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Reviewing Afghan and Iraq policies is necessary: Stephan

Published: December 30, 2008

“Desire for revenge is also behind the violent activities. Non-violent means have been failed and something must be done. Improving domestic socioeconomic and political situation and reviewing foreign policy in terms of Afghanistan and Iraq is necessary,” remarked Mr. Stephan Tankel while addressing a session on “Radicalization in the West” on December 24 at the PIPS premises. Mr Stephen is an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), King's College London.He addressed the issues like how people of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths can become radicalized and what are the similarities and differences in this regard. He also explained Muslim experience in Britain and Christian experience in the US. One characteristic is, he elaborated, people become radicalized when they share oversimplified view of the world and when everything is viewed in terms of black and white. Radicals see the world in terms of us and them. ‘Them’ is the enemy. The people of their own faith and nation assassinated Mahatma Gandhi and Anwar Sadaat.

While seeking to understand what can lead people to embrace such extreme worldview, a possible perspective is ‘relative poverty’ that is more important than absolute poverty, said Mr. Stephan. Sense of humiliation, political grievances and breakdown of existing culture or political structure are behind the radicalization in developed countries. Rapid modernization is also a vital factor in developing countries. These conditions make people radicalized or more vulnerable.

Stephan agreed with Richard who has suggested three ingredients of radicalization (a) disaffected individual, (b) a complicit community – a person who is unhappy and a community that is willing to support them in their unhappiness, and (c) ideology that legitimizes violence.
The speaker talked about the US and the UK where, in his opinion, some of these factors exist and how that led a number of groups to be radicalized. In the US, during 1970s there appeared a number of white Christians, particularly in the western US, who saw their businesses and farms closed and who were facing wider unemployment. At the time United State was entering a post civil right era. At that time, there was growing a movement called Christian Identity. It is very odd, very non-traditional section of Christianity. It espoused radical religious antigovernment beliefs and the people were driven by the beliefs that the government had betrayed white Christian America in favor of multiculturalism and in favor of supporting people from different cultures and religions.

Christian Identity explained why the government was out to get them? It gave people somebody to blame. Blacks, Jews and all other racial and religious groups should be seen as enemy. The government had been seen having betrayed to them people and therefore true white Christians of America, described Mr. Stephan, needed to wage war both against the government and against the people who were being favored by the government.

As far as the situation of UK is concerned, injustice, humiliation are among the causes, said the speaker. The term of Muslim Penalty refers to many British Muslims from Pakistani dissent who suffer from relative poverty and are excluded from British society. The Muslim Penalty is particularly examining indicators like economic activities, education, and household size. They feel they are suffering because of their background. Muslims in UK are susceptible to a universalistic message of Islam that frames all of these issues as a widespread war against Islam. Thus, a story of torture and victim is built.

Muslims see themselves more belonging to Ummah rather than British society, observed Mr. Stephan. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have a strong radicalizing impact. In UK radicalization takes place through reading books, internet and talking to likeminded friends. The message is disseminated through personal mentors and private locations. In US, recruits enter through more broader and public networks then move to violent wing of the movement over time. Recruitments take place through normal channels. Family ties, business and professional relationships, social gatherings, religious worships, meetings, rallies and protests are good places to find people. Prisons have been effective avenues for recruitment. In UK, the internet has been seen as a problem. Internet is recruiting people on its own. The internet is one more venue like a protest rally and community centers where potential recruits can be found. This is more in the case of Muslims in UK than Christians in US, Stephan told.

Activists and facilitators are motivating themselves to find new potential recruits. In case of UK, self-recruited people remain in touch with people in Pakistan. In USA, self-recruited people seek support locally not necessarily through internet. Timothy McVeigh, perpetrator of Oklahoma City bombing, and perpetrators of 7/7 bombings in UK were alienated people.

Supporting a movement is not the same as joining the movement, Stephan clarified. Joining is not the same as acting, and, acting to support violence is not the same as committing violence. It is a multistage process. Most of the people join the movement for supporting the movement rather than committing violence. Religion is used to sanction violence more than it triggers violence, he explained. Eric Robert Rudolph, who was responsible of Centennial Olympic Park bombing, used the language of Bible to justify his action. In UK, people committing 7/7 bombings, justified their action in the language of religion.

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