by fellow nobles), “disdain for the powerful,” (14) “challenge[d] authority,” (15) sought refuge in student communes, “became the ideologue and enforcer” for People’s Will. (16)  Outrage moved from personal to political. (19)

Authors’ Diagnosis: “motivated by a powerful confluence of personal revenge with abstract ideas of justice for serfs that were held by many university students.” (16)  Alleged Mechanism: Personal Grievance.

Profile: Fadela Amara, activist, radical, minister, non-terrorist– Muslim, left-wing, feminist, perceived racism by an authority figure toward her mother, became a champion for immigrant Muslim women, broke the law, but no violence, worked within the system.  Outrage moved from personal to political. (19)

Authors’ Diagnosis: they seem to indicate that she is a borderline case of extremism that is not violent, but could stoke the flames of violence if her militancy is challenged in such a way as to evoke what one might call “blowback” [my term, not theirs] for state action.  Alleged Mechanism: Personal Grievance.

Levels of Analysis: Individual expressed via Group (Chapter 3)

Profile: Vera Zazulich- from an impoverished noble family, student activist, learned of a prisoner abuse from newspapers, outraged and aggrieved by proxy, but never suffered much personal harm, championed the cause, shot General-Governor Trepov in an attempted assassination, tried, acquitted, released, went into hiding, gained great notoriety and made friends with leading Communists.

Authors’ Diagnosis: “She was completely altruistic in doing what her conscience told her to do, no matter what the consequences.” (23)  Alleged Mechanism: Group Grievance.

Observation #3:  The authors discuss both the psychology of altruism and identification.  The former hinges on “strong reciprocity,” which rests on the tendencies to cooperate and punish defectors.  The latter, on positive sentiment toward a particular group’s gains and losses, or negative sentiment toward a particular group’s gains and losses.

Question #3: Was Vera Zazulich really acting altruistically?  Could it have been that she had a more selfish aim at heart?  (Perhaps it would be useful for you to think about a time in which you thought someone did something out of the kindness of their heart, but later found out they had ulterior motives.)

Levels of Analysis: Individual with Group cue-taking (Chapter 4)

Profile: Adrian Michailov-  Gained access to forbidden literature at school, tried to get peasants to blame the czar, which failed, got into blacksmithing, able to penetrate the peasant class (providing repair services), demonstrable knowledge of Marx, failed to convince peasants of his genuine quality, the group decided to decapitate the regime (top-down), he wanted to return to the land to help peasants, but was always rebuffed by the group leadership, ordered to remain with activists and engaged in attacks.

Authors’ Diagnosis: They recall the work of Stanley Milgram, as a means to demonstrate the alleged mechanism: Slippery Slope.  In Milgram’s shock experiment the slippery slope enabled one to keep going, but disabled one to define a stopping point retrospectively.

Profile:  Omar Hammami- Born in Alabama, Syrian Muslim father, Christian mother, visited Syria in high school, enamored with Syrian culture, returned to Alabama, converted to Islam, defended bin Laden’s 9/11/01 attacks, high intelligence level, linked up with Salafists at college, dropped out on religious grounds, gravitated toward fellow Salafists (bearing a resemblance to himself), outraged at American attacks on Muslims in Fallujah (but not at Muslim attacks on Americans),[2] actively sought Internet jihadist material, moved to Egypt with his Somali wife and friends to be more engaged in Islam, was disappointed it wasn’t Islamic enough, his friends left, he was disconnected, established a new connection (again, to someone who resembled himself), saw an opportunity to bolster a budding jihad in Somalia via propaganda, intentionally disconnected himself from his family and joined (and became a leader in) the jihad in Somalia.  Note that this summary is different than the one offered on p. 47 on purpose.

Observation #4:  A slippery slope describes one’s descent, which seems to rest on an individual’s inability to desist.

Question #4:  Is it possible to imagine that rather than a seemingly uncontrollable descent, one may be choosing at various points to ascend?  The distinction is significant in that Hammami’s path seemed to be one of seeking out and choosing more radicalization, whereas Michailov’s path appears more dependent on decisions taken above his pay grade.

