Saturday, September 15, 2007

Intersection of counterterrorism legal regimes and the psychology of Islamist radicalization

Brief note to myself. I am thinking about an article next year - ideally in conjunction with a sociologist or political scientist - on the intersection of two areas, legal regimes of counterterrorism and the psychology of Islamist radicalization. I have in mind, first, the literature on the psychology of radicalization - eg, the stages offered in the recent NYPD report - and a survey of the literature on how radicalization takes place. I draw, in my own background, on a (relatively obscure) journal with which I've had a long if loose affiliation, The Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence. That literature of (iterated) individual psychologies links up to a second body of literature on the spread of Islamist and jihadist ideology via social networks. But I would propose to carry that one step further, into the overlap these two have with a third body of literature on legal institutions and regimes of counterterrorism. The idea would be to assess the ways in which different legal regimes of counterterrorism create incentives or disincentives toward radicalization, reinforce or "deinforce" tendencies toward radicalization and jihadism.

One aspect of this is the effects of detention on tendencies toward radicalization - at Guantanamo or in Iraq. Many observers have noted that at least in some cases, the fact of imprisonment might well have contributed toward a greater radicalization while in detention. It is a well known phenomenon, after all, and it would be surprising if it did not take place under these circumstances. Human rights monitors and other observers hostile to the idea of preventive detention as such might have an incentive to exaggerate these effects, but it seems highly likely that it is a fact among some number of detainees in Guantanamo or Iraq. One question is whether, if one regards it as a sufficiently large issue - or, for that matter, if there is an intention at some point to release detainees - certain aspects of detention, apart from the very fact of detention, exacerbate or, alternatively, ameliorate the tendency to radicalization. Humiliation and other sources of long term resentment perhaps play a role here, and the fact that humiliation, for example, might well be an important part of some parts of interrogation, does not mean that its amelioration in later phases of detention, where the purpose is to seek to prepare for eventual release, might be also very important.

Or consider the issue of monetary compensation. I have suggested in various articles, but never really evaluated, that a regime of monetary compensation for detainees could have an important justice effect. In the case of someone who was unjustly detained for a substantial time - whatever those terms mean - where the government did not follow its own procedures in good faith, that's pretty obvious. But I have in mind instead compensation in cases in which the government did follow procedures, did act in good faith, but in retrospect turned out to have acted incorrectly. On the one hand, the government does not want to apologize for the program as such, because of its national security importance. On the other hand, an innocent person has been unjustly detained. In those circumstances, the best one can do is not apologize for the existence of the program, nor even necessarily for the detention as such. At the same time, it seems to me the government has an obligation to compensate the person very well. It seems to me critical, in that case, for reasons of both psychology and justice, that the government not be cheap. The person has been wronged and yet the government did not act wrongly. The government ought to make that person rich. Peculiarly, if the government had indeed acted wrongly, there is less need to make the person rich as opposed to well compensated, precisely because the payment is in part apology for wrong-doing. The government should pay more - this, I suggest has a certain intuitive sense both morally and psychologically - precisely because it is not apologizing. It is saying, instead, that its actions have unfortunately collateral effects, and the best it can do given two opposing mandates, is to pay very well.

It is a very delicate pas de deux, to convey precisely the correct sense of compensation without abasement, to make amends
that do not apologize for having acted as such. And I would also suggest that a portion of the money be paid out as an annuity, so that there is an unstated complicity between not undertaking jihad and continuing to get paid.

It is this kind of legal regime and the intersection with the psychology and sociology of radicalization that I partly have in mind. I also mean the examination of legal rules to see what incentives are created. Here, I am thinking of multiculturalism and what, in my view, are the very bad incentives created by its endless attention to sensitivity. The result is a constant raising of the bar of what has to be done to satisfy it - a demand regime that raises the bar of what sensitivity means higher and higher. Consider, for example, the extraordinary way in which the US government, or at least US neoconservatives, defined victory in Iraq - how many people danced in the street or threw flowers. It is an incentive merely to raise the bar higher and higher. Or the way in which the US military, in a quite misguided effort to be religiously sensitive, deprived detainees of Guantanamo of all identities - indeed, stimuli - other than a Koranic one. No television, no secular reading, nothing but ... the Koran, and an empty cell. It was simultaneously hypersensitive, but also, crucially, imperialist - for who was the US army to presume that its detainees were nothing more than vessels of jihadism?

The article I have in mind does not aim to be normative, not the first one at any rate. The more provocative possibilities I suggest above are not really what I have in mind for an initial paper. I am interested in the first cut at this not in normative formulations but instead at putting the three literatures on the table and seeing their intersections. This descriptive task, combined with a sort of incentives-disincentives type analysis, obviously familiar in the legal and social science literatures, is enough to get things started, I think. It is also something that a team effort could undertake without having to commit itself on normative issues in advance of getting a developed interdisciplinary account on the table.

(Ryan Goodman, Ryan Goodman, calling Ryan Goodman ... does this interest you?!)

1 comment:

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

Sayyid Qutb provides an interesting (and in many respects paradigmatic) case study: he was radicalized as a result of his time spent in the U.S and, it seems, his period of imprisonment in Egypt (It was there he read a book by one Alexis Carrel that critiqued material progess and the debilitating and degrading effects of democracy; the irony being that this internal, Western 'self-critique' had an enormous impact on Qutb's largely anti-modernist ideology.). Perhaps more importantly, his treatment in prison, alongside the fact that other Muslim Brothers were massacred behind bars during his confinement, assured the radicalization of the Brothers far beyond anything Hasan al-Banna ever envisaged. It is quite helpful to examine the history of Egypt's handling of the Muslim Brotherhood insofar as it clearly demonstrates authoritarian and repressive tactics served only to "radicalize" the Brethren, while a comparative opening up of Egytpian civil society (however intermittent and evanescent) in the direction of democratic political participation markedly altered the political idiom, message, and strategies employed by the Brethren (modern Salafiyah). In many respects, the Muslim Brotherhood, apart from its resilience, has displayed a remarkable patience in the face of authoritarian intransigence and political repression, effectively demonstrating its preference for conventional political expression and reluctance to resort to the methods of political violence.