Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Abu Ghraib, Auschwitz and Mumbai

It is, of course, decidedly early to pronounce on just who is behind the terrorist attacks in Mumbai; but it is almost certainly radical Islamists of one persuasion or another. One senior Indian military officer has claimed that the attackers came from Pakistan – yet one of the gunmen in the Oberoi Trident Hotel managed to get hooked up to a TV channel and told them he was from the ‘Deccan Mujahedeen’, a (previously-unknown) group of Indian Muslim extremists.

 Given the marginally-improved state of the usually-hostile/often-verging-on-war relations between India and Pakistan, one might almost be forgiven for hoping it was an internal Indian operation that could not so easily be a catalyst for open military confrontation between the two nuclear powers. However, in light of the Hindu orgies of violence against Muslim communities which have followed previous Islamist terrorist incidents on Indian soil, thousands upon thousands of civilian deaths might prove equally unpalatable.


Where ever the attackers originated from, few will be surprised if they didn’t have at least tacit assistance from radicals in Pakistan. And few will surprised, given the sophisticated level of organisation in the Mumbai attacks, if the hand of al-Qaeda isn’t to be found somewhere in the pulling of the strings.


What makes people so willing to do such dreadful things to other people?

As part of teaching a new specification to my A-Level Psychology students, we’ve been looking at the notorious Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandals of 2003-2004. (See also the Blog entry, Prisoner Abuse and the Mess in Iraq) To the credit of the new specification, it attempts to apply psychological theory to ‘real life’ situations – in this case Stanley Milgram’s Agency Theory (1974) and Henri Tajfel & John Turner’s Social Identity Theory (1979) to Abu Ghraib.


It was as we were discussing the application of Tajfel’s ideas that I had what Abraham Maslow  (1956) would have called a ‘peak experience’ – though a rather chilling one! Tajfel’s proposition was that, simply by categorising people into different groups, you predispose those groups to inter-group conflict. We looked at how the American guards at Abu Ghraib saw themselves as the in-group – the ‘good guys’, self-sacrificing liberators, democrats, Christians, sophisticated, trouser-wearers – while the Iraqi prisoners were the out-group – ‘bad guys’, terrorists, tribesmen, Muslims, primitive, dress-wearers. Etc. Etc. Etc.  One of the students commented: “The Americans must have seen the Iraqis as that much further down the evolutionary chain!” And then it struck me: This isn’t that far from how the Nazis made the Jews out to be such an inferior – yet dangerous! – species and so paved the way for a kind of tacit acceptance of Auschwitz and the other concentration camps from many Germans.


Returning to Abu Ghraib….having established the theoretical superiority of the in-group American guards to the out-group Iraqi prisoners, what then symbolised that superiority? The answer, of course, was power. The Americans had it. The Iraqis didn’t. All it needed was a ringleader high in Psychoticism and thereby likely to enjoy cruelty – in the case of Abu Ghraib, Specialist Charles Graner – for that power to be exercised in a terrifying manner.


The in-group/out-group effect is the work of the PURPLE vMEME. PURPLE’s motivation is to find safety in belonging. To belong, you have to know to whom you belong. Which also means you need to know to whom you don’t belong. Which means you need clear markers to separate the (in-)group to which you belong and other (out-)groups to which you don’t belong.


I was asked by one student if Tajfel’s theory meant that racism was natural. My answer was that it’s natural to use markers to differentiate between those to whom you belong and those to whom you don’t belong. One marker could be colour of skin, another could be religion, another could be county of origin (eg: Yorkshire vs Lancashire) – anything which could indicate I belong, you’re not of our tribe. Of course, as higher vMEMES emerge and dominate in the selfplex, the need for marking difference in belonging mutates until it reaches the point where GREEN declares all are equal and all should belong. (See: Is Racism Natural…? for more on this.)


Both Clare W Graves (1978/2005) and William Samuel  (1996) have commented on the essentially non-aggressive nature of tribalistic thinking – though Marilynn Brewer & Donald Campbell (1976), in a study of 30 East African tribal groups, found competition for resources – grazing land, water wells, etc – significantly increased confrontational attitudes towards the geographically-closest out-groups.


Generally speaking, it would appear that, while PURPLE itself is largely non-aggressive, it is vulnerable to manipulation by a RED-driven individual establishing themselves as leader and using the tribe for personal aggrandisement (supposedly in the interests of the tribe). Equally, PURPLE is vulnerable to having its prejudices codified by BLUE into a system – which is what tends to happen when religions formalise around PURPLE’s rituals and traditional practices. But, whereas, PURPLE tends not to assert itself, except under pressure, BLUE is highly evangelical, determined to convert all to the one true way it advocates inflexibly.


Thus, the explosion in Islamic fundamentalism over the past 20-plus years can be seen as driven by RED-led mullahs – as typified by Iraq’s Muqtadah al-Sadr – who use the BLUEST interpretation of Islam to bind the faithful PURPLE of their followers to them in doing ‘the right thing’.


