Shame Honor Cultures: The Root Cause of Radicalization

16. Oktober 2011 0

Review on Rik Coolsaet: Jihadi Terrorism and the Radicalisation Challenge

One of the most salient issues concerning radicalization and jihadi terrorism is what makes someone become operational, that is what turns the faucet on which unleashes the violent rage of the individual, either in the collective or as a lone wolf. It seems that we are still in the early stages of understand such a complex phenomena. Jihadi Terrorism and the Radicalisation Challenge concerning European and American experiences is an important updated second edition volume edited by Rik Coolsaet. He is eminently qualified to undertake this task as Professor of International Relations at Ghent University, Belgium as well as Senior Associate Fellow at the Egmont Institute in Brussels. He writes a stirring account of the recent problems concerning jihadi terrorism and its precursor phenomenon, radicalization.


Rik Coolsaet (2011): Jihadi Terrorism and the Radicalisation Challenge: European and American Experiences. Second edition, Ashgate. Buy at Amazon.

There are many nuggets of information and thoughts that are found in this new and improved text. There are five new voices too: Leena Malki, Clark McCauley, Robert Lambert, Marc Sageman and most especially Lorenzo Vidino. Authors Cesari, Crenshaw, Fraihi, Peters, Roberts, Roy and Van de Voorde have either completely written new essays for this edition or have revised and update their former contributions of 2008 when the first edition appeared.

‚Radicalization‘ means „to cause (someone) to become an advocate of radical political or social reform“ and it derives from the Latin radix. However, with this second volume I couldn’t help but associate to another word related etymologically – ‚radish‘ because this root is eaten raw and is pungent, like the crudeness of the violence of the jihadis.

There is much that I agree with in this volume, for example „the ideological narrative is not the root cause of radicalization“ and that radicals are not produced in a vacuum, the context is extremely important. I would hasten to add that culture plays a significant role. Furthermore the „intersection of personal history, and that enabling environment“ such as in the case of Muhammad Bouyeri who brutally murdered Theo Van Gogh is crucial to understanding what unleashed his regression into such psychotic behavior.

The term ‚humiliation‘ appears along with another concept ‚code of honor‘ throughout the volume as an emotional root of the problem. Yet the key emotion really is shame which was missing. The context of these environments or breeding grounds for radicalization occur in shame honor cultures where the female is completely devalued. Even in the West there are pockets of shame honor cultures or families, which helps to explain the converts draw to jihad. The female suicide bombers merely internalize male hatred of the female as self-hatred and under the guise of a suicide bombing operation can mask their complete lack of social standing and value as well as years of blatant abuse and manipulation. This is why the issue of honor killing and the suppression of women’s rights is so important because, for example, the Centre for Social Cohesion in Britain did geomapping of areas where they found honor killing and jihadis. Lo and behold, they were nearly the same areas. Yet few wish to connect the dots between the behavior and the ideology. The ideologies act like a girdle for a very weak and fragile, bullying personality of an emasculated male.

True, the concept of social bonding is discussed in a series of these essays, especially Sageman’s work in which he refers to the ‚bunch of guys‘ phenomena or Malkki on the radical left terrorist campaigns in Europe and the US. However, social bonding and leaderless jihad can not have arisen de novo. There have to have been underlying major characterological psychopathology which contributed to this pathological social bonding. Elsewhere I have argued that the first bond in life with the mother is the attachment pattern for later in life. In shame honor cultures the maternal bonding is most problematic at best, again because the female is completely devalued and abused.

Van de Voorde cites Jerrold Post’s work while not naming his Political Paranoia text per se, nonetheless the fact that paranoia surfaces in this discussion, inadvertently links back to the mother once again. This makes for prime problems in future social bonding. We see this in the importance of kinship and friendship bonding about which Coolsaet writes. Muriel Degauque, the female suicide bomber convert, exemplifies this bond as well. There also is discussion of attachment to a role in Horgan and Taylor’s essay on Disengagement, De-radicalization and the Arc of Terrorism. This attachment can be understood as a kind of metaphor for a problem in social bonding and attachments. Professor Diego Gambetta, who is not a contributor to this volume, is one of the few counterterrorist experts who has raised the question of jihadis being schizoid, meaning forming attachments to hard, cold weapons as well as computers and cyber space rather than being able to bond to people without resorting to violence. Terrorists lack empathy.

Along these lines it is interesting to note that the work of Jessica Stern is drawn upon but not her most recent moving memoir Denial. The defense mechanism of denial points to how highly dissociated terrorists are. Paranoia by definition means that one is dissociated from reality and seeks to defend against it because it is too painful to acknowledge vulnerability and death.

The question of recidivism looms large for those working to rehabilitate jihadis from lapsing back into terrorist behavior. A future area of inquiry which might be helpful to explore is the recidivism of sex offenders. Jihadis have very problematic fetishes and psychosexual problems. We see this in their choice of introducing bombs into breast implants, the anus and even underwear to say nothing of shoe, which speaks to a developmental obsession and obviously a perversion.

Nevertheless Coolsaet and his colleagues have done an admirable job of informing the expert and lay readers about the challenges which we continue to face. Perhaps a third future volume might include recent developments in neuroscience, biometrics and even the area of the unconscious. This volume makes a great reader for students of this subject matter.

Rik Coolsaet (2011): Jihadi Terrorism and the Radicalisation Challenge: European and American Experiences. Second edition, Ashgate. Buy at Amazon.

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