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Tuesday 18 November 2014

Radicalization: Rebel With (or without) a Cause, Any Cause.

by Stephen B.Chadwick, MA Counselling Psychology.
Patty Hearst

So, Dear Friends,

It has been a while since I last posted, being very occupied with many other concerns. However I have been asked by a follower to elaborate a bit on the phenomenon of radicalization. Especially since we have of late been witnessing it so much in the media in the last number of months, what with the ISIS beheadings and of course, here in Canada, what has happened recently with Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo.

The way I view the radicalization of young people seems to be not just one single answer, like: "they're brain-washed" but rather a combination of factors. Anybody remember Patty Hearst?

Or for that matter the Baader-Meinhof Group or "Rote Armee Fraktion"?

Or the "Moonies" as members of the Unification Church were once called?

Radicalization is perhaps then just the same type of phenomenon exhibited in other forms and in other times and eras.

Of course many people remember the classic James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause, directed by Nicholas Ray and also starring Natalaie Wood and Sal Mineo: the male lead, jaded, world-worn and weary and a highschool teenager, no less!

James Dean -- Rebel Without a Cause
But the question is, are there elements or aspects of this prototype James Dean character that might help us to understand the relatively recent (within say the last 20 years) of the upsurge in radicalization?

What with the Isis Beheadings and the most recent deaths, here in Canada of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, one has to wonder if there is a common element. There are indeed likely common elements, but likely not just one single, but several.

Probably the first thing that comes to the public's mind is whether or not these newly-formed radicals are "crazy", "disturbed", "deranged" or otherwise what someone such as myself might call clinically disordered. Is fanaticism or zealousness a disorder? If you are passionate about something and indeed are willing to lay down your life and be a martyr for a cause or a belief mean you are disordered? Likely not.

That being said, however, intensity of belief, zealousness, fanaticism and disorder all lie along a continuum.

We all know people who drink weak tea, usually prepared by wafting a tea bag over top of a cup of clear, hot water. But we also probably know people who drink tea so strong that it looks like battery acid and  you could stand a teaspoon upright in the cup.  This is not the problem.  To each their own. It only becomes a problem when, excuse the pun, it is "not your cup of tea".

So the question is, were these newly formed radicals brainwashed? Were they set up in some kind of retro sci-fi experiment from the Manchurian Candidate? And how come we've never seen this sort of thing before now?

Hairwashing as Brainwashing

Well, hang on just a moment there. Firstly, it is likely that nothing as new-fangled as  "brainwasher" was used, but rather that good, old-fashioned propaganda was brought to bear.

Secondly, with regards to the so-called recent emergence of these brainwashed radicals as if they were some newly evolved species, like some version of the X-men mutants, I would say, well, then how do you explain Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army or the Baader-Meinhof (Rote Armee Fraktion) or Vancouver's own APC -- The Anti Poverty Committee, who used to stage or incite riots.

Charles Manson
One could even examine the quasi religious cults of Roch "Moise" Thériault in Quebec or the Jonestown massacre or the killing spree of Charles Manson and his "Family".

Roch Thériault

So it would seem that propaganda and indoctrination are a piece. But they are not the only piece. And of course propaganda is not just used by radical extremist groups. It is also used by governments both for good and bad. Witness for example a certain Eastern European country and the conflict with its smaller neighbour with a rather porous border. Or for example the advertising used during the Second World War to encourage young men to enlist. And indeed advertising itself could be looked upon as a form of propaganda. 

So we have propaganda and we have indoctrination.
Royal Canadian Air Force Poster WWII

But is that all? Maybe not. Apart from this, you also need willing candidates wishing to joing. But then who are they? Are they simply soft-headed, naive individuals without any critical-thinking skills or individuals with a psychological disorder? Or are they, perhaps, just perhaps, individuals looking for meaning and are simply misguided?

What does one usually see in this "Join-the-Army" element? Typically such candidates are usually, but not always, young men. Eager to "prove" themselves, to "make something of themselves", to "have an adventure" , or "attach themselves to something bigger" (like an organization) and they enlist or join or sign up. Are they soft-headed? Of course not. But they may not be as critically-minded as others who don't fall prey to propaganda and indoctrination.
Indeed, if they did not join a radical group, or enlist with the armed forces, they might just as likely join a street gang. It all has to do with identification and being identified with something larger than oneself. Apart from Rebel Without a Cause, Natalie Wood was also in another film - West Side Story and this excerpt perfectly illustrates the need for identification:

So now we have three elements: propaganda, indoctrination, identification and also with it perhaps a fourth element: camaraderie.
Of course these elements are not always bad things. And indeed they are sometimes necessary. For example, typical military basic training oftne involves a breakdown of individualism for the sake of unity. The candidates are sometimes stripped (naked),

their heads are shaved and they are all given a standard uniform to wear. And then they are marched around a parade square endlessly, while learning to be obedient to drills and commands.
Some people lmight ask why this is done and consider it dehumanizing, which it is, but it is done for particular reasons. One of these is to maintain order, obedience and allegiance. If you all look, dress and march the same way, you will automatically feel camaraderie (allegiance) and order, and obedience by following commands.

No army can operate efficiently if there is no coordination or obedience. You can't exactly march into an armed conflict and then have a third of your troops charge ahead, a thrid hang back and then another third sit down and form a discussion committee group to discuss whether or not they need to, or should, or could charge the enemy. It would be totally ineffective and the army would fall apart. The individuals cannot stop to have a "critical-thinking moment". It's like being in an emergency, you just have to act.

So now we see that there are more elements: propaganda, indoctrination, identification (camaraderie), some depersonalization of individuality and groupthink.
However, I can see two other possibilities: mercenary recruitment and those motivated by revenge.

With mercenaries, it is very clear and simple. They are motivated by money. They are guns for hire. Perhaps they might be the most frightening, because they are guns for hire and as such have not values or ethos other than money. Should the border change, they would just as easily change sides.

And revenge? Well revenge killings happen all the time. This is how feuds are perpetrated. If someone's family member or loved one dies in a war against an aggressor, most people  usually feel some degree of vengeance. Witness, for example, the decades-long Israeli / Palestinian conflict. Or more recently and closer to home in North America, one could observe what has happened in the
French Barricades, 1832
Lenin, Russian Revolution 1917
Ferguson, Missouri riots. People in Ferguson are/were clearly frustrated with the situation and rightly or wrongly, at some point, when the regulating bodies of power no longer listen to the people, then the people are driven to revolution and extremes. Take for example the Second French Revolution

-- the one that is depicted in the play/film Les Misérables or ironically, the 1917 Communist revolution in Russia.

So that's it. There is no one specific element that comprises or puts at risk a person for radicalization, but rather, a combination of elements, both individual and societal.

Take Care,


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