Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Religious radicalisation motivation Religious radicalisation motivation:What motivates religious radicalisation?
This addresses the phenomena of religious radicalisation from an individual motivational point of view. The historical context of religion, and the radical violent acts it inspires, are presented to position the reader to understand how acts of radical religious violence have been rationalised and justified. Religious belief and the process of radicalisation will be defined and examples given.
This chapter will argue that it is an individual's loss of significance through humiliation or deprivation, combined with ideologies that advocate violence as a means to re-attain significance that results in violent acts of religious radicalism.
Due to the prevalence of religious radicalisation among Muslim populations today it is imperative to understand and aspire to amend the conditions that lead to radicalisation and the associated acts of extreme violence.
This chapter will endeavour to answer the question, what motivates religious radicalisation and the extreme violence it can inspire?
Theories that will be applied to analyse what motivates religious radicalisation include:
- Social identity theory
- Significant quest theory
- Goal regulation theory
- Self Determination Theory
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Monotheism & divine truth
Figure 1. Monotheism, the Abrahamic religious traditions.
Throughout the [which?]
ages religious belief has provided humans with a system of shared meaning, normative social values and practices, and an outlet for the expression of spirituality and creativity. Every human culture on Earth has left evidence of a belief in a divine supernatural force[factual?]
. This universal belief in the divine is evident from the art and ritualistic burial sites' of the early palaeolithic humans
accepted by archaeologists as proof of primitive religious beliefs, to the grand temples and traditions of the three Abrahamic
religious traditions (Income & Berman, 2006). William James (1902/2009) observed religious devotion to be a transcendent state of mind capable of unifying a discordant perception of the self. Religious belief can give one's life meaning, and provide a chance to feel significant on a cosmic scale, to transcend death and share in the eternal (Jonas & Fischer, 2006).
The emergence of the major monotheistic
religions of Judaism
, mark an important transition in human history (Toynbee, 1972). This transition from Pagan religions
based on animism
, to religions based on monotheism
, represents a shift from a belief in many gods to a belief in a single God. An omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent force, who alone created the universe, is governing over it, declaring laws, as well as guiding and enacting retribution on his most hallowed creation, Man.
Judaism, the oldest of the three Monotheistic Abrahamic traditions, and ancestor of both Christianity and Islam, emerged out of the Middle East around 2000 BC (Armstrong, 2014). Originally a desert cult of a fiercely vengeful God obsessed with his own superiority over other gods, e.g. “though shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus), revealed the preeminence of his chosen people, the Israelites, who he alone entrusted with divine truth held within Judaism’s holy book, the Torah
(Dawkins, 2006). “If though wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that though may fear this glorious and awful name, the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy, 28, 58). The God of the Old Testament
demanded allegiance, fear of this awful and vengeful God, and the possibility of spending eternity in a realm of unspeakable torment for not accepting the divine truth of his holy book has motivated the conquering and murder of millions throughout the millennia[factual?]
. Belief that one may escape an eternity of torment by accepting the divine truth of a holy book makes the coercion of others, and the silencing of doubters, an imperative to the maintenance of such a belief (Pinker, 2011).
According to social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), individuals situate themselves and others into discernible categories, individuals define themselves as members of the in-group, and others as members of the out-group. Individuals who share a collective identity with a larger social group exhibit ingroup bias in regard to other members. A collective identity is also typically associated with hostility toward those who are not members of the in-group (Victoroff et al, 2012). Playing a possible role in the radicalisation process, the Muslim diaspora living in the West are confronted with inter-group tensions likely to make these biases more salient than they might be if living in a predominately Muslim country[factual?]
Figure 2. Battle of the Milvian Bridge, Christianity's first holy war.
The idealisation of the in-group, the believers, those who hold divine truth, permits the denigration of the other, the out-group. Those who do not submit to the divine law of the in-group are subject to religious retribution, typically manifested in powerful emotions such as hatred, contempt, and disgust. These feelings lead to a dehumanisation of the out-group, purveying the conditions necessary for holy war and acts of extreme violence against the other. Christianity's first holy war was led by the Roman Emperor Constantine
in the early 4th century CE against his pagan rival Emperor Maxentius
. The Roman Catholic Church, Christianity's oldest institution was born in blood at the battle of the Melvin Bridge
near Rome in 312 CE where Constantine defeated his Pagan rival, united the empire later declaring Christianity as the state religion of Rome (Armstrong, 2014).
