Archive for the ‘Biological basis for violent behavoiour’ Category
‘Syrian children have been subjected to “unspeakable” suffering in the nearly three years of civil war, with the Government and allied militia responsible for countless killings, maiming and torture, and the opposition for recruiting youngsters for combat and using terror tactics in civilian areas, according to the first United Nations report on the issue.’ UN News Centre, 4th February 2014.’
In 1961 I was a briefly suspected by the Libyan police of stealing a consignment of golden ‘bijouterie’ which had arrived by air from Italy and stored awaiting collection in one of my warehouse at Tripoli’s international airport. I was arrested and interrogated by a polite and well trained police lieutenant and, it transpires, followed by competent detectives for some time.
Some members of my Libyan staff who also came under suspicion were treated with less consideration. On them the police used an interrogation technique known as the bastinado. I had not heard of this painful process until I asked one of them why walking caused him such pain. He told me that during his interview in the airport police post he was forced to lie on a bedstead whilst someone thrashed the soles of his feet with a stick.
It took two years for an insurance agent to work out that a near bankrupt Tripoli jeweller had arranged an insurance scam in which a box of worthless costume jewellery was shipped to him by air from an accomplice in Naples. It was insured for a considerable sum as ‘golden bijouterie’ and marked as a valuable consignment on the air waybill and cargo manifest. He arranged for other accomplices in Tripoli to steal it from my freight warehouse so that he might claim its fictitious value in gold from his insurers. His scam, his insurance claim and his business failed.
My failure to protest about the brutal interrogation of my staff is amongst my bad memories but I may have been conditioned by my own education to accept it as normal. In the late 1940s I attended a boarding school in the English county of Cornwall where beatings of younger boys by their elders were common and vicious. Initiation ceremonies in such establishments were both physically and psychologically violent and were perpetrated by boys who are now pillars of society. Violence, habitually committed, leads to a point where it loses its significance. Put simply, savagery begets savagery.
When moral leadership, law and order and civic society is absent people tend to seek mutual security by bonding in groups which may be religious, racial, political, tribal, gang or clan. When this happens individual identity merges with the ‘group self’ and loathing for other groups is increased. Groups with strong internal identities, especially religious and political groups, can become capable of inhuman savagery. Eventually people will do savage things if their leaders tell them it is acceptable once they have renounced their individuality and merged with the group self. Examples of this are found in the Red Terror, the Pol Pot extermination of 25% of the Cambodian population and the horrors perpetrated in the name of religion today. When religion is infused into the ‘group self’ it seems to heighten hatred for those who hold incompatible values. The fate of Christians in the Middle East is a notable example. Salafist-Jihadists have begun to see themselves as the sole arbiters of Islam. They persuade their foot-soldiers that ‘their hands are prepared to do the blessed act’ of beheading their enemies.
Revenge, which is a strong value in Arab culture, may play a part in perpetuating the savagery. The Bedouin tribal concept of ‘Amara dam – ‘those who have agreed on the blood’ – means a group of close male tribal relatives who are bound to revenge a killing of one of their number or to pay blood money should one of their number kill a member of another tribe. This is a manifestation of group behaviour sanctioned by tradition and which grew up in the lawless and nomadic tribal life of true Arabs to reduce the homicide rate.
I suggest that this was what made the killing reported in the Libya Herald dated 30th August 2014; ‘The Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna has killed an Egyptian man it accused of murder in what is reportedly the second public execution carried out by the group in the town……..The execution was the second such public killing in Derna. On 27 July, Islamic Youth put to death two men, one Egyptian and another Libyan, for an alleged murder. This most recent killing has received wide-spread attention after a video of the proceedings was uploaded to the internet. The veracity of the video has been confirmed and shows one man…… killed by a single gunshot to the head. He is surrounded by around 40 members of the Islamic Youth most of whom carry Kalashnikov rifles and wear face masks and military fatigues of one kind or another. One member holds the black flag of Al-Qaeda at the centre of proceedings. There are a large number of spectators present in the stands at the football ground but they cannot be seen in the video. The execution is met with the sounds of chanting and applause.’ Sources in Derna say that the man who pulled the trigger was the murder victim’s brother.
In a paper entitled ‘Kitchener’s Lost Boys’ published in The Evacuee and War Child Journal, volume 1, number 7 and dated 2012, I attempted to show that juvenile adventure and war stories played a major role in recruiting adolescent volunteers to fight for Kitchener’s New Armies in the early years of World War I. I argued that the effect was magnified because of the neuro-physiological changes which take place in the frontal lobes of the human brain between the ages of 12 and 19. This is a period, which might be called the early formative years, when synaptic connections are forged in the frontal lobes in response to experiences. The frontal lobes influence conformity in adults and the connections formed therein during adolescence are said to exert a profound influence over subsequent moral behaviour.
Educators will point out that adolescence is a period when the tendency to form groups is at its strongest. In this case it is often a defence against perceived injustice or for self protection. The group self becomes very strong and is bolstered by a hierarchy, conformity in dress and language and dislike of out-groups. This tendency is exploited by military trainers to focus loyalty onto ‘the cause’ and to reduce individuality in favour of group loyalty.
As James Walvin wrote in a study of English childhood between 1800 and 1914; “It is reasonable to assume that the adults who displayed such fierce nationalism in the early years of the century had learned their jingoistic lines and acquired their sense of national superiority in their early formative years, when thumbing through their books, comics, magazines and yarns.” We might remind ourselves that Walvin refers to a period when the first Information Technology revolution took place fuelled by improvements in papermaking, printing, book binding and by the coming of railways offering rapid distribution of what became the mass print media.
Those of us who are against censorship in any form may have to consider our convictions with greater care in the