Critical Commentary:  The authors repeatedly make it a point to disentangle Salafism from violent jihadist terrorists.  See pp. 5 and 45.  If there is in fact a slippery slope, it seems that Salafism provides the grease for slippage to occur quite easily.

Level of Analysis:  Individual (Chapter 5)

Profile: Sophia (Sonia) Petrovskaya-  Russian noble, father failed the czar & was demoted, her brother (Vasilij) was an activist, forbidden literature was accessed, alienated herself from her family, took on likeminded friends as a substitute (again, the theme of getting closer with those who resembled her arises here), failed to get peasants to mobilize, jailed and tried, acquitted, but bonded with (again) likeminded groups (including Zhelyabov, an advocate of violence), “kindred spirits,” gravitated toward him and the violence he was involved in, married him and was hanged beside him.

Authors’ Diagnosis: the alleged mechanism: love.

Profile: Amrozi bin Nurhasyim- “smiling terrorist,” Indonesian, reckless, criminalistic, unsatisfied, brother of Islamist (Muklas), drawn to the Islamist cause out of a need for approval from him, bought the van that was used in the Bali bombing.

Authors’ Diagnosis: alleged mechanism: love.

Observation #5: It isn’t clear that “love” is an appropriate term.  Perhaps one might consider “belongingness” and an ever-closing circle of trust that compels one to seek comfort (and justification for themselves and their cause) in another whose core beliefs are similar to their own.  In Hammami’s case, he seems to have wanted to be recognized for being a part of something.  Just like in a gang, he could have a sense of belonging and resolve an apparent ongoing identity crisis.

Question #5:  Is there a term other than “love” that seems to be a more suitable descriptor, or mechanism?

Level of Analysis: Individual (Chapter 6)

Profile: Alexander Barannikov- liked the thrill of danger, faked suicide (like Chernyshevsky’s forbidden literature character), went “into the people,” not successful, went to fight the Turks in Montenegro, etc.

Authors’ Diagnosis:  Barannikov was attracted to danger, but not necessarily fame.  Mirsky (61) was attracted to fame, but not danger.  Alleged mechanism: risk and status seeking.  Their rationale for this assertion is found in evolutionary psychology and pscyhoendocrinology regarding males seeking status through aggression.  While there is more than a grain of truth to what they say, they draw attention to the correlation between lower socioeconomic status and risk-taking.  As it is rather well known, however, most terrorists aren’t necessarily drawn from that end of the socioeconomic spectrum (including the ones under review in their book).

Critical Commentary:  What might have been useful here is a distinction between terrorists (as individuals or group members) and terrorist leadership profiles.  It seems possible to imagine that they approach risk and status in different ways.  They did go on to discuss Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, who ascended to a leadership level.  He was a brutal criminal to begin with, forced others to submit to his will (a domination theme that goes well with jihadist proclivities, rooted as it were in a religion whose name translates to “submission”).

Level of Analysis:  Individual (Chapter 7)

Profile:  Sophia Andreevna Ivanova; AKA “Vanechka”- Noble origin, father died when she was 9, mother died when she was 16, searched for “ideal people” in Moscow, disappointed in Muscovite materialism, alone, unskilled, uneducated, poor, went to the commune, worked with forbidden literature, jailed, printed more of it, protested, arrested, sent to Siberia, escaped, lived to tell her story.

Authors’ Diagnosis:  Mechanism: unfreezing.  This is said to occur in three phases.  1– unfreezing old connections and ideas, 2– development of new connections and ideas, 3– refreezing in a new social network that provides confidence of consensus for new values and actions.

