Monday, 11 April 2016

"Profiling ideology the best way to combat terrorism", letters 10 April

Letter to South China Morning Post [288 words]:

Trust a professor of social sciences to befuddle us with a word-salad of jargon only to close with a glimpse of the obvious. 

Professor Sundramoorthy runs through a long list of "sociodemographic profiles" which could create a terrorist, before landing on the "ideology of terrorism". (Profiling ideology the best way to combat terrorism, letters 10 April)

But this is only a glimpse of the obvious, for nowhere does he say what that ideology is. He fails to name the one clear connection between all these terrorists — that they are all votaries of Islam. There are plenty of poor and disaffected youth in the world.  But only those who believe in the sanctity of jihad and the certainly of martyrdom (those virgins in paradise) can be tempted to strap on a suicide vest to kill innocents.

Sundramoorthy is not alone in this failure to name the obvious link in modern terrorism. Plenty of other observers name a myriad causes — grievances, poverty, lack of education, disenfranchisement — while ignoring the common thread in all: islamist-jihadi ideology.

They would all do well to study the words of Adam Deen, an ex-Jihadi and now counter-terrorist outreach worker in London. On 10 April he said "the predominant factor in radicalisation is the ideology [of Islam] — it is the ideas that move people.  I didn't come from a poverty-stricken background or broken home.  I went to university, I didn't feel angry and I was apolitical. Yet, I was indoctrinated with a radical Islamist ideology and became impassioned with the idea of an Islamic state".

If we, non-Muslims and moderate Muslims alike, are to face down the terrorist threat, we need to counter the plain truth in front of us, the threat of radical islamist ideology.

Peter Forsythe
9 Siena One
Discovery Bay
Hong Kong
9308 0799
P. Sundramoorthy's letter:

Undeniably, the significant impact of terror and extremist strategies in recent years has instilled significant levels of fear and phobia in societies worldwide.
Governments, policymakers, law enforcement agencies, multinational corporations, non-governmental organisations, interest groups, and even ordinary people are all attempting to acquire information on the profile of a terrorist. Many ask what does a terrorist look like, what personality traits do they possess, in what conditions do they live, are they employed or unemployed, are they religious fanatics? We desperately want answers so that we can identify these criminals and put a stop to their horrific and inhumane acts of terror and violence.
Some scholars argue that with the acquisition of additional primary data, psychological profiling will be substantiated as a successful measure. However, based on analysis of official data by researchers, there is no grounded evidence to conclude that there is causal progression from mental illness to terroristic intentions. Psychological profiling is further limited by the apparent normalcy and sociability of many captured terrorists. Thus, in the context of terrorism, the argument that a terrorist personality or personalities exist for psychological profiling is scientifically non-conclusive as well.
Sociodemographic profiles as illustrated in some research do display some credibility. Religiosity, social class, employment status, place of residence, type of neighbourhood, politics, level of corruption in the local community, business opportunities, poverty, accessibility to schools and hospitals, public health, type of housing and other quality of life related variables can be useful in sociodemographic profiling. This type of profiling requires a considerable amount of biographical data and without the data it has limited practical use in addressing emerging terrorist threats. Sociodemographic profiles only succeed in demonstrating the multiplicity and complexity of the phenomenon of terrorism and extremism.
Thus, will it ever be possible to profile the terrorist? Sadly the answer is no and to profile the terrorist is a futile endeavour and most of all it contributes negatively to both stereotyping ethnocentrism and will eventually lead to feelings and acts of prejudice and discrimination.
As an alternative to profiling the terrorist, a more practical and effective methodology would be profiling the ideology of terrorism as a process within a complex system. This increasingly globalised phenomenon is here to stay and we need to engage with all segments to understand the root causes of extremism and terrorism.
P. Sundramoorthy, associate professor, school of social sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia