Radical Redemption – What Terrorists Believe

Author: Beatrice De Graaf

What is it that terrorists believe? That is the key question that Beatrice De Graaf addresses in this work. With this work she lays a foundation for further approach and study of the phenomenon of terror.

First of all, the source material: the author obtained her data from direct conversations with (former) detainees, from legal writings and the like. From this she distills a ‘grounded theory’, namely the theory of radical redemption, which I try to briefly outline here.

There are a number of enabling conditions – a five-step process – that can play out very quickly as follows:

  1. A perceived deficiency in relation to an existing recognizable community and about an ethical program. For example, one interviewee talked about his personal luxuries while children were being killed in Syria.
  2. The deficiency is the starting point for a search for interpretation. This involves an interpretation framework of, for example, an extreme religion or ideology.
  3. The embrace and activation of one’s own role and responsibility to do something about that deficiency. This can range from sending clothes to Syria to wanting to become a fighter in Syria or Iraq for the Caliphate.
  4. The radical act of redemption and its fulfillment and redemption. Here, the presence of an existing, informal ethical program of ‘pure deeds’ directs the actions of radical redemption, and rewards them in anticipation. One can ‘earn points’.
  5. If the perpetrator does not die in his actions, a fifth step sometimes occurs: reflection and disillusionment. The Caliphate did not keep its promises.

The idea that stays with me is that the majority of the interviewees were actually looking for creative meaning with that redemption. And that sounds odd to me. Hence the beginning of the work caught my attention strongly. The author first indicates what normal people can understand by creative meaning. An example is that of a person who has been through a lot and decides to fill his existence with services to his fellow man. For example, helping the children of the neighbors with their studies and helping them with a diploma, which would have had little chance without any help.

Mutatis mutandis, (some of) these interviewees try to give meaning to a life that was going in the wrong direction. For example, someone who had set up illegal trade, or who kept his life empty with drug use. Yet one does not really speak of destructive meaning. In their eyes they started to kill two birds with one stone: to purify their own souls, by sacrificing themselves for a struggle with a noble, higher purpose. But a number of those who survived ended up in a disillusionment with the latter. The final battle did not come any closer. They did not like the behavior of Muslims who fought against Muslims,…

The latter, of course, in no way justify the deeds committed.

The advantage of the conducted study is that it provides hope for a number of ‘cases’. This can be done by encouraging sobering up where possible. After all, it appears that redemption cannot be achieved just like that if the supporters of the combatants do not give them support. Furthermore, it also helps if one’s own people, such as family and community, do not ‘drop’ them as scum but stay in touch with them to welcome them when they decide to return and face the reality they have created. So continue to be there for them, but not give support for their actions.

However, there are a number of preconditions.

There are limits to the number of interviewees. There are limits to the possibilities to view legal files. There are limits by GDPR. There are limits to the time within which a person can unravel a number of things. There are many questions that arise from this study that require further study. Do these five steps apply universally to all? Because there are many more types of terror than just religious terror. Paradoxically, because of the latter I am inclined to say: I hope that there will be insufficient material to allow this study to come to a conclusion.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields. Since 2012, he has been working at the Crisis Centre of the Flemish Government (CCVO), where he has progressed in BCM, risk management, and crisis management. Since August 2021, he has been a knowledge worker for the CCVO. As of January 2024, he works at the Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs of the Flemish Government. Here, he combines BCM, risk management, and crisis management to create a tailored form of resilience management to meet the needs of the Flemish Government.

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