Daily Wisdom

January 14, 2007

The Psychology Of Islamic Violence

Let me say up front that I am not a psychologist and don't pretend to be one (I don't even play one on TV). However, I was questioning what might be the fundamental root causes of Islamic violence (particularly "Islamist" violence), and decided to look at it from a clinical perspective. One goal of such an excercise, of course, would be to see what a professional psychologist might consider to be a potential "cure", or if in fact there is even hope for "treatment". My findings were not very comforting.

I started my research, by going straight to the Internet (where I do 99% of my research these days). I found the following articles on the psychology of violence:

  • The Psychology of Violence, Intimidation & Hate written by Dr. Thomas O'Connor
  • Violence Has a Home Address written by the Staff of Psychology Today
  • Demonstrating the Power of Social Situations via a Simulated Prison Experiment an unattributed article at the web site of the American Psychological Association
  • Obeying and Resisting Malevolent Orders an unattributed article at the web site of the American Psychological Association
  • Family-Like Environment Better for Troubled Children and Teens an unattributed article at the web site of the American Psychological Association

  • I won't go into a long technical discussion citing various passages from these articles. You can read the full articles yourself if you wish. But here is what I gleaned from the above articles...

    All violence is aggression, but not all aggression is violence. Some aggression, such as intimidation, can be non-violent. Violence is a case of aggression where physical, not psychological harm, results. One accepted definition for aggression is: "behavior intended to injure or harm another person or group of persons either physically or psychologically". The definition of violence then, would be: "behavior intended to injure or harm another person or group of persons physically".

    Violence and aggression may be committed for a variety of reasons, and determining the motivational mechanisms behind all these reasons would be a tremendous undertaking. There are literally dozens of theories about the causes of aggression. Some would clearly NOT apply in the case of Islamic violence, while others would be far more likely.

    Violence is predominantly a male phenomenon. Murder, for instance, is committed by males at least 90% of the time. The "maleness" of serious violence and aggression has led most researchers to suspect that either biology (testosterone) or socialization (how males are raised) might be involved as causal factors. Islamic society, and in particular fundamentalist Islamic society (i.e., Sharia Law) places a high value on the male gender and a lower value on the female gender. In overtly male-dominant societies, one would expect to encounter higher levels of violence.

    Some attribute violence to biological factors. These might include such things as: birth trauma; alcohol or drug ingestion by the mother during pregnancy; prenatal dietary deficiencies; traumatic head injury via abuse or accident; exposure to toxic materials such as lead or cadmium during childhood; hormonal or chemical imbalances; neurological problems, etc. I think it is safe to assume that we can eliminate biological factors as a major source of Islamic violence. Islamic violence is too widespread to be attributed to such narrow causes.

    Sociological factors causing violent behavior include such things as: negative early life experiences; glamorization of violence in the culture; the influence of pornography; and the unintentional encouragement of aggression by being raised around guns and weapons. I think we can rule out pornography as a major source of Islamic violence. On the other hand, all the other sociological factors listed here clearly apply. For example, the negative early life experiences of being raised in a violent society. Violence is glamorized in many Islamic lands, especially by the Palestinians. Guns seem to be rampant in the Islamic world. Guns are fired into the air on virtually every occasion: weddings, births, deaths, elections, holidays, etc. While in themselves guns are not a cause of violence, their widespread availability and everyday use in a culture that glamorizes violence, reinforces the idea of violence as a tool for routine use rather than as a method of last resort.

    Vengeance-motivated violence is perpetrated by people who are angry with their victims over some perceived injury to themselves, whether real or imagined. Some are delusional (most often paranoid), and all believe that they are the true victims. Here is another clear source for much of Islamic violence. Muslims are taught in the school, in the mosque, and on TV, that 'infidels' are the cause of all the problems in the world. Islamists constantly imagine perceived wrongs against their faith or their lands, which must be redressed.

    Bias-motivated violence, as with bias crime, is perpetrated against a victim that is identified as a member of some group toward which the perpetrator feels animosity. Collective violence like mobs, lynchings, crowds, and riots, can be similar to bias-motivated violence when the object of the collective violence is a person, place or thing that is identified as belonging to a group which has offended the perpetrators. Islamic violence is often so motivated. Consider for example the Danish cartoon riots.