Modern inter-communal violence between Indian Hindus and Muslims stretches back at least to the end of the British Raj and has been a recurring problem greatly exacerbated by the rise in Islamic fundamentalism. More recently the surge in Hindu fundamentalism, which began in the 1990s, is adding to the tensions and the potential for large-scale bloodshed.


Remove the causes of terrorism and the terrorism will stop…?

The Mumbai gunman who got himself on TV said: “Muslims in India should not be persecuted. We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?”


Like most religions, there’s a part of Islam which contains a persecution-and-martyrdom-for-your-faith ethos. Islam, like Christianity, also carries the sense of brotherhood. Ie: for the Christian, all fellow Christians are my bothers; for the Muslim, all fellow Muslims are my brothers. With brotherhood goes responsibility – viz:-

A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him, nor should he hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfil his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim) brother out of a discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever screened a Muslim, Allah will screen him on the Day of Resurrection.” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 3/Book 43/Number 622)


Unlike Christianity – but like Judaism – Islam calls explicitly for violence in defence of fellow Muslims – viz:-

“And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith….
And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.”
(Qu’ran Sura 2: 191, 193)


Muslims in India have long complained that the government has not acted fairly in its treatment of Hindu rioters in what have virtually amounted to pogroms against them during phases of inter-communal violence. (In the Mumbai riots of December 1992-January 1993, members of the city’s police force were observed arbitrarily executing Muslims in cold blood on several occasions.)


What those outside Islam so often fail to understand is that, from his perspective and the perspectives of a great many Muslims, the Oberoi Trident gunman who complained “…when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?” was not a terrorist, his BLUE was doing its duty in fighting for oppressed fellow-Muslims.


When Muslims look around the world, there are numerous instances – not least Iraq and Afghanistan – where Muslims are being oppressed and killed by non-Muslims. What should a good Muslim do? For many, the answer is to fight for them.


So, if we could somehow eradicate the causes of injustice perceived by so many Muslims, would that put an end to Islamic terrorism? The answer, is, unfortunately, no. There will still be those hard line evangelists, zealots driven by a vMEME harmonic of RED self-aggrandisement and BLUE desire to convert all to their way of thinking – those who will not stop until the world is a global caliphate in which they play uber-powerful roles.


However, eradicating the causes of injustice will undermine the extremists, taking away their means to fuel hatred of the non-Muslims, the out-groups. Without injustices to focus on, the radical mullahs’ message of hate can be countered by moderate Muslims wanting to de-radicalise their young men and women.


Alternatively, every prisoner abuse scandal, every wedding party annihilated by American planes acting on faulty intelligence, every Hindu cop who executes a Muslim suspect, acts as a recruiting drive for al-Qaeda and adds more credibility to the concept that Muslims will not be safe until they all live in an Islamic caliphate.


Of course, for those non-Muslims who are charged with deciding how to deal with Islam, it’s not quite that simple as the bloodshed between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims in Iraq shows only too clearly. But, by taking away their grievances against non-Muslims, they lose the obvious target of non-Muslim oppressors to shoot at and their own differences are more clearly exposed.


The hand of al-Qaeda?

If al-Qaeda isn’t in any way implicated in Mumbai, then it would appear they are certainly the inspiration for the methodology and organisation of the attacks. Meticulous planning, ability to think ahead and develop strategy are indications of the BLUE vMEME at work. Possibly there is even some ORANGE emergent – such is the quality of the design of the attacks.


The specific targeting of American and British nationals as a follow-on to a general slaughter of any Indians about and the fact that the attacks were against targets which tended to be more associated with Westerners and Western values may also be an indicator of al-Qaeda involvement (or inspiration). Previous Islamic terror attacks, by and large, have tended to hit the less wealthy sections of the Hindu communities.


As indicated earlier, bad treatment of Muslims by non-Muslims  is the lifeblood of al-Qaeda. Take that away and they look pretty much like religious megalomaniacs that most Muslims would tend not to support.


But events happen; and, in a world that is less than perfect, events are going to happen which cause offence to Muslims. Unfortunately, that’s life! So we need al-Qaeda and their like out of the way so they can’t use events as propaganda. Since it’s not possible to negotiate with them, they have to be destroyed. Utterly.

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has now both offered full co-operation to the Indians in bringing the Mumbai perpetrators to justice and recommitted himself to fighting Islamic terrorist groups located in Pakistan. The Indians would do well to show goodwill and go along with him. Following the assassination of wife Benazir Bhutto, Zardari has every reason personally to want to close down Islamic terrorist groups. The fact that most of the world is outraged by Mumbai gives him some leverage with his more moderate constituency. Co-operation lowers the risk of military confrontation between the two countries and also makes it less likely that the inevitable Hindu backlash on the streets of Mumbai will be as vicious as on some past occasions.

Mumbai is a tragedy at many levels; but, hopefully, it will give some of the key players pause for thought and the opportunity to take a fresh look at how we can support those Muslims who want to de-radicalise their religion, and undermine and destroy the likes of al-Qaeda.



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