Extremist ideologies; their organizing theories and propagation against individual/group predisposition to violent extremism by Patrick James Christian, PhD
If we use human violent traumatic medical conditions as an allegory to violent traumatic social conditions, I propose that we can illustrate the relationship of extremist ideologies and violent extremism by examining the relationship between the human body’s immune system and viral/bacteriological disease.
FIRST EXAMPLE: Two humans are exposed to the flu and only one human contracts the virus. If we do a post exposure pathology, we will likely find a sharp difference in the quality or quantity of their immune system at the moment of and immediately after exposure. Similarly, two refugees in Mollenbeek neighborhood of Brussels are exposed to an ideologue (See the enclosed slide); but only one of the two accepts the meaning-intentionality offered by the ideologue. The other refugee rejects, dismisses, or in some way negates the power of the offered meaning-intentionality through acceptance of differing meaning-intentionalities from other thought leaders. For the first refugee, the ideologue’s meaning-intentionality focuses his/her pain into a totalizing ideation of cause and effect that later, with the help of a recruiter, can be crystalized into a set of actions that helps to restore a rational reality to both subconscious (the ego/id/super-ego) and conscious mind, albeit one that is based on violent extremist ideology.
Where the comparisons between human physical and psychological pathology diverge however is in the nature of the pathogen itself. Plague, Ebola, AIDS, Influenza, and others are viral or bacteriological organisms that have a verifiable existence outside of the human body. Extremist violent ideologies and subsequent radicalization do not exist outside the human psyche and would be better compared with say, Fibromyalgia, a disorder syndrome whose existence also does not exist outside of the human body and can only be diagnosed by process of elimination compared to presented symptoms. Fibromyalgia has no underlying viral or bacteriological particle (that we know of) that can be isolated and tested for within otherwise healthy patients.
As the enclosed diagram shows, the predisposition to violent extremism does not exist outside of the human psyche. We note that most all humans can be motivated to extreme thought and subsequent extreme action under very specific conditions, however all extreme action is first proceeded by extreme thought and all extreme thought is laden and made powerful by extreme emotion that is conjugated from the underlying psychological crisis. If you accept this basic psychological logic, you might accept that humans do not preplan their own extremism; and thus they do not preplan their own radicalization (which is a sequelae of extremism). From this logic flows the conclusion that we cannot predict from tests whether a human is predisposed to conducting extremist, radicalized violent actions at the encouragement of the ideologue-recruiter-operative/leader terrorist triad. The basic behavioral traits that we can test for are common across the entire spectrum of human activity without regard to whether it is in service to existing civil society/government or in service to extremist-revolutionary ideologies pursuing religious political goals through violent action.
SECOND EXAMPLE: The Orlando Florida shooter was an armed security guard in the service of his surrounding community, with unrestricted eligible to purchase handguns and protect fellow community members. Due to undiagnosed and untreated psychosocial-emotional issues (such as possible gender or sexual orientation that was inconsistent with his Afghan/Muslim/Patriarchal existing large group identity that possibly created sharp manifestations of cognitive dissonance) that likely presented from early teen to early adulthood, we catch glimpses of a devolution into extremism. This devolution likely progressed as in the diagram, from a basic psychological-emotional crisis, through totalizing meaning-intentionalities learned from ideologues to radicalized trait dissociation (transference of unwanted feelings or ideations onto ‘enemy others’), and finally, without intervention, to psychological devolution resulting in violent resolution where both the self’s inner-bad and ‘enemy others’ were together destroyed under a redeeming banner of ideological higher cause. Using this explanation of the relationship between ideology and recruit, you can see that the ideology’s organization and propagation (propaganda) has little need for factual accuracy, and in fact benefits from liberal application of exaggerated myth and symbolism. This explains political and religious sciences’ failure at combatting extremist ideologies that are not grounded in reality, but in the psychology of mythical archaic types and exaggerated emotions of belonging, heroism, savior, love, and evolution from man-to-God. Political science and religion can neither explain nor deny something that does not actually exist.
Clinical, therapeutic engagement of the families and communities of the European refugees can however, restore the connection between the traumatized people and reality before their members are infected by virulent ideologies and become radicalized. Such engagement works to assess, diagnose, and treat the relative ‘psychosocial-emotional’ health of a community that is closely bound by physical and constructed markers of large group identity. This is a tricky sentence because ethnicity, race, gender, blood-relations, etc are physical markers of group identity, while religion, geography, language, historical narrative, etc are constructed markers of large group identity. (Culture is an expression of individual and group identity; it is the physical/auditory/visual/tactile/olfactory emanation of identity as humans transfer their subconscious feelings of communal belonging + distinction/affirmation from thought to expressed reality).
As the diagram shows; clinical engagement within a community traumatized by violence, dislocation, and trauma can interfere with the false meaning-intentionalities offered by the ideologues. Clinical, therapeutic engagement of the family and community cannot take away their pain and suffering. Instead, clinical therapeutic engagement helps the community reestablish (non-extremist/non radicalized) meaning-intentionality to their suffering that is grounded in their new physical reality. Pain and suffering are powerful engines of either destruction (as you know) or of construction. The history of the many cycles of forced-migratory/refugees from Europe to the North American continent document the existence of powerful constructive energy that accompanies human suffering when connected to meaning-intentionality.
The meaning-intentionality necessary for releasing constructive energy lies in the refugee communities’ ability to shore up and adapt their boundaries of belonging; reinterpret cause and effect relationships between their current circumstances and their existential historical narrative; and reimagine present and future constructions of group/individual identity archaic types meaning and saliency (eg; what does masculinity, femininity, heroism, sacrifice, creativity, fidelity, love, nurturance, beauty, mean/look-like, feel-like, and sound-like, to the Afghan boy or girl who metaphorically wakes up in the 21st century in Europe or America).
The theory and practice of how we clinically assess and engage damaged, traumatized refugee populations is well beyond this short description. We can say with certainty however, that the psychosocial-emotional processes of extremism, radicalization and the devolution into suicidal terror can be assessed, diagnosed, and clinically engaged sufficient to withdraw them from participation in violent extremism and lethal radicalization. Clinical engagement will, in the long run, save tremendous costs in monetary resources and human lives.
The only effective long term solution to terrorism is to begin directly and clinically engaging the underlying extremism, radicalization, and disaffected members’ psychological devolution into what is often suicidal terror attacks against innocent civilians.