Figure 3. Map of the Abbasid Caliphate 755 CE.
Figure 4. The capture of Jerusalem.
The first campaigns of Islamic holy war (Jihad) were waged directly by the Prophet Mohammed
and his Muslim followers in the 7th century CE. Islam’s first Jihad was a reaction to the aggression and oppression of the community of believers, the umma
. Participation in Jihad
was the sacred duty of all adult male Muslims, those who died in the name of Jihad were assured entry into paradise (Hallam, 1989). Although Islam’s holy book, the Qur'an
, tells Muslims to “live at peace with the people of the book”, non-believers are required to be subdued and coerced, subjugation and coercion being symptomatic of a belief in spreading divine truth. By the time of the Second Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab (634-44 CE), Islam had taken on a far more offensive, outward focus. Caliph Umar believed the militant spread of Islam throughout the world was the only way to ensure peace and preserve the Islamic Caliphate
In 1095 CE Pope Urban II
declared a holy war, the first crusade
, sanctioned by God, to retake the holy land
(Jerusalem) from the Muslim Turks, who the Pope called “an accursed race, wholly alienated from God… wrest that land from that wicked race”(Armstrong, 2014). In exchange for the remission of their sins, and the promise of an eternity in a heavenly paradise, Christian Crusader armies slaughtered untold numbers of Jews and Muslims on a divinely ordained mission to retake the holy land from the other (Pinker, 2011). After a gruelling three year campaign, the Christian Crusaders who took the city of Jerusalem gleefully slaughtered the 70,000 Muslim inhabitants and burned thousands of Jews alive in their synagogue. What force could possibly possess men to happily engage in the slaughter of innocents for a belief in an invisible diety? McGregor (2006) calls this powerful, force Zeal, throughout history it has animated and empowered radical action and extreme violence in the name of a perceived religious truth, resulting in the dehumanisation and destruction of non-believers.
The origin of the term Zeal comes from 1st
Century CE Jerusalem, Zealots
were a radical sect of Judaism who used assassination to terrorise those who disagreed with their extreme agenda, specifically the priest of the Jewish temple whom the Zealots believed were corrupted by the occupying Romans (Aslan, 2009). In relation to zeal induced personal uncertainty in the laboratory has been demonstrated to cause individuals to increase the conviction of their opinions and exaggerate the quality of their self-concept (McGregor, Zanna, Holmes, & Spencer, 2001). Zeal psychologically insulates the individual from threats and uncertainty, zeal surpasses anxiety and concern associated with avoidance motivation and induces approach motivated states (McGregor, 2006).
Religion & radicalisation
Religious belief is expressed through group convictions over divine truth and what is to be collectively valued as sacred, the aspects of worship and ritual within religion involves the group actively affirming what they hold to be divine truth and worthy of veneration (Durkheim, 1976/1912). Religion can be defined as a moral orientation toward action anchored in ideas of God, bolstered by consensual ideology and ritual, usually prosocial as in the case of mature symbolic perceptions of religion, associated with humility, compassion, recognition of mystery, and aversion to violence, it can also endorse aggressive and violent extremes through superstitious and hostile radical religious doctrines (McGregor, Hayes & Prentice, 2015).
Radicalisation is a shift from orthodox or normative beliefs and values, to anti-normative or ideologically extreme convictions that animate an eagerness within the individual to challenge the status quo (McGregor et al, 2015). Radicalization is best conceptualised in terms of degrees, an individual who supports radical religious discourse or acts of violence without actually engaging in violent acts themselves is less radicalised than an individual who engages in acts of extreme violence such as terrorism (Kruglanski et al, 2014). For our purposes here, we will define radicalization as either supporting or engaging in behaviour considered to be violating social norms, such as murder, terrorism, or radical religious discourse that challenges orthodoxy (Krulanski et al, 2014). The risk associated with religious radicalisation is that it can create the cognitive conditions necessary to motivate an individual to carry out acts of terrorism and extreme violence, provided the ideological framework the individual identifies with endorses violence (Mulcahy et al, 2013;Kruglanski et al, 2014). It is therefore imperative to understand the antecedent conditions that motivate religious radicalization.
Concrete and symbolic religious belief
- A symbolic approach to religion is an open-minded, critical and flexible refection upon spiritual beliefs.
- A concrete approach is a more rigid, intolerant and defensive view of ones religious beliefs.[factual?]
Click here to view a satirical example of concrete religious belief, Monty Python's Holy Grail, witch village : https://youtu.be/k3jt5ibfRzw
Examples of radical religious ideology
Figure 5. Christian fundamentalist protest
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emerged in the United States in the early 20th century preaching a radical return to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, including an uncompromising belief in the bible as the literal word of God, infallible and complete. Christian fundamentalist argue that it is not enough to simply believe in God and obey the teachings of the bible, one must make a personal confessional commitment to spread the word of Jesus Christ, only then can one re-enter the world pure, innocent and “born again” (Aslan, 2009). Christian fundamentalism is an example of a radical shift in religious discourse, a departure from the normative belief that men wrote the bible and were simply conduits through which the word of God was revealed and to be interpreted (Aslan, 2009). For fundamentalist's the adherence to a concrete, literal interpretation of the bible is a means of identifying and differentiating themselves from the other, defining a criteria for good and evil, the in-group versus the out-group (Tajfel & Turner, 1979).
In 1994 John C. Salvi
a Christian radical and anti-abortionist member of far-right Chrisitian group The Army of God,
attacked a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts, shooting and killing two people and wounding several others. The Army of God has exalted Salvi as a Christian martyr and described his victims as infidels, enemies in a cosmic war (Bertlet, 2007).
Figure 7. The Kaaba, Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
places the authority of declaring Jihad
in the hands of the believer, enabling them to declare their Muslim enemies “unbelievers” thereby avoiding the Qu’ran’s prohibition against shedding the blood of other Muslims. Takfirism evolved from the teachings of the 13th century CE Islamic scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah who in reaction to the apostate
Mongol rulers, preached that it was incumbent of all Muslims to declare Jihad on infidels
and apostates (Aslan,2009).
evolved out of the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century CE from the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab who preached a return to the pure teachings of the prophet and repudiated later developments such as Shiism
, and Sufism
. Wahabbism adopted the teaching of Ibn Taymiyyah and Takfir, insisting that Muslims who did not accept the Wahabbi doctrines where infidels, unbelievers, worthy of violent retribution (Armstrong, 2014).
Figure 6. The black flag of Islamic State
Osama Bin Laden
and his Wahabbi Islam inspired terrorist organisation al-Quaida
, gained global notoriety when they carried out the September 11 2001
World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks (Kilcullen, 2015). Al-Quaida's off-shoot Islamic State
shocked the world when it conquered vast swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014 declaring an Islamic Caliphate and enforcing sharia law. Islamic state launched a world wide social media campaign consisting of highly publicised beheadings and mass killings of religious minorities (Cockburn et al, 2016), inspiring a wave of mass terrorist attacks across France and other lone wolf
terrorist attacks around the world (Kilcullen, 2015).
A Pew Research survey (www.perform.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs) found that the vast majority of Muslims in Afghanistan (99%), Iraq (91%) and Pakistan (84%) support the implementation of sharia law[factual?]
Motivation describes the force that gives energy, direction and persistence to behavior, motivation can be divided into two categories, extrinsic motivation, derived from the external environment, and intrinsic motivation emanating from within the individual (Ryan, & Deci, 2000).
Three factors provide the motivation to adhere to a radical ideological perspective that advocates violence and terrorism (Kruglanski et al (2014):
- A grievance - perceived harm or injustice suffered by ones group (energy).
- A culprit - presumed to be responsible for the perceived grievance of the group (direction).