Profile: Muhammad Bouyeri- Second generation Moroccan raised in Moroccan/Turkish neighborhood in Holland (not exactly the unfrozen, disconnected situation), people close to him thought he was a ‘good boy,’ but the record shows he was involved to some degree in violent crime, angry and frustrated, felt strongly for Palestinians, supported and studied HAMAS, mother died of breast cancer (in that order), inspired by 9/11/01 attacks, increasingly engaged in social activism and community work, focused on Iraq, harnessed the image of the Dutch police as Nazis, approved of beheading U.S. soldiers, Ayan Hirsi [not Hirshi, as the book misspells repeatedly] Ali became the individual focus of his radical ire, all Muslims seen as victims of Holland (domestically) and America (abroad), advocated the suppression of women’s rights, became entangled with jihadist organization, absorbed jihadist videos and literature (forbidden literature?), killed Theo Van Gogh for merely depicting Muslims in an unfavorable light.

Authors’ Diagnosis:  Alleged mechanism: unfreezing.

Observation #6:  The authors tell us that “Bouyeri suffered multiple disconnections and losses in a short period of time.” (88)  What they had described in the preceding pages, however, was that his degree of connectedness existed alongside his anger and preceded his personal losses.

Question #6:  Is Bouyeri really a candidate for “unfreezing?”

Level of Analysis: Group (Section 2; Chapters 8, 9, 10)

Alleged mechanism: Group Polarization.  Communes and/or discussion groups facilitated radicalization in Russia.  Chernyshevsky’s forbidden literature was read by “every student activist or terrorist.” (98)  Russian literature resonated with people’s daily circumstances.  The activists tried to carry out the plan of “going into the people” but found that it was such a difficult task that they had to change their target audience.  Their “new goal was to convince factory workers to fight for their rights by staging protests, demonstrations and strikes.” (99)  Unsatisfied that the urban proletariat didn’t attach the significance that they did to the revolution, they decided to circumvent the disaffected and take on the government itself.

This is where the polarization mechanism is said to become palpable.  Those holding more extreme views were able to shift the collective perspective further along the trajectory to terrorism.  These folks split off and became a separate terrorist entity.  This doesn’t apply only to Russian revolutionary terrorism, but was seen in American domestic terrorism in the 1970s.  The authors also advance the notion that connecting likeminded inmates serves to intensify their anti-government sentiment.   The choice facing governments is then whether to put all the terrorists in one place or keep them isolated.

Alleged mechanism:  Group Competition. Falling into an automatic us/them dichotomy is relatively simple.  Students sought refuge in communes and solidified their shared identity (via literature and discussions).  When imprisoned, they developed deeper bonds centering on their common suffering.  Vengeance was a key theme.

External threat produced cohesion, which resulted in a zero-sum game perspective, for which the group prize (winning) was elevated in prominence.  Status, was based on contributions to success.

Continuing threat produced cohesion and escalation in three ways.  1- Perceptually, the punished suffered what the punisher did not; 2- the nature of the prize, through a zero-sum game, status and power gained prominence; 3- sunk-costs framing of the conflict meant that capitulation would waste the sacrifices that were made.

Observation #7:  “At every step, the czar felt he was being moderate and generous and the students were biting his hand, whereas the students at every step saw the czar as a greater tyrant than before.” (119)  This is the spiral that characterizes the group competition.  The czars gradually reformed in a way that was conciliatory to the serfs, but did so in such a way as to avoid upsetting the nobles too greatly (whom the czars rightly feared might overthrow them as an expression of their dissatisfaction).  The students, however, were often of noble origin and advocated for the serfs, who seemed not to care as much as they did about their own welfare.

Question #7:  What choice did the czar have?  Short of abdicating the throne, wouldn’t any ruler in such a position be hard-pressed to eliminate the only obvious threat to the dynasty?

Observation #8:  The authors discuss three kinds of political competition on pp. 124 – 128.  1- Group Radicalization in Competition with State Power– as exemplified by SDS and their Marxist-Leninist agenda (see any similarities with the Russian bases of revolutionary thought?) turning all elements of state power into an enemy to be destroyed/defeated; 2- Group Radicalization in Competition for the Same Base– as exemplified in the PFLP’s “outbidding” attempts to gain market share for the cause versus HAMAS and Fatah, even to the point of suppressing their Marxist logic for the sake of demonstrating prowess in the service of taking the powerful down a peg; 3- Group Radicalization in Factional Competition (Splitting)– as when the Provisional IRA split off from the less militant Official IRA.

