December 2010 Archives

Debate on Prevent program

Last week I attended a debate on preventing radicalization at the RSA. The key element that became clear was that prevention is going to be very difficult when there is no agreed upon analysis of how radicalization occurs. I've run across this consistently in my work to encourage the development and implementation of prevention education programs - without a shared analysis of the processes of radicalization, it is hard to get decision makers to see the importance of prevention education. It is my view that we can make a big contribution to prevention by teaching young people (and their teachers and families) about social influence, recruitment and conversion processes. This is a missing plank in the current thinking about prevention of radicalization. In addition to law enforcement and community cohesion efforts, it is critical to teach the methods and mechanisms whereby people become the deployable agents of organized terrorist groups. 

Interestingly, work to teach all young people about these social influence processes has been done for many years in Germany, for rather obvious reasons based in their totalitarian history. Several students I've taught from Germany had a sound understanding of these processes, having learned about them throughout their high school careers.

Prevention education certainly won't help on its own, but it is an important element of developing public awareness campaigns. In this I agree with Quilliam founder Maajid Nawaz who, like me, sees the need to address this issue on a broad scale: in this debate he used the analogy of public awareness campaigns around obesity. Similarly I think we can learn from the immensely useful work done on HIV/AIDS prevention done around the world - but this brings me back to the lack of a shared analysis of the problem: until we can come to some agreement on how the processes of radicalization unfold it will be difficult to design such public awareness and education programs. HIV/AIDS prevention programs could not take place until scientists understood the methods of transmission.

Again I tend to agree with Nawaz here - recruitment doesn't happen randomly to "bunches of guys" as popularised by former CIA agent and terrorism researcher Marc Sageman. It happens as a result of concerted recruitment and conversion efforts on the part of organizations. These organizations employ processes of coercive persuasion which rely on the cognitive and emotional engulfing of individuals at the same time as increasingly isolating them from their prior relationships. Along with addressing the general social conditions that may create a favorable climate for recruiters, we must also look at, understand, and teach people about this systematic recruitment and conversion process. Becoming a suicide attacker (other than those few who really do have pre-existing suicidal and violent mental states) is on one level the most extreme exploitation of the attacker by the recruiting organization.

 
 
Contact Alexandra Stein here

Mothers in cults and totalist groups

This is an old article I wrote: Mothers in Cults. It is still highly relevant. Unfortunately not a lot else has yet been written on this topic. (Please contact me if you know of anything that I may have missed).



Contact Alexandra Stein here

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