Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us
This accessible book identifies twelve mechanisms of political radicalization that can move individuals, groups, and the masses to increased sympathy and support for political violence. Terrorism is an extreme form of radicalization, and the book describes pathways to terrorism to demonstrate the twelve mechanisms at work. Written by two psychologists who are acknowledged radicalization experts and consultants to the Department of Homeland Security, Friction draws heavily on case histories. The case material is wide-ranging - drawn from Russia in the late 1800s, the US in the 1970s, and the radical Islam encouraged by the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Taken together, the twelve mechanisms show how unexceptional people are moved to exceptional violence in the conflict between states and non-state challengers. Captivating, and with psychological overtones, this timely book covers one of the most pressing issues of our time.
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In Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us, McCauley seeks to explain how terrorists are led to action through mechanisms that are based on emotions and experiences that are common to all humans: love, fear, personal grievance, etc. He claims that Americans could be led through the very same psychological processes to radicalize and indeed, at the end of the work, one is shocked at his or her ability to understand terrorists. If the work is so easy to read and its explanations broach common sense, why does it take 248 pages to explain?
Terrorism is not actually something most of us are familiar with. For most Americans, their understanding of it is predicated on one event, one figurehead, and one non-state acting group. The last recorded instance of domestic terrorism in America would be the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma State. Personally, I would have been 3 years old.
Mass murder, on the other hand, is something Americans are quite familiar with, especially given the rise and recency of school shootings: Columbine in 1999, Virginia Tech in 2007, and Sandy Hook in 2012. I was 18 when Senator Gabby Giffords and several of her constituents were shot in Tucson, AZ. I was 19 when viewers of the Dark Knight Rises were shot in Denver, CO. I was 20 when Sandy Hook Elementary school children and staffers were shot in Newton, CT. These instances are much more firm in my memory. All of them evade my understanding.
Watching the news at night, we are shown the faces of those behind these events: Jared Lee Loughner, James Holmes, and Adam Lanza. We hear about the lack of humanity, the lack of remorse, and the lack of rage while they committed these acts or when they stand to trial. More important than the fact that they acted without apparent or disclosed reason, they acted with a lack of emotion: they must have been insane.
So, McCauley’s offer of an alternative explanation for terrorists’ acts beyond political motivations isn’t instinctive. Our reluctance to identify with terrorists is because we are – albeit fortunately – not familiar with it. We are not used to seeing radicals commit violence with some sort of rational explanation for their acts. Popularly understood domestic terrorists date back to abolitionists like John Brown, who are not typically referred to as “terrorists” in AP US History textbooks anyway. If we liken terrorists to ourselves at all, we liken them to mass murderers, radicals who are most often understood as insane. Thus, if an underlying political cause is not the reason for acts of violence, then the actors behind them were insane.
McCauley’s work is more than worth our time reading, but it is also wanting of examples of terrorists that are seen as heroes today – not just humanitarians in Haiti. Or, perhaps the reader is due a more cross-cultural explanation about how radicals in America express opinions, but don’t incite violence. Furthermore, there is much left unsaid about what explains the prevalence of foreign actors specifically targeting the United States. These addendums may be unimportant to the original point McCauley makes: radicalization is understandable. But they are relevant to explaining our reactions to these events beyond what terrorists expect as a part of what he terms “jiu jitsu” politics - and changing our reactions. And that is relevant to understanding how we can take advantage of when terrorists make false predictions about our behavior in response.
FRICTION: HOW RADICALIZATION HAPPENS TO THEM AND USBy Clark McCauley, and Sophia Moskalenko
Oxford University Press
TERRORISTS: WHY DO THEY DO IT?
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers
What sets ordinary people, mild mannered students, for example, on the path to radicalization and ultimately to terrorism? How does one find an answer? Or is there an answer? As the authors Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko have rather challengingly put it:
‘Focusing on them (the terrorists and their motivations) is not enough. Focusing on us is not enough…. focusing on the dynamics of conflict over time is essential’ -- which is exactly what this book and the authors set out to do with this intellectually sparkling statement of modern radicalism.
Both psychologists and consultants to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the authors are acknowledged experts in this field. Extrapolating from their extensive research, they identify 12 mechanisms of radicalisation through which, they assert, unexceptional people are moved to perpetrate exceptional violence. Ideology, they claim, is not necessarily a prime factor in this process. It emerges as more of an excuse for violence, rather than its root cause.
The wealth of specific case material provided in the book touches on a number of terrorist outrages and some obscure ones as well, from the 9/11 atrocities in New York to the Bali bombings, to the July 7 bombings in London. The authors’ wide ranging analysis of terrorism goes back to imperial Russia in the late 1800s illustrated by some rather fascinating case histories of individual terrorists.
An interesting aspect of the book is that personal experiences of individuals are examined alongside the dynamics of groups, from which most terrorism seems to emanate. ’Lone wolf’ terrorism -- from the alienated individual -- is the exception here, although individual terrorists apparently acting alone present a growing problem.
There’s a detailed chapter on the late Osama Bin Laden which traces his ‘trajectory’ into terrorism from shy gangly youth from a privileged background, to the most sought after international public enemy of our time. Published by the OUP in 2011, the book is certainly topical, but reflecting on how sudden events can suddenly change situations (and perhaps theories), Bin Laden is, as we write, no more. Now that his many thousands of victims and their grieving survivors have achieved the grim satisfaction of ‘closure’ and the landscape of international terrorism has been shifted, a revised and updated edition of this thoughtful and analytical study would be welcomed.
In all, ‘Friction’ is a riveting read, especially for social scientists and criminologists, not to mention lawyers -- as well as the general reader. Those wishing to do more research into this vexed subject will appreciate the useful bibliographies in the ‘Looking Further’ sections at the end of each chapter: probably a good investment on why they do it and what we can do about it!