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The Radicalization Window

A Palestinian-Israeli Comparison

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Blake Evermon
September 2, 2016

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict can teach us about radicalization due its turbulent history. Civil unrest can escalate for a variety of reasons. Situations in Palestine and Israel such as riots, targeted killings, mass robbery or looting, or terrorism can cause people to radicalize. However, it is important to know what radicalization is.

There are many different definitions of radicalization among the various law enforcement and intelligence communities. For example, The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines radicalization in a law enforcement bulletin as “the process by which individuals come to believe their engagement in or facilitation of nonstate violence to achieve social and political change is necessary and justified.”

According to that same FBI bulletin, German law enforcement and intelligence agencies describe radicalization as the “turning of individuals or groups to an extremist mindset and course of action and the growing readiness to facilitate or engage in nondemocratic methods up to the execution of violence to achieve their goals.” The point is that radicalization is a process. People can move toward radicalization or away from radicalization. We must start thinking about radicalization in terms of windows of time.

There are various-sized radicalization windows which open and shut due to political circumstances and situations. A problem for law enforcement and intelligence entities is that these windows can be opened and shut quickly and are hard to predict. As a result, these unstable windows can force law enforcement and intelligence operations to be largely reactive even though the subjects themselves are under investigation before the crime is committed. Our news is filled with several current examples of radicalization caught too late. Event such as the Ft. Hood shooting, the Boston bombers and the Paris, Nice and Brussels massacres have pushed combating radicalization to the forefront of many nations’ foreign and domestic policy. Several elements such as ideology, values and worldview can open the windows of radicalization. It is reasonable to assume positive changes in these elements can close the windows and thus the opportunities for radicalization.

Another ever-shifting element that affects the radicalization process are the numerous tools which can influence a person along the processes. Tools such as al-Qaida’s magazine Inspire, ISIS’ Dabiq and the thousands of radical Islamist websites, videos, interviews and message boards help move people toward radicalization without the radicals making face-to-face contact. This support is an element of the supportive entity of Ali’s Khan’s book, Theory of International Terrorism: Understanding Islamic Militancy, which argues that terrorism needs the three structural elements (the terror triangle) to be present. The terror triangle consists of aggrieved populations, suppressive entities and supportive entities.

According to Khan, aggrieved populations create more fertile soil for radicalization to take hold. To understand radicalization better, a good starting point is to review the fertile soil needed to support the radicalization process. The Second Palestinian Intifada is good place to start as is it a prototype for many modern conflicts where an established army is in armed, violent conflict against an insurgent faction which claims to represent a large, silent citizenry.

A 2011 landmark study found using longitudinal public opinion poll micro data of the Palestinian population linked to data on fatalities from the Second Intifada that local Israeli violence (targeted killings and assassinations) move Palestinians toward more radicalization, but that this radicalization window vanishes completely within 90 days. Key variables that affected Palestinian radicalization were proximity of the individual to the violence, whether or not the individual and/or their close friend/family member were victims in an act of violence by the Israeli government or citizens. In other words, the average Palestinian holds a more radicalized position immediately after a Palestinian causality in their district. In this instance the radicalization window is relatively short. The study also observed that major political events in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had a long-term impact on political opinions. For instance, individuals who were teenagers during the Oslo negotiations favored less radical political positions than those who were teenagers during the First and Second Intifadas.

In contrast, Israelis appear to have a much larger radicalization window. Claude Berrebi and Esteban Kor found that “the political impacts of terror attacks on the preferences of Israeli electorate remains in effect for over a year.” That is, Israelis have a much larger radicalization window than Palestinians. A possible explanation could be the law of diminishing returns. Since Palestinian fatalities have been higher than Israeli fatalities over past years, when there are so many fatalities in a state, city, neighborhood or district, violence and death become part of life for the aggrieved population. Therefore, the radicalization window is not affected by heavy, sustained violence within an aggrieved population.

More research needs to be conducted to determine if these findings are generalizable to other populations. However, I believe it is important to start thinking about radicalization in terms of windows. The important question being: How can we shut the window?


Author: Blake Evermon is a doctoral candidate in public administration at the University of Illinois, Springfield. His research interests include refugee assimilation, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Islamic radicalization, emergency management and terrorism. His professional experience includes analysis for the U.S. government and information/cyber security for educational institutions. He can be reached at [email protected].

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