Myview How to stop the ter­ror­ist driv­ing into a crowd?

Mint ST - - VIEWS -

Barcelona and other re­cent ter­ror­ist at­tacks are forc­ing a se­ri­ous re­think on coun­tert­er­ror­ism strate­gies. Ear­lier ter­ror­ist at­tacks in­volved a long process—pro­cure­ment ex­plo­sive ma­te­ri­als, de­vel­op­ing the ex­per­tise to make ex­plo­sives, hav­ing the abil­ity to plant these ex­plo­sives with­out de­tec­tion, etc. The re­cent ter­ror­ist at­tacks have shown that the only re­source that is re­quired to launch a ter­ror­ist at­tack any­where in the world is the abil­ity to drive a ve­hi­cle. In this new sce­nario, one needs a to­tal re­think about our coun­tert­er­ror­ism strate­gies.

The 11 Septem­ber 2001 at­tack on World Trade Cen­ter brought in a dra­matic new fo­cus on ter­ror­ism. The im­me­di­ate re­sponse to ter­ror­ism after the at­tack was the clas­sic ki­netic ap­proach of tar­geted killing and ar­rest­ing of ter­ror­ists. Soon pol­icy mak­ers re­al­ized that killing ter­ror­ists only helped ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions re­cruit a new gen­er­a­tion of com­mit­ted ter­ror­ists.

The grow­ing re­al­iza­tion that the much­hyped “war on ter­ror” had not only failed to stop ter­ror­ism in its tracks, but had also led to the emer­gence of new ter­ror­ist groups made pol­icy mak­ers sit up and think. They re­al­ized that to get rid of the prob­lem of ter­ror­ism one needed to un­der­stand it first.

The prob­lem of ter­ror­ism is in­cred­i­bly com­plex. It has mul­ti­ple di­men­sions— po­lit­i­cal, cul­tural, eco­nomic, so­cial and ide­o­log­i­cal. Learn­ing from the fields of so­ci­ol­ogy, po­lit­i­cal science and his­tory has helped us un­der­stand the so­cio-cul­tural cir­cum­stances that give rise to ter­ror­ism. But we still know pre­cious little about the psy­cho­log­i­cal un­der­pin­nings of a ter­ror­ist.

Ter­ror­ism re­searchers have now ac­cepted the fact that ter­ror­ists are not psy­chopaths and do not suf­fer from any sig­nif­i­cant men­tal ill­nesses. Sev­eral stud­ies have shown that there is no spe­cific ter­ror­ist per­son­al­ity nor is there any ac­cu­rate pro­file, psy­cho­log­i­cal or oth­er­wise, of a ter­ror­ist or a po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist. So iden­ti­fy­ing a po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist be­comes a dif­fi­cult task.

The in­gre­di­ents of to­day’s ter­ror­ism are very dif­fer­ent from those of the past. To­day ter­ror­ism is all about rad­i­cal­ized minds us­ing com­monly avail­able things like ve­hi­cles and knives for a ter­ror­ist act. It is im­pos­si­ble to re­strict ac­cess to these new weapons of ter­ror­ism. This new sce­nario has forced coun­tert­er­ror­ism strate­gies to strongly fo­cus on the rad­i­cal­iza­tion pro­cesses, the very root of ter­ror­ism. All ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions use the rad­i­cal­iza­tion process to con­vert a nor­mal youth into a ter­ror­ist who can drive a ve­hi­cle into a crowd of in­no­cent peo­ple.

In 2008, Time magazine chose “re­vers­ing rad­i­cal­iza­tion” as one of the 10 ideas for chang­ing the world. In the last few years there have been a spate of de-rad­i­cal­iza­tion pro­grammes around the world. Daniel Koehler in his ar­ti­cle ‘How And Why We Should Take Derad­i­cal­iza­tion Se­ri­ously’ in Na­ture Hu­man Be­hav­iour ex­plains that al­though de-rad­i­cal­iza­tion pro­grammes are the corner­stone of coun­tert­er­ror­ism strate­gies in sev­eral coun­tries, few of these pro­grammes are ev­i­dence-based or prop­erly eval­u­ated.

Key to de­vel­op­ing an ef­fec­tive de-rad­i­cal­iza­tion pro­gramme is de­vel­op­ing a deep un­der­stand­ing of the rad­i­cal­iza­tion process it­self. Marc Sage­man of Philadel­phi­abased For­eign Re­search In­sti­tute has iden­ti­fied four ele­ments that could lead to rad­i­cal­iza­tion. They are: a per­ceived war on one’s in-group, moral out­rage at some salient ma­jor in­jus­tice, res­o­nance with per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences and mo­bi­liza­tion by an al­ready po­lit­i­cally ac­tive net­work.

Un­der­stand­ing the issues used in the rad­i­cal­iza­tion process is a good be­gin­ning. But ac­cord­ing to Frank Cil­luffo, re­search­ing de-rad­i­cal­iza­tion at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, “the real cen­tre of grav­ity of the enemy is their nar­ra­tive”. This nar­ra­tive makes three fun­da­men­tal changes in the minds of a new re­cruit, changes that are a 180-de­gree shift from the be­hav­iour of nor­mal hu­man be­ings.

All hu­man be­ings are afraid of death. The ba­sic hu­man in­stinct of self-preser­va­tion makes one do all that is re­quired to pro­tect one’s life. But ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions man­age to re­place this ba­sic in­stinct of fear of death with a will­ing­ness to em­brace death among its re­cruits.

Sev­eral stud­ies have shown that hu­mans have a ba­sic ten­dency to take care of one’s present self and are not both­ered about the wel­fare of the fu­ture self. Given an op­tion be­tween re­ceiv­ing a ben­e­fit in the fu­ture and in the present, nor­mal hu­man be­ing will pre­fer the ben­e­fits in the present. But the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions have man­aged to get ter­ror­ists to forgo all the plea­sures of to­day for the plea­sures of a par­adise which they have only heard of.

Nor­mal hu­man be­ings can­not kill another hu­man be­ing. Stud­ies have shown that even when we know that killing the other per­son is the best op­tion to save one’s own life, it is not easy for one to kill another per­son. But a ter­ror­ist has no qualms about killing in­no­cent peo­ple.

Be­hav­iour change of any kind is tough. For ex­am­ple, many fi­nan­cial ser­vices firms have spent crores of ru­pees to get their in­vestors to give up the plea­sures of to­day’s spend­ing and save for a bet­ter fu­ture—to no avail. But how do ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions man­age to achieve such fun­da­men­tal changes in hu­man be­hav­iour with no fi­nan­cial and other ma­te­rial in­cen­tives?

Once we have an­swers to these and more ques­tions about the real be­hav­iour change process a ter­ror­ist re­cruit un­der­goes, we will be able to de­velop the counter nar­ra­tive to take on the be­hav­iour change strate­gies of the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions.

New coun­tert­er­ror­ism strate­gies are all about the abil­ity to in­flu­ence the minds of young men. Who can do it bet­ter? The ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions or the gov­ern­ments?


Biju Do­minic is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Fi­nal Mile Con­sult­ing, a be­hav­iour ar­chi­tec­ture firm.

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