Here’s What the Social Science Says About Countering Violent Extremism

This post is adapted from an address in the UN Security Council’s Ministerial Debate on “The Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism and Promoting Peace.”

I am an anthropologist. Anthropologists, as a group, study the diversity of human cultures to understand our commonalities and differences, and to use the knowledge of what is common to us all to help us bridge our differences. My research aims to help reduce violence between peoples, by first trying to understand thoughts and behaviors as different from my own as any I can imagine: such as suicide actions that kill masses of people innocent of direct harm to others. The key, as Margaret Mead taught me long ago, when I worked as her assistant at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, was to empathize with people, without always sympathizing: to participate in their lives to the extent you feel is morally possible. And then report.

I’ve spent much time observing, interviewing and carrying out systematic studies among people on six continents who are drawn to violent action for a group and its cause. Most recently with colleagues last month in Kirkuk, Iraq among young men who had killed for ISIS, and with young adults in the banlieus of Paris and barrios of Barcelona who seek to join it.

With some insights from social science research, I will try to outline a few conditions that may help move such youth from taking the path of violent extremism.

But first, who are these young people? None of the ISIS fighters we interviewed in Iraq had more than primary school education, some had wives and young children. When asked “what is Islam?” they answered “my life.” They knew nothing of the Quran or Hadith, or of the early caliphs Omar and Othman, but had —> Read More

Nancy Ellen Abrams On A God That Scientists And Philosophers Can Believe In

WASHINGTON (RNS) When she was a teen, Nancy Ellen Abrams told her rabbi that humanity created God.

She’s still at it.

And according to her new book — “A God that Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science and the Future of Our Planet” — this God emerges from us, not the other way around.

Abrams grew up to become a philosopher of science, an attorney specializing in international science law, and co-author of books on dark energy and dark matter — the unseeable forces that comprise 95 percent of the universe — with her astrophysicist husband, Joel Primack.

Abrams’ God book is rooted in scientists’ discoveries in cosmology, the study of the origins of the universe. She expands her theory to the spiritual heavens by detailing a God that she could believe in after leaving Judaism and embracing atheism.

This God is definitely no relation to the loving, comforting, guiding God of the Abrahamic religions. Rather, Abrams says, the real God worthy of our attention is an “emergent force” generated by the collective consciousness of human beings. As she sees it, God is the “collective of our (best) aspirations.”

Abrams writes:

“Collectively we are influencing God. The worse we behave, measured against our deepest aspirations, the weaker God becomes, not only for us but also for future generations. The better we act, the richer God becomes and the more useful to future generations. We have the power to strengthen the very God we turn to. …”

“The spiritual challenge for us is to accept the scientific picture of the universe and with the real help of a real God figure out how to act accordingly — in every way, not just technologically but sociologically, psychologically, spiritually, educationally, politically and every other way.”

Then, Abrams writes, we can use our “god-capacity” to save the “still-evolving cosmic clan in which each —> Read More

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