- A morally warranted and effective method - enabling the removal of the perceived grievance or allowing opportunities for revenge upon the culprit promoting significance gain (persistence).
When confronted with religious inspired mass violence such as the 9/11 attacks, or the Madrid and London bombings, it is difficult to perceive the perpetrators as rational and psychologically healthy individuals, however research does indicate that the perpetrators of many religious inspired terrorist attacks are considered psychologically normal (Silke, 2003) and are, in many cases, also well educated (Sagemans, 2004).
Figure 8. Cosmic war
The concept of cosmic war, which in its simplest expression refers to the belief that God is actively engaged in human conflicts on behalf of one side or the other, a belief that it is not human beings who fight on behalf of God, but rather God who fights on behalf of human beings. This divides the universe into two spheres, good and evil (Aslan, 2009), the in-group and the out-group (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). The perception of playing an active role in a cosmic battle between good and evil can imbue one's life with a great sense of meaning and significance, activating approach motivated states and further enforcing ones religious convictions (McGregor et al 2015).
Identification with a social group can buffer against one's own individual failures increasing one's sense of agency and significance. The process of radicalisation begins with the arousal of the quest for significance, when one's quest for significance is engaged and the social group to which one identifies advocates violence and terrorism as a means to achieving significance, the individual may support self-sacrifice, martyrdom, and violence to re-attain a perceived loss of significance (Kruglanski et al, 2014).
According to Kruglanski et al (2014) and the Significant Quest model, radicalisation is a process that takes place over time and requires the presence of three ingredients:
- A loss of significance through humiliation or deprivation that can activate a quest to reclaim lost significance.
- Identification with a radical ideology as a means to re-attain significance.
- A shift toward the goal of significance re-attainment and away from other motivational concerns.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev's quest for significance
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, along with his younger brother Dzhokhar, carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing,[grammar?]
according to the Significant Quest model the Tsarnaev's act of terrorism was a way to reclaim a lost sense of significance. Tamerlan a failed boxer [grammar?]
and university dropout was unemployed and supported by his wife, poorly assimilated and claiming to have no American friends, [grammar?]
over time Tamerlan grew closer to his Muslim identity. The Tsarnaev's parents were also on welfare and experiencing marital problems. Tamerlan was also in a long lasting and bitter feud with his successful uncles who referred to the brothers and "losers" (Kruglanski et al, 2014).
Figure 9. Palestinian militant.
Feelings of exclusion and alienation, or injustice and humiliation, can push individuals with weak capacity for personal agency to turn to external sources of agency such as radical religious groups (McGregor et al, 2015). Religious radicalisation is a way to alleviate anxious distress related to threats to personal agency such as institutional inequality, war, economic instability, corruption, or cultural marginalization (McGregor et al, 2015).
- Perceived injustice - reasons suggested for [grammar?] the rise of Islamic State are related to perceptions of systemic injustice against Muslims, lack of confidence in Apostate governments, and a perception of a USA led war against Islam (McGregor et al, 2015).
- Social Exclusion - Abbas & Saddique (2012) conducted a qualitative study investigating the perceptions of specifically South Asian Muslims living in Britain. A general perception of social exclusion, the experience of Islamophobia, and a lack of effective theological and political leadership were reported. A particular theme that Abbas & Saddiques (2012) reported to stand out most in their study was the perceived sense of not fully belonging to Britain because of the individual's commitment to Islam.
- Discrimination - in an analysis by Victoroff, Edelman, & Mathews (2012) of two Pew Global Attitudes Surveys of adult Muslims living in France, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, and the United States, they found perceived discrimination to be associated with support for suicide bombing and martyrdom[Provide more detail].
‘How agonizing is it to see the land of Muslims taken by the Monsters of Zion and the Crusades? How many Muslim states have been attacked and occupied by those envious parties? Look at the jihadist front of Palestine, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the Philippines, Dagestan and Indonesia itself. Can’t you see that lots of armed conflict is occurring between Muslims and those infidel occupiers?’
Imam Samudra executed for participating in the 2002 Bali bombing (Milla and Faturochman (2013).
