Counter-Radicalization: A Critical Look into a Racist New Industry
Published: March 21, 2019 • Updated: October 18, 2020
Author: Dr. Tarek Younis
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
For more on this topic, see Unpacking the Effects of Islamophobia
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Looking beneath the rhetoric
I suspect the reason why ‘domestic homicide pre-criminal identification’ has not been developed as a nation-wide strategy—accompanied by on-screen pop-ups in mental health institutions—may be related to the fact that the majority of victims are female, most perpetrators are White males,
Policy-based evidence, not evidence-based policy
- Lack of emotional resilience
- Problems with relationships
- Need to feel important, valued, or special
- Need for identity, meaning, and belonging
- Feelings of threat and insecurity
While the parameters of what constitutes “evidence” is (rightfully) open for discussion, the scientific method of evidence-production generally involves two key concepts: validity and reliability. Validity relates to the meaningfulness of a measure’s components, in that they measure what they’re supposed to measure. In an example of my own fieldwork, PREVENT’s CR training emphasizes emotional resilience as a potential vulnerability. But what is emotional resilience? And is “lack of emotional resilience” a valid component preceding political violence? As you can see, though there are many ways of assessing this component alone (e.g., even if we had a definition for emotional resilience, how do we measure it?), validity remains important because, without it, one cannot really determine whether someone is truly vulnerable to radicalization. Reliability relates to the extent to which a measure or intervention is repeatable. In other words, if two people were asked to determine an individual’s ‘emotional resilience,’ how likely are they to come to similar conclusions? Both validity and reliability underline why a robust evidence base is so important. Otherwise, invalid and unreliable measures—unscientific, in other words—are simply subject to personal whims and social conventions, similarly to the demonization of ‘poor families’ described above. This is antithetical to the scientific enterprise.
Radicalization: a color-blind pathology?
It’s not just the lack of evidence that’s problematic. In a social and political vacuum, one might ask: what’s the harm in trying to prevent people from becoming bad, even without valid or reliable methods? But we do not live in a social or political vacuum. British and American counter-radicalization efforts operate in politically volatile, economically insecure contexts with deeply embedded racial structures inherited from violent imperial legacies.
Counter-radicalization thus operates directly upon a long-standing logic in which Western Muslims are in need of constant assimilatory monitoring and interventions. What used to be ‘become like us or go back to where you’re from’ is now ‘become like us or you’re potentially a threat to national security.’ By employing the frame of non-violent extremism, counter-radicalization serves as a mode of regulating behaviors apparently at odds with a liberal nation-state. In this, as sociologist Nisha Kapoor explains, gender (in)equality is often employed as the measure by which one may identify potential radicals. In other words, orthodox Islamic gender roles that contradict Western liberal norms may be judged as the sort of ‘extremism’ from which political violence is suspected to arise. This has little to do with actual research into causes of political violence, and more to do with the securitization (and evolution) of a long-standing integration debate about Muslims in Western societies. All these concerns, which often fall under the heading of non-violent extremism, are not about terrorism per se, but are thought to constitute the sort of ideological soil from which political violence may blossom.
Here the question often arises, ‘how can one be racist towards Muslims?’ Perhaps the two Egyptian Christians who were attacked by their fellow protestors—in a rally opposing the building of a mosque—might give us an indication.
39 Two-hundred and ninety psychiatrists were divided into five groups to evaluate the same case of a patient save for key differences in race and gender (white male; white female; black male; black female; race and gender undisclosed). It came to light that the race of a patient influenced evaluations: Black people were more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than White people. The reason for this was simple: schizophrenia was commonly associated with aggression within the logic of mental illness, and the United States has a history of associating violence and criminality with Black bodies.
Muslim reproducing a securitized narrative
Divisions among Western Muslims have always existed, though they are often spoken about, for brevity or from ignorance, as a monolithic community. The political categorization of Western Muslims however is inherently problematic. The term glosses over a wide range of groups, political affiliations, migration histories, and religiosities. Counter-terrorism strategies, directly and indirectly, play upon these divisions. The most glaring direct State intervention is the demonization and favoring of certain groups over others in the name of counter-terrorism, thereby endowing internal divisions (i.e., Sufi-Salafi) with political significance. Arun Kundnani reports, for example, how the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB, the overarching umbrella organization of UK mosques) fell out of the UK government’s favor when it voiced disapproval of the UK’s illegal invasion of Iraq, stating it might cause more violence.
Conclusion: Beyond Bad Apples
I always paint the following analogy when discussing bad policy: imagine a rat-infested town. As the infestation worsens, the mayor decides to kill all the rats by poisoning the water. The rats die, but people also become sick. So, even if a policy were hypothetically successful in its objectives, its “success” is not the only measure of impact. Despite all the criticism levied towards CR efforts, there are still those who argue that “doing something is better than nothing” which, as this analogy conjures, is not only false (one can always make things worse) but is also a common logical fallacy called the politician’s syllogism: ‘We must do something. This is something. Therefore, we must do this.’ This logic immediately dismisses structural faults at the heart of any policy. I hope, as I explained with the analogy of the poisoned water, that we look beyond the narrow definitions of CR’s alleged “success” to see its devastating impact on communities. The recognition of such devastation should be sufficient to rebuke public CR and CVE efforts and call towards a rethinking of how best to approach the subject of political violence.
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