Question # 8:  Which of these three forms of political competition seem most applicable with regard to the rise and sustainment of ISIL?  Perhaps none, one, two, three or some other competitive brand?

Alleged Mechanism:  Group Isolation.  In pre-revolutionary Russia, The People’s Will gravitated toward isolation and a “totalistic” identity.  After “going into the people” failed, solitary confinement in incarceration contributed to the choice to use violence.  (Stalin learned that isolation worked for group cohesion, so he made sure to mix political prisoners with general criminals.)  The People’s Will became more intra-group oriented and inward-looking; all individual meaning was tied to the group’s success or failure.  The group began to care about its own survival and that of its members.  The cause which they purported to champion was no longer the prize for which they fought.  Power and domination (as evidenced by the discussion on p. 141) was itself the ultimate goal.

Critical Commentary.  Although Lenin, Michailov and the leaders of SDS/Weathermen purported to be working on behalf of the have nots and advocated for egalitarianism, they were masters at maintaining a hierarchy, bolstered by their own control techniques.

Level of Analysis:  Larger Group/Movement (Section 3: Chapters 11, 12, and 13)

Mass Radicalization alleged mechanisms: out-group threat, hatred based essentializing, and martyrdom.

Under the heading “Jujitsu Politics” the authors describe the alleged mechanism: out-group hatred.  In fomenting out-group hatred, the authors offer the following:

Profile:  Sergei Nechaev- Extremely charismatic, or manipulative in his presence and appearance.  Dissent was intolerable.  His goals seem to have been to force others to suffer for his precious revolution and to make the state the enemy of the people that it might otherwise not have been.  He prayed on hapless victims by sending them letters for which they were arrested and imprisoned.  All the while he knew better than to go to prison himself (although he eventually died there).

“Jujitsu Politics” goes by other names, but essentially describes the manner in which the weak attack the strong, so as to elicit an overreaction that shocks the conscience.  The authors offer Al Qa’ida’s leadership’s decisions as exemplary of such an approach.  Aside from a disproportionate response, the organization’s leadership hoped to provoke the invasion that would demonstrate the “occupation” (foreign domination) narrative on which their cause rests.  Suicide bombing is a strategic choice that aims at just such an objective.

The alleged mechanism:  hatred based in essentializing.  This is the rather simple notion that the “other” is deemed to be a form of life that is less than human (sometimes animalistic or an object) to be eradicated.  The phenomenon of essentializing is defined as follows:  “A group’s essence is the hidden something shared by group members that makes them what they are or, more specifically, gives them shared group characteristics.  A group’s essence is understood to be stable over historical time and immutable for the individual group member.” (165)  Such essentializing may be understood by way of a few indicators:

  • Too-easy generalization: g., Hitler’s racial scaling that placed Jews, homosexuals and gypsies at the lowest end of the spectrum and ascribed to each individual member a quality that cannot be reduced.  Hence, elimination was the only prescription.  [My example.]
  • Contamination: g., Hitler’s admonitions that the above untermenschen could spread contagion like diseased rats.[3] [My example.]
  • Language: g., the linguistic ascription of animal-like features that apply to humans that are viewed as inferior creatures.[4] [Their example.]

The alleged mechanism:  martyrdom.[5]  Nikolai Chernyshevsky, the author of the forbidden literature so regularly mentioned and so influential, seemed to have implored the haves (students) to sacrifice on behalf of the have nots (peasants).  It seemed that the students, for whatever reason,[6] succumbed to the allure of self-sacrifice and perhaps to the recognition that accompanies one’s martyrdom.  The key to martyrdom: that others see what you have done and interpret it as a sacrifice for a cause greater than oneself.

The Book’s Inadequate Ending:

In the final chapters (Section 3: Chapters 14 and 15), the authors attempt to profile Osama bin Laden by considering each of their mechanisms of radicalization and then proceed to paint Western policy prescriptions for terrorism as though they cause more of the threat that such policies aim to reduce/eliminate.  They find the following: Personal Grievance- no, Group Grievance – yes, Love- yes, Risk & Status- yes, Slippery Slope- yes (especially so), Unfreezing- no, Group Polarization- yes (although no strong statement is made in support of this claim), Group Isolation- yes, Intergroup Competition- yes.

Observation #9:  In the final pages, the authors try to make the case that there is a relationship between a reaction or policy by “us” and a terroristic action by “them.”

Question #9:  Do they assume too much of a link?  What would happen if “we” did nothing and didn’t respond at all?  Would “they” simply stop?

Critical Commentaries on Trends and Scholarly Misdeeds:

Critical Commentary:  It is interesting to note a narrative fallacy that develops on p. 84.  Namely, the authors cite Sageman’s point about the Muslim diaspora in Western countries, wherein young men feel alienated in their adopted lands, see Muslims as global victims and turn to terrorism.  Two critical points arise from this analysis, if they are correct.  First, with a massive influx of Muslim immigrants to Europe (and to a lesser degree, the U.S.) fleeing the Syrian civil war, what outcome should be expected in terms of increases in “home grown” violent extremism?  Second, why don’t other non-Muslim sub-Saharan (or Indian) immigrants in Europe turn to terrorism?  Surely, they could claim their class of people to have been marginalized at home and perhaps abroad.

The authors don’t dare say that the “grievances” are part of a narrative that has been promulgated for a long time, for which each perceived affront to Islam or Muslims feeds it and strengthens it.  The narrative (and attendant ideology) is ready-made.  It offers a powerful “underdog” depiction for one’s own in-group, with which they can easily identify.  The desire to exert power and oppose the perceived domination of the out-group “overdog” seems to be advanced by identification and belongingness.

Critical Commentary:  “Going into the people” is something that seemed to be common for Russian revolutionaries.  What did it really entail?  In essence, the objective was to stir revolution against the incumbent regime, but “going into the people” was a means to penetrate the peasant class by offering a mixture of services and propaganda in the hope that they would rebel (or support a rebellion).  In essence, the entire mission centered on manipulating the unfortunate, while pretending (and perhaps believing) that it was in their best interest to shoulder the burdens of revolution.

Critical Commentary:  There are numerous episodes in which forbidden literature played a key role in each person’s radicalization process.  It seems this is an area for further research.  Indeed, there seems to be a parallel with ISIL (and al Qa’ida) today: high gloss magazines, YouTube videos and social media (e.g., Twitter) seem to have been instrumental for foreign fighters who have either flocked to Syria/Iraq, or who have hatched loner plots in Western societies.

Critical Commentary:  The authors brought up American responses to 9/11/01 on a number of occasions, but they did so in such a way as to impute unjustified American racism.  Indeed, this is a common approach for many scholars, but it deserves specific treatment as it relates to the book under review.  To wit:

