Curbing Extremism and Nurturing Moderation


What can be the reasons of terrorism, the spread of violence, popularity of extremist interpretations among contemporary Muslims?

In general we can identify three major explanations: (1) Orientalistic and even racist explanations blaming Islam to be the sole primary source of terrorism, violence, and obscurantism; (2) Interpretations of recent extremism as reaction to oppression, tyranny, injustice, colonialism, social exclusion; and (3)  Conspiracy theories accusing the USA, the UK, Israel, “masons”, in short the “hidden enemies of Islam” of masterminding the recent upsurge of violence.

In any way, the recent unleash of unprecedented violence in the hands of some Muslims is a reality which cannot and should not be denied and explained simplistically.

We think that it would be more accurate to argue that the psychological and sociological factors in comparison with political and socio-economic play more important role in the emergence of unprecedented violence among Muslims. As cognitive science explains, many of our actions are unconscious and rooted in the models of child-rearing and education which we underwent. Today a great majority of conservative people, including conservative practicing Muslims, prefer the ‘Strict Father/ Mother’ model (at home and at school) which is punitive and sets clear-cut boundaries. This model is not only antithetical to the respect for freedom of choice (which is the underlying factor of pluralist culture) and development of empathy, but it inculcates despotism in the minds of children and produces a ‘culture of demotivation’.

A model of child rearing infusing despotism and authoritarianism into the subconscious is a primary reason behind the emergence of ‘us vs them’ worldview exemplified by the different variations of hate speech (of ethnic, religious or gender character) which in turn can lead to inter-ethnic and inter-community violence and totalitarian religious interpretations – religious radicalism. This problem of childrearing in contemporary Muslim communities is further exacerbated by the lack of critical thinking in education system and ‘corrupted traditionality’, a kind of traditionalist conservatism which aims to preserve the feudalistic and patriarchal status quo which not infrequently is in tune with the oligarchic or authoritarian political regimes in a number of Muslim-majority countries.

‘Culture of demotivation’ is a fertile ground for the development of sense of desperation, helplessness which are among the triggering factors of perpetrating violence. It is a fact that violent radicals, particularly terrorists, the people who not only hate ‘the others’ , they hate ‘life’, a number of them believe in different apocalyptic theories. The factors such as a sense of deep desperation, frustration, helplessness push a person to hate life and to go and kill. On the other hand, a number of young Muslims became exposed to radical ideas and joined the radical groups in the countries which have adopted ‘culture of demotivation’  at the state level by building unjust, exclusivist, despotic, ‘clannish’ regimes denying the opportunities of self-realization for their citizens.

In general, hate speech and religious radicalism flourish in the communities which seriously lack vibrant religious and secular intellectual life, where dynamic religious education and Islamic intellectual platforms, strong civil society, independent academia (particularly social sciences are seriously underdeveloped) do not exist. As a result peace building role of Islam becomes  marginalized and hate speech and totalitarian religious interpretations becomes popular with the people and tolerated by academia, intelligentsia, and religious leaders. Furthermore, all these can be deepened by the penetration of criminalization syndrome into the minds of Muslim youth, the phenomenon which can be observed from the Western Europe and Russia to the Philippines, China and Africa. To be honest, we are witnessing the emergence of a new and serious disease – a nexus between criminal underground and violent radicalism. As it has been highlighted the recent terrorist attacks in Paris brought into  shaper focus the rise of a new breed of violent radicalism which blurs the line between ‘conventional’ organised crime and religious extremism.

What to do? 

Successful neutralization of the factors leading to intolerance, radicalism and violence depends on an array of complex policy prescriptions

(1) First, they must be aimed, above all, to solve the social and psychological problems, develop human personality and prevent the inculcation of despotism into the minds and hearts and fight against the culture of demotivation. In other words, a solution to the bulk of the current problems suffocating Muslim communities around the world seems to be a model of education and child-rearing  based upon ‘Nurturant Parent’ model which infuses tolerance, empathy and critical thinking as well produces a culture of motivation.

In essence, despotism is a reflection of arrogance and supremacism. The mind-set of religious radicalism is shaped by a kind of deep- seated arrogance which unwittingly challenges God’s authority. The arrogance of religious radicals shows itself in how they claim to know the ‘ultimate’ truth and to possess the ‘only viable’ strategy to get all things right and how they the beliefs of other people. Therefore, it can be argued that despotism in the hearts and minds are both direct and indirect cause (through the models of upbringing and education) of religious radicalism.

(2) Second, religious identity should marry ‘faith’ and ‘humanness’; but, foremost religious interpretations ought to be pluralistic. In general, the challenges posed to the Islamic consciousness of contemporary Muslims demand finding solutions within Islamic doctrine in conjunction with the revitalizing of the spiritual Islamic understandings characterized by pluralism and inclusiveness, empathy and motivation.

(3) Last but not least a dynamic and pluralist Muslim communities can emerge only where freedoms are honored and protected, where the state also adopts motivating its citizens ‘Nurturant Parent’ model – which is a political liberal model.