Sputnik: Could you please give our listeners an overview of the research?
Nafees Hamid: The research was combining survey, ethnographic research and neuroscience research to quite understand motivations for why people who are already at an early stage of radicalisation choose to actually go over the edge of violence. For every violent actor, there's probably ten or twenty people who may have had some sort of sympathy towards those values, but didn't actually motivate themselves to carry out an act of violence.
However, we were able to find exactly 38 people who said that they would be willing to carry out some form of violence or to facilitate some form of violence for jihadist causes. So we knew we had a small handful of people who do support jihadist causes or were at an early stage of radicalisation. We then brought them into the laboratory to do some experiments on them, neuroscience and psychology studies. Thirty-eight might seem like a small number, but from a neuroscience point of view, it's actually a perfectly normal sample size.
We brought them in and we did a social exclusion experiment: half the participants, all second-generation Moroccan young men, were made feel socially excluded from the Spanish people while playing this little video game where they are tossing a ball. Spanish people were tossing a ball between themselves and not including the people of Moroccan origin, and then we control-condition them to including them. We then did a series of checks to make sure that the experiment worked, and we saw with a very strong effect that those people who were socially excluded in this little video game really did feel that they were no longer included in society, and that affected their belongingness and self-esteem, their sense of self-control and so forth.
So they are looking at these values in the scanner, some of them are sacred, some of the values are non-sacred; and the values include things like strict Sharia should be applied in all Muslim lands, caricatures of Prophet Muhammed must never be drawn. Some of them were a little bit more mundane, like should there be Islamic teaching in public schools in Spain?, In all Muslim countries should boundaries be taken apart and be replaced with a single Caliphate. For each participant some are sacred, some are not sacred, and they are evaluating their willingness to fight and die for each value when they are in the scanner. When they got out of the scanner, we did a battery of tests on them. What we found was that it doesn't matter if someone is socially excluded or not, a sacred value is a sacred value; it is a part of the brain that activates, called the left inferior frontal gyrus — that part is activated and people have a higher willingness to fight and die for the sacred values.
Sputnik: Why is poverty no longer deemed as a dominant driver of jihadism?
Nafees Hamid: The vast majority of the people in our surveys were poor, lower-social-economic status. They were unemployed for the majority of them, they were making very little income. The problem when people try to draw a link with poverty and radicalisation is because they generally see that a lot of people who join — let's say — ISIS or rather Al-Qaeda were unemployed. But this is something that researches call base rate neglect: what you're doing is you're saying, "Okay, they were unemployed," but how many other people were also unemployed, living in the same neighbourhood, part of the same social networks, exposed to the same radicalising narratives, and did not go into one of these groups?
Sputnik: What should policymakers do to tackle radicalisation?
Nafees Hamid: What I would encourage policymakers to do is not only think about the immediate discrimination — obviously we should be combatting that, but on a more broader sense, that sense of community social exclusion, how do we get the space for people to have a complex variety of identities, but yet still feel socially included and cohesive enough within their communities, that they don't feel lost and aimless, and therefore are easy pickings for extremist groups?
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.