As indicated by the comments of Samudra, radicalisation does not require direct connection with the perceived injustice, but only to identify with the perceived grievances, in this case the perceived oppression and injustice of the broader Muslim community.
Goal regulation theory
According to Gray and McNaughton (2000), vertebrates evolved a neural module—the behavioral inhibition system (BIS)—to cope with goal conflict. Goal frustration and uncertainty have been found to be the prime cause of anxious distress in humans (Gray & McNaughton, 2000). Anxiety arises in the individual when goal attainment is blocked, and states of uncertainty arise, this initiates the Behavioural Inhibitory System (BIS) followed by approach avoidance behavior. If the BIS is activated all ongoing goals are ceased and anxious distress further discourages goal persistence, cognitive resources are then committed to notice a wider range of possible threats and opportunities. Commitment to religious radicalization may repress anxious distress over uncertainty, activating the Behavioural Approach System (BAS) and initiating approach motivated states muting BIS activity concentrating cognitive resources to the focus of goal attainment (McGregor et al 2015).
According to compensatory perspectives religious radicalisation is a strategy for restoring whatever psychological need may be under threat. Threats to psychological needs such as esteem, belonging, meaning or control, arouse a compensatory reaction in the individual (McGregor et al, 2015). Self-determination theory suggests individuals have three basic psychological needs that need to be fulfilled to experience psychological well-being; competence, the individuals need to feel control in their life; autonomy, the individuals need to feel to be the causal agent in the course of ones life; and relatedness, the need to connect with other human beings (Ryan, & Deci, 2000).
Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Figure 10. Maslow's hierarch of needs.
According to Maslow (1943) the adherence to a religious doctrine organises the universe into a satisfactorily coherent, and meaningful whole. Maslow describes this to be largely motivated by safety-seeking, fulfilling a basic human need, adherence to a religious doctrine removes the fear that accompanies living in an uncertain world (Maslow, 1943). Adhering to a religious doctrine and identifying with a religious group may also satisfy the psychological needs belonging and esteem stemming from the mutual respect and sense of belonging among in-group members, and the stability and comfort gained from commitment to the group.
Identity and belonging
According to Erikson (1959) identity development requires vulnerable experimentation in adolescence,[grammar?]
if this is blocked by an unsupportive environment confidence in one’s personal values will be lacking and priorities for resolving uncertainty will not be adequately developed. A strong identity and commited[spelling?]
identification with a higher set of values can provide guidance and clarity for ones actions under uncertain circumstances (Mcgregor et al, 2015). Identity weak individuals who lack personal agency may gravitate toward forms of external control such as active political groups and religious authority. For the individual lacking clear and confident value indentification another guide for making choices to soothe anxious uncertainty is necessary (McGregor et al, 2015).
Aydin, Fischer, & Frey (2010) consistently demonstrated across five studies in both Christian and Muslim samples of Turkish origin that social exclusion results in heightened levels of religious affiliation buffering against the anxiety and stress of rejection[Provide more detail]
. According to social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) and self- categorization theory (Turner et al., 1994), when individuals define themselves in terms of group membership they identify their goals, needs, and values with those of other in-group members. In a qualitative study of Muslims living in Britain social identity was found to have a major effect on Muslims[grammar?]
attitudes toward religious martyrdom, terrorism, suicide, jihad and 9/11. Participants who primarily identified as Muslims were found to hold more positive and supportive views to jihad and martyrdom than Muslims who primarily identified as British (Ansari, Cinderella, Rogers, Loewenthal, & Lewis, 2006).
This chapter outlined the phenomena of religious radicalisation and suggested possible motivating factors. Radicalisation is a complex process, and not all religious radicals are prone to acts of violence. However if certain conditions are met, a grievance, a culprit to blame, significance lost, and a method such as an ideology that advocates violence, an individual may be susceptible to acts of radical religious violence.
If we understand that individuals who are vulnerable to religious radicalisation are fulfilling an unmet psychological need, the problems can be addressed avoiding the consequences of acts of religious inspired mass violence.
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