Archive for November 3, 2014


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Today the UK and its allies are at war with an extremist group based in Syria and Iraq that calls itself the Islamic State (IS; a name rejected by mainstream Muslim organisations). The group declared a caliphate in June this year and is seeking to expand its territory.

Amnesty International has accused IS of war crimes including ethnic cleansing, torture, abductions, sexual violence and the indiscriminate killing of civilians. Prime Minister Cameron has branded the group “evil” and says they “pervert the Islamic faith as a way of justifying their warped and barbaric ideology.”

Many of the fighters of the Islamic State are Western citizens. Indeed, this week there were reports that a fourth jihadist from Portsmouth, England, has died fighting for the Islamic State.

Never has it been more urgent that we understand why people are drawn to extremist beliefs and to violent extremist organisations. Here the Research Digest provides a brief overview of the psychological research and theories that help explain the lure of extremism.

The Need to Belong:

A  2006 survey and interviews with British Muslims (cited by Andrew Silke 2008) uncovered an important finding – people who felt their primary identity was Muslim, rather than British, held more sympathetic views towards the concept of jihad and martyrdom. Indeed, according to Randy Borum (2014) writing in Behavioural Sciences and the Law, a key psychological vulnerability of those drawn to extremism is their need to feel they belong. “In radical movements and extremist groups, many prospective terrorists find not only a sense of meaning,” he writes, “but also a sense of belonging, connectedness and affiliation.” A related idea is that extremist groups and their ideologies help people cope with uncertainty about themselves and the world.

Who Becomes an Extremist?

::: click on through to BPS ResearchDigest :::

Most Extremists Are Not Mentally Ill

::: click on through to BPS ResearchDigest :::

Extremism is Fuelled By a Group Process Known as “Risky Shift”

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Dr Paul Brown, The Pierre Janet Centre, Melbourne | the Stringer |November 2nd, 2014:

I have just returned home to Melbourne from working as a locum consultant psychiatrist at Alice Springs Hospital. I also work in research. My field is suicide. Over the last decade, I have developed a theory of suicide which centres on violence and secularisation. I believe that subjects are mostly either driven or abandoned to suicide. I call this nemesism. In Aboriginal culture, the equivalent of secularisation is Westernisation. My nemesism-secularisation theory is informed by cultural studies in both First and Third World environments, most notably of Jews and Gentiles in pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany. Over the last year, my views on suicide have been reinforced by my first-hand experience as a veteran psychiatrist accessing Aboriginal and non-indigenous communities in WA, Victoria, Queensland and NT.

The statistics for Aboriginal suicide have been repeatedly published. Here, only the headlines need repeating. Georgatos’ (National senior consultant Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project) 2013 article in the Independent Newspaper[i] is my source. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported 996 Aboriginal suicides across Australia between 2000 and 2010. That was one in every 24 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. Mowanjum near Derby suffered a spate of suicides 100 times the national average. And, for every completed Aboriginal suicide across Australia, there were hundreds of attempted suicides.

Aboriginal youth suicide is at the heart of the epidemic. In part, the vulnerability of this age group reflects demographics…

::: click here for this piece in full + free @ the Stringer :::

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