  • They state that in response to 9/11 that, “We were radicalized: our feelings, beliefs, and behaviors all moved toward increased support for violence against perceived enemies, including sometimes [emphasis supplied] Arab and Muslim Americans.” (4)
  • They pose the following question: “After the attacks of September 11, 2001, for instance, why was it easy for many Americans to react to the actions of nineteen Arab Muslims with hostility toward all Arabs and Muslims?” (20) They pose the question as though 9/11/01 happened in a vacuum and was not preceded by numerous Arab Muslim attacks against the United States both at home (1993 in the exact same location) and abroad (by both Shi’a and Sunni groups, the latter for which more recent terrorism was claimed by al Qa’ida).
  • Later, they state “It should amaze us that nineteen Arabs attacking on 9/11 could produce a wave of hostility toward millions of [emphasis supplied] U.S. Arabs and Muslims.” (159)
  • Again, “… the hostility toward Arabs and Muslims in the United States that followed the attacks by nineteen Arabs and Muslims on September 11, 2001. It should surprise us that the actions of a few are so easily generalized to hostility against the many.” (165)
  • By an analogical sleight of hand they speak of “justice” as “the one who mistreats us should be punished.” (16) They then go on to compare one’s outrage at what the IRS did to them and their subsequent terrorist actions in response to it. In the next sentence, however, they alter the analogy by drawing attention to Americans’ alleged sentiment with regard to the broader class to which the 9/11 hijackers belonged.  “… nineteen Arab Muslims attacked the United States on 9/11 or Muslims attached [sic] the United States on 9/11.” (16)
    • To juxtapose the perception that terrorists have when they carry out their attack in response to a perceived wrong against them it would have been more useful to stick to the same analogy. That is, retain the analogy that speaks to the terrorists’ grievance.  Instead, they flipped it around by drawing attention to the victims’ perspective of the attackers’ action.

Critical Commentary: Not only do the authors make a number of spelling errors, they completely get their dates wrong on p. 205 (twice!).  They also mismatch the terrorists who carried out specific attacks on p. 218.  On p. 159 they refer to the Israeli security barrier as a “wall,” which in fact it is not.  There are small portions of it that are walled, but only where it provides cover against sniper fire emanating from adjacent Palestinian communities.  To use the imagery of a “wall” is irresponsible scholarship; not only because it isn’t factual, but because it plays into the false analogy that many (especially Leftists) have made with reference to the Berlin wall.  For the record, the Berlin wall was specifically constructed to imprison would-be escapees from the actual privation suffered under Communism.  That is vastly different from the notion of stopping terrorists from attacking civilians.

Final Remarks:

Although the book appears to be logically sound, they do what many scholars do in an effort not to be considered outside of “mainstream” academia: they disregard a couple of key points that don’t particularly sit well with most academics.  (Bernard Lewis, Fouad Ajami and Daniel Pipes have suffered as a result of their inability to be reined in by Liberal academic orthodoxy.)

First, there is a narrative that ties Russian revolutionaries, Left-wing American terrorists and Islamist supremacists together.  It has to do with power.  As they see/saw it, power is/was in the hands of usurpers and it is they (the revolutionaries, Leftist terrorists, and Islamist supremacists) who must wrest control of it.  It doesn’t seem to matter how many of those they claim to be saving eventually become hurt or killed in the process; it is the mission that matters.  The means are apparently never too costly when compared with the ends.  From their perspective, it seem to go like this.  It is therefore incumbent upon us to convince others, who we deem to be suffering from the power disparity, of the worthiness of our cause to topple and redistribute power in a fair and equitable manner.

-Students wanted to convince peasants and factory workers in Russia.  When they failed, they turned to violence.

-Students wanted to convince other students in the 1970s U.S.  When they failed, they turned to violence.

-Students (if one is wondering why this term is being applied here, look no further than the Taliban- which means “students” and the fact that much of what Islamists learn about Salafism is taught in Islamic schools) want to convince others in their greater society (pan-Arabic/pan-Islamic).  When they failed, they turned to violence.

In the first two instances, it seems more a function of jealousy and a strong dislike of what appears to be unfair.  In the third, it appears to stem from a supremacist ideal that is deeply embedded in Arab Islamic culture.  Salafists, are purists.  This results in an intolerance for the impure.  It is not Salafists alone, however, who harbor resentment for infidels and apostates.

Secondly, the narrative precedes the individual and the movement.  It did not go unnoticed that what got many hooked on radicalism throughout this book was forbidden literature.  Indeed, although it is downplayed in the case of Sayyid Qutb and Osama bin Laden, such ideas were in existence long before their own radicalism took root.[7]

I want to draw attention here to Islamist terror.  Jew-hating is not new in the Arab world.  It didn’t start with the entrance of Israel as a state in the international states system.  Not mentioned in the book is the historical suppression of Jews and Christians in (most) Arab countries (both de facto and de jure).  That pogroms occurred in many Arab countries before Israel’s statehood is evidence of this fact.  Indeed, the narrative that was passed on through the Muslim Brotherhood to al Qa’ida to ISIL (and others of a similar bent) is one of supremacy that requires subordination by all others.

