May 26, 2015

Violence or Morality: How Should We Think About Radicalization?

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Our society is worried about radicalization. What is radicalization? Apparently it is all about violence. According to the UK government's Prevent strategy (2011), "radicalisation is driven by an ideology which sanctions the use of violence." According to the more recent Tackling extremism in the UK (2013) "we must confront the poisonous extremist ideology that can lead people to violence."

Is violence the key? I’m sceptical. Our society is not non-violent. We have armed forces. Most of us are proud of what our soldiers do. Most city centres see minor violence in most weeks of the year—something we are not proud of. Our police forces suppress civil disorder, using violence if necessary (although we expect them to use this violence within the law). We have armed forces that go about the world equipped for violence on a vast scale (although their most important mission is to prevent violence). We’re proud of what our soldiers do. On relevant anniversaries we celebrate, perhaps quietly, our victories in past wars. In church on Sundays some of us sing: “Onward Christian soldiers.”

If we condemn radicalization on the grounds that it sanctions the use of violence for political or religious ends, surely we are hypocrites. We trip ourselves up over simple things like tolerance and openness. Apparently, British society is open and tolerant. But there are limits, so we wish to close our ears to radical messages and we will be intolerant of intolerance.

Detecting radicalization is also a worry. Apparently there are lots of possible signs of radicalization, and at the same time none of them is effective. When I searched yesterday (25 May 2015) for "signs of radicalization" Google came up with “About 240,000 results (0.58 seconds).” Items 1 to 7 and 9 told me that lots of experts are very sure what we should look for:

Know the telltale signs of radicalization - The Province
The Province
Nov 25, 2014 - A couple of dozen school kids from Richmond joined together in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside last week to hand out sandwiches to the ...

Colin Kenny: 10 signs that someone is being radicalized
Times Colonist
Dec 14, 2014 - Colin Kenny If there were doubts remaining that Canada has a serious problem with domestic radicalization to violence, the events of this past ...

Opinion: Recognizing the warning signs of radicalization ... › ... › Quebec › World
Montreal Gazette
Jan 5, 2015 - If there were any doubts among Canadians that this country has a problem with domestic radicalization, the events of last year most surely ...

10 Signs Someone Is Becoming Radicalized to Violence ...
Dec 22, 2014 - If there were any doubts remaining in the minds of Canadians that this country has a serious problem with domestic radicalization to violence, ...

The DOJ to train community leaders to spot 'radicals'
The Week
... National Counterterrorism Center that will train "community leaders" like teachers and social workers to monitor their communities for signs of radicalization.

Canada AM: Radicalization warning signs | CTV News
CTV News
Chris Boudreau, Damion Clairmont's mother, reacts to a suspected terror attack in Quebec and reflects on how her son became radicalized.

[PDF]Radicalization of Youth as a Growing Concern for Counter ...
by M Bizina - ‎Cited by 2 - ‎Related articles
comprehensive approach to the problem of radicalization, including community ..... training to be able to gauge early signs of radicalization in the community.

External Signs of Radicalization and Jihadist Militancy - ISN
Mar 3, 2007 - This paper examines the external signs of jihadist radicalization.

Worryingly, items 8 and 10 suggest that we don’t know what to look for after all.

Family Of Gunman In Tunisia Museum Attack Saw No Signs ...
The Huffington Post
Family Of Gunman In Tunisia Museum Attack Saw No Signs Of Radicalization. Reuters. Posted: 03/20/2015 11:14 am EDT Updated: 05/20/2015 5:59 am EDT ...

Jihadi John's former Jewish teacher saw no signs of ... › Ynetnews › News
Mar 3, 2015 - Former head teacher Jo Shuter says no sign of radicalization for ... had spotted signs of radicalization they would have done something about it.

It seems that that our concept of “radicalization to violence” has become ever more complicated. It has become ever more complicated because it does not work. It does not work because it is misconceived.

Many people think of radicalization partly as a choice over lifestyle, partly as a choice over means. Lifestyle involves dress, community, and observance. Violence is the means. Yes, these may well be somewhere in the process. But at the root of radicalization is a moral choice, which we mistakenly ignore.

What is the moral choice underlying radicalization? It is a specific preference for limited morality over universal morality.

All moralities tend to have common features: they prohibit killing, stealing, and dishonouring other members of the community. They demand that, in our own choices, we give weight to the interests of others within the same community. They differ in the breadth of the community that benefits from these injunctions. A limited morality protects a limited community. The limit might be fixed by family relationship, or social class, or nation, or religion. Those beyond the limit are strangers, and strangers have no protection. In contrast, a universal morality extends protection to all others, including strangers.

Thus a universal morality requires us to give the same respect to everyone; they are morally equal to us, even when we have never met them and have no prior knowledge of them, when they do not look or sound like us and do not worship as we do. A universal morality might not require us to give other kinds of equality to strangers, such as civic equality, political equality, or financial equality. But it demands that in making our own choices we should always consider the interests of strangers and give them some weight.

A universal morality is not necessarily non-violent and does not preclude the use of violence against strangers. It does impose strict conditions on the use of violence, specifying the actions by strangers—and not only strangers—that can incur a violent response, such as aggression against us. It imposes strict limits on violence against strangers—and not only strangers—such as those written into the international laws of war.

The moral rights of a stranger can have painful implications. If someone close to us unjustly violates the rights of a stranger, a universal morality requires us to vindicate the stranger, even if our relative or neighbour is thereby exposed to a social penalty. A British court will imprison one British citizen for assaulting a refugee, and extradite another to stand trial for a crime committed against foreigners in a foreign country. In contrast a limited morality is more comfortable. It allows us to ignore the interests of strangers and requires us defend the relative or neighbour who has wronged the stranger.

Terrorists who attack civilians and those who sympathise with them or support them invariably see themselves as moral people. They feel they have just grievances and that their grievances justify attacking innocent people. Their morality allows them to define their victims as strangers who are outside the community within which moral rules apply. In their morality, strangers have no entitlement to moral protection. Thus terrorists live within a moral comfort zone. Outside the zone they will freely hurt and kill people who are not of their nation, or not of their religion, or not of their sect, and they will feel no guilt because in their view such people have no rights.

When children and young people are attracted to Hamas or Islamic State the important thing is not the violence these organizations use. Our own society is not non-violent. Many childhood games involve battles between soldiers, between kingdoms, and between interstellar civilizations. This does not turn children towards terrorism. What turns children towards terrorism is being reared in a limited morality that gives strangers no moral weight and tolerates unlimited violence against them.

A universal morality is one of the sources, perhaps the most important source, of the openness, tolerance, and freedoms that British society can celebrate and aspire to, even if we do not always live up to it. A universal morality allows us to live with strangers, learn from strangers, trade with them and travel peacefully among them. It is the great gift to us of the culture that grew up around the north and east Mediterranean two thousand years ago.

A universal morality that gives moral equality to strangers can be hard to live up to. To live up to it, we must defend it. And to defend it we must first recognize it and affirm it for what it is.

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I am a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick. I am also a research associate of Warwick’s Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy, and of the Centre for Russian, European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Birmingham. My research is on Russian and international economic history; I am interested in economic aspects of bureaucracy, dictatorship, defence, and warfare. My most recent book is One Day We Will Live Without Fear: Everyday Lives Under the Soviet Police State (Hoover Institution Press, 2016).

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