    Mission-motivated violence, as the name suggests, is perpetrated by people who feel they are on a mission to eliminate some sort of evil in the world. This kind of violence is most closely associated with the profile of terrorists. The mission of such terrorists can be secular as well as religious (for example, eco-terrorism). This is the kind of violence that we would attribute to Islamist terrorists.

    According to a report by the American Psychological Association, the roots of violence are in the home. The greatest single predictor of violence is a personal history of violence, claims the APA. Additionally, parents who themselves have a history of violence raise children with a greater than normal chance of becoming violent.

    Violence is not a natural state; it is learned by the young when observing parents and peers. Nor is it the inevitable result of anger or impulse. Violent actions by parents and siblings can exacerbate a child's already violent nature, creating a "trajectory toward violence."

    Societal influences help foment violent behavior. Images of violence actually have the longest-lasting impact of all contributors to violence. Prolonged exposure to violent images increases the fear of becoming a victim, desensitizes violence, and heightens the viewer's appetite for similarly engaging in violence.

    But family is the mediating variable. Children with strong family bonds are at lower risk for becoming violent than children from less cohesive families, even when they have demonstrated a violent nature. So, according to the APA, if violence begins at home, then so should prevention. Parents should monitor and control their children's exposure to violence. Violent parents need to learn better ways to interact with their children and to get help fast if children exhibit aggressive behavior. Parents need to learn how to deal with anger and frustration in less aggressive ways.

    In 1971, a team of psychologists designed and executed an unusual experiment that used a mock prison setting, with college students role-playing prisoners and guards to test the power of the social situation to determine behavior. The research, known as the Stanford Prison Experiment, has become a classic demonstration of situational power to influence individual attitudes, values and behavior. So extreme, swift and unexpected were the transformations of character in many of the participants that this study -- planned to last two-weeks -- had to be terminated by the sixth day.

    The study was conducted this way: College students from all over the United States who answered a city newspaper ad for participants in a study of prison life were personally interviewed, given a battery of personality tests, and completed background surveys that enabled the researchers to pre-select only those who were mentally and physically healthy, normal and well adjusted. They were randomly assigned to role-play either prisoners or guards in the simulated prison setting constructed in the basement of Stanford University's Psychology Department. The prison setting was designed as functional simulation of the central features present in the psychology of imprisonment (Zimbardo, Maslach, & Haney, 1999). A full description of the methodology, chronology of daily events and transformations of human character that were revealed by this research can be found HERE.

    The major results of the study can be summarized as: many of the normal, healthy mock prisoners suffered such intense emotional stress reactions that they had to be released in a matter of days; most of the other prisoners acted like zombies totally obeying the demeaning orders of the guards; the distress of the prisoners was caused by their sense of powerlessness induced by the guards who began acting in cruel, dehumanizing and even sadistic ways. The study was terminated prematurely because it was getting out of control in the extent of degrading actions being perpetrated by the guards against the prisoners - all of whom had been normal, healthy, ordinary young college students less than a week before.

    The application of this study as it relates to Islamic violence is that Muslims who may feel trapped (i.e., the "prisoners") within their own culture will act "like zombies totally obeying the demeaning orders" of their superiors. Likewise, Islamic leaders (i.e., the "guards") will tend to crush any forms of rebellion they suspect might upset their authoritarian rule and may even become cruel and sadistic in an effort to maintain order as they understand it.

    In the early 1960s, Yale social psychologist Stanley Milgram, PhD, conducted an experiment whose purpose was supposedly to study the effects of punishment on learning. The experimenter told the subject that his job was to teach a learner in an adjacent room to memorize a list of word-pairs, and every time the learner made an error, the teacher-subject was to punish the learner by giving him increasingly severe shocks by pressing levers on a shock machine. There were 30 levers whose shock values ranged from a low of 15 volts to the maximum of 450 volts. (In actuality, no electric shock was involved. The "learner" was an actor who only pretended receiving them, but the subject did not know this.) Despite the learner's increasingly pitiful screams and pleas to stop, a majority of subjects (over 60%) obeyed the experimenter's commands to continue and ended up giving the maximum "shock" of 450 volts.

    We did not need Milgram's research to inform us that people have a propensity to obey authority; what it did enlighten us about is the surprising strength of that tendency-that many people are willing to obey destructive orders that conflict with their moral principles and commit acts which they would not carry out on their own initiative. Once people have accepted the right of an authority to direct our actions, Milgram argued, we relinquish responsibility to him or her and allow that person to define for us what is right or wrong.

    Milgram's discovery about the unexpectedly powerful human tendency to obey authorities can provide a reference point for certain phenomena that, on the face of it, strain our understanding -- thereby making them more plausible. Clearly, the implications of Milgram's research have been greatest for understanding the Holocaust. But it can likewise explain why there have been few calls against Islamic terrorism or violence by "average Muslims" worldwide.

    In the late 1960’s, psychologists Elaine Phillips, Elery Phillips, Dean Fixsen, and Montrose Wolf developed an empirically tested treatment program to help troubled children and juvenile offenders who had been assigned to residential group homes. These researchers combined the successful components of their studies into the Teaching-Family Model, which offers a structured treatment regimen in a family-like environment.

    The model is built around a married couple (teaching-parents) that lives with children in a group home and teaches them essential interpersonal and living skills. Not only have teaching parents' behaviors and techniques been assessed for their effectiveness, but they have also been empirically tested for whether children like them. Teaching-parents also work with the children's parents, teachers, employers, and peers to ensure support for the children's positive changes. Although more research is needed, preliminary results suggest that, compared to children in other residential treatment programs, children in Teaching-Family Model centers have fewer contacts with police and courts, lower dropout rates, and improved school grades and attendance.

    1) Islamic society, and particularly Sharia-dominated Islamist society, appears to be prone to violence for the following reasons:
  • It is an overtly male-dominant society, and violence is a male-dominant phenomenon.
  • Unlike other religions, Islam not only condones violence but indeed prescribes it in many circumstances.
  • Violence is glamorized in Islamic culture. For example, Palestinians have been known to dress their toddlers in simulated explosive belts, suicide bombers are hailed as herose, and some Muslims even practice self-flagellation.
  • Children are not only raised around guns, but in fact guns are fired into the air on virtually every occasion, which leads children to assume that violence is a tool for routine use rather than a method of last resort.
  • The Islamic religion is viewed as supreme and must be imposed on the rest of the world. All other religions are seen as heretical and must be eliminated.
  • Violence is taught in the schools, in the mosques, and on TV as a legitimate means of achieving one's goals, and the Koran is quoted in support of such claims.
  • Bias is taught in the schools, in the mosques, and on TV. For example, Jews and Christians are referred to as monkeys and pigs. Non-Muslims are viewed essentially as sub-human.
  • Muslims are constantly imagining perceived wrongs against their faith for which vengeance must be exacted. Consider for example, the Danish cartoon riots.
  • Islamic terrorists believe they are on a mission from Allah to destroy the infidels, eliminate evil from the world, and spread the Islamic faith.
  • Violence is a learned behavior, and Islamic society spends a great amount of time and money training its people in violence.

  • 2) Eliminating violence from Islamic society any time soon appears to be an impossible task:
  • Violence is a widespread phenomenon in Islamic society rather than merely an isolated case of aberrant behavior.
  • Societal influences which foment violent behavior are unlikely to change where violence is not merely taught in the home and the culture, but it is glamorized.
  • Violence is learned quickly and develops quickly, while peace and non-violence are not.
  • There are few, if any, heroes of Islamic non-violent behavior to act as responsible role-models for Muslims.
  • Muslims who respect authority will tend to obey even the malevolent orders towards violence issued by their leaders.
  • Establishing the Teaching-Family Model in Muslim homes seems hopeless unless it comes from the Islamic leadership... and the leadership seems bent on arousing more violence rather than quelling it. Or, in the best of circumstances, they simply ignore the reality that they are continuing to teach bias and violence in their schools and mosques.
  • Eliminating guns and weapons from Islamic society seems highly unlikely considering that some Muslim countries purposely feed guns and weapons to Muslims around the world in an effort to create strife with their neighbors. Other countries including Russia, China, North Korea and even some European allies seem willing to sell such weapons to these rogue nations as long as the price is right.

  • 3) We can expect that the fighting between Islamists and non-Muslims will continue and probably intensify until the Islamists recognize the right of other religions and cultures to co-exist peacefully... or until we or the Islamists have finally been defeated.


    At 1/14/2007 7:05 PM , Blogger Nylecoj said...

    Excellent work Hawkeye!
    And to think there are folks out there that think we can actually talk the islamic terrorists into or out of anything.

    At 1/14/2007 9:39 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

    Thanks. I believe the problem of Islamic violence will go on for generations. I think the best thing we can do is stand up to it. The more victories we have now, the fewer problems our children and grandchildren will have.

    At 1/15/2007 12:35 AM , Blogger Pat'sRick© said...

    Allow me to pick a nit here:
    pro·scribe /proʊˈskraɪb/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[proh-skrahyb] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
    –verb (used with object), -scribed, -scrib·ing.
    1. to denounce or condemn (a thing) as dangerous or harmful; prohibit.
    2. to put outside the protection of the law; outlaw.
    3. to banish or exile.
    4. to announce the name of (a person) as condemned to death and subject to confiscation of property.

    At 1/15/2007 9:47 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

    GOOD nit-pickin' buddy! I must say that I never realized the true definition of the word "proscribe". I had assumed (and you know what that means) that my multiple years of training in the Latin language was sufficient to define "proscribe" as a simple composite of "pro" and "scribe"...

    "Pro" meaning "in favor of" from the Latin preposition "for"... as in "Pro"-Life, "Pro"-Choice, "pro"-active, etc. And "scribe" meaning "to write or publish" from the Latin verb "scribere"... meaning "to write".

    My assumption (and I'm sure I've seen others use the word equally incorrectly) was that "proscribe" meant to "write, or issue an order... in favor of".

    Imagine my shock then to learn that it actually means "to denounce or condemn"... that is, "to write, or issue an order... AGAINST someone or something"!

    I'm afraid you've shaken my faith in my abilities to determine the etymology of common words. In fact, I'm shaken to the very core. I can no longer take such things for granted...

    Ahhh... But such is the world of blogging! Instant responses which include both positive and negative commentary. An enlightened audience which is quick to detect errors and to corret them.

    I am ever impressed with this new medium "the Internet". It is almost exactly what I wished for in my sophomore year of high school back in 1967-68... a medium which would allow the masses to make known their wishes to the government (and to one another) instantaneously.

    Actually, I envisioned something more along the lines of 2-way TV. I guess I sort of wanted the TV news announcers to hear all the bad things I had to say about them and their stories (hee-hee!).

    Thank you my friend for a truly enlightening day!

    (:D) Regards...

    At 1/15/2007 10:02 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

    P.S. --- Oh yes, I have changed the word "proscribed" to "prescribed" in my article.

    At 1/16/2007 3:54 AM , Blogger camojack said...

    My brain hurts...

    At 1/16/2007 6:34 AM , Blogger MargeinMI said...

    Unfortunately, I think you're right: It will take generations to change the mindset of these people, and they haven't even begun the first baby steps toward that goal. As long as they indoctornate their children from the moment of birth to hate, what future is there for them? Pitiful.

    At 1/16/2007 12:55 PM , Anonymous RightWing News, Ink. said...

    wow, you sure did a lot of work on that assignment. I think you will pass with honors this semester

    At 1/16/2007 12:55 PM , Anonymous RightWing News, Ink. said...

    wow, you sure did a lot of work on that assignment. I think you will pass with honors this semester

    At 1/16/2007 12:56 PM , Anonymous Ms RightWing, Ink said...


    At 1/17/2007 12:47 AM , Blogger camojack said...


    Thanks, Ms RightWing...

    At 1/21/2007 5:03 PM , Anonymous mig said...

    Lot of work in them there words.

    And much depression in them there words.


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