They harken back to the days in which Muslims dominated not only the Middle East, but much of southern Europe.  It is intolerable to them to see Jews having power (especially in a region in which Muslims had held it for so long), or simply not being suppressed in a way that reinforces their dhimmitude.  The same is true for Christians (or, as bin Laden reminded us in his declaration of war, Crusaders).  This explains their outrage when Westerners have introduced the contaminant of culture or the display of power into their (as they see it) rightful place in the power hierarchy.

In the Russian case, they eventually got the power they were thirsty for.  In the end, however, the Communist utopia proved itself to be a sham.  In the American case, they made their way into mainstream politics and academia (see www.discoverthenetworks.org).  In the Islamist case, they continue to crop up under different organizational names and under the tutelage of different individuals.  Their ultimate objectives, however, have not been met.  Hence, we can expect to see them continue their battle for the foreseeable future.  If we succumb to the ill-proven assertion that “we” are somehow to blame for “their” rise, we will not solve the problem; we will merely serve their nefarious interests, which are incompatible with our own.

[1] Here I am deliberately drawing attention to the possibility that the authors are attempting to absolve the individual of a series of choices they could have made along the way to radicalization.  In sum, to weight individual choices over the alleged impact of situational elements is to assert that such choices feature an internal locus of control for one’s action outcomes.  They do the reverse, however, and shift the locus of control to an exogenous set of factors.

[2] Keep in mind he expressed the following conflation: “’I was finding it difficult to reconcile between having Americans attacking my brothers, at home and abroad, while I was supposed to remain completely neutral, without getting involved.’” (46)  Here you can see how he alleges American attacks at “home.”  He was conflicted, but decided that his “brothers” were not his fellow countrymen, but his co-religionists.

[3] Unfortunately, I am compelled to criticize the authors’ reference on p. 166 to Israel’s Law of Return (which they call the Right of Return).  They describe it in such a way, alongside the German example and under the “contamination” heading, as though it were used by Israel to bring a purity of Jewness to Israel.  Nothing could be more misleading.  It was specifically a response to the Holocaust and subsequent genocidal attempts by Arabs to finish Hitler’s work that the state’s founders wished to establish a safe haven for global Jewry.  Indeed, the more Jews entering Israel, the more defense against annihilation could be said to obtain.

[4] The authors would have been within their right to point to the millions of Arab children who have been brought up on a steady diet of Jew-hatred as a part of their regular school curriculum (e.g., Protocols of the Elders of Zion, blood libels, etc.).  I find it hard to believe that they would be unaware of this fact.  It really would have been the moment to mention the use of terms such as “apes” that are regularly featured in Arab depictions of Jews.  My final remarks shed light on the underlying rationale for their omission.

[5] Again, the authors could have delved into the culture of death that pervades Palestinian society, but they merely mention it on p. 182 in a sentence.  This is not a call for sticking it to the Palestinians, but there is a rich base of evidence on which to make a point about martyrdom and its central place within a culture.  They elected not to do so; again, see my final remarks.

[6] I would surmise that guilt for being one who “has” is sufficient grounds on which to act on behalf of those that don’t have.  Another plausible rationale might have to do with the desire to be the champion of a cause that features two images of the underdog.  In the first instance going against the powerful state and in the second doing so on behalf of the least powerful.  Perhaps there is some meaningful fulfillment in carrying out this mission.  The parallel would be the history and practice of the American political Left (to include mainstream nonviolent political activism and violent Weathermen-like terrorists).

[7] There is a parallel today with regard to the deviant messages that seem to attract many to ISIL.

David Firester specializes in intelligence analysis and terrorism studies and is founder of TRAC Intelligence.


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