It may be more difficult to identify the main causes and triggers of violent extremism than often thought. Some, at times perhaps the most important among the reasons leading up to a case of terrorism, may in fact be concealed.
The reasons are many. For instance, underlying factors can be atmospheric and hard to pinpoint, even for the most experienced analysts. Often, factors are hidden or compounded. This is the case of long-standing elements of the radicalization process so persistent that analysts searching for the needle will not necessarily see the haystack.
Do offenders know why they did what they did?
Depending on the level of education and capability of introspection, an offender, during questioning, would himself be unable to respond by identifying some root causes, or the most important triggers that led up to his action. He might instead emphasize reasons that are acceptable to his perceived in-group, giving less or no importance to other factors. This requires sound judgement by analysts. But in some cases, analyst consensus, despite estimation for clear facts, might not be completely valid.
Double-checking facts first established
What is more, a first assessment, laid out in media operations, may be wrong but, conveyed by news outlets and thus perceived as a given, may prove so pervasive that crucial data, and thus the real reasons behind a terrorist event, are, in part, hidden to the public. An unsatisfactory foundation for policy decisions which should be based not on singularities but on data. Such might give rise to wrong directions by the legislature and the executive, both eager to create a public sentiment of security.
The value of an unbiased attitude
Finally, there is the issue of weighing. Which among the contributing factors of acts of violence played some role might be easier to answer than the question of which factors were most decisive during the socialization of a perpetrator and the genesis of his radicalization.
All the more reason to try and maintain an unbiased stance. While oftentimes, it may be possible for analysts to feed off generalized patterns, this is not always so.
Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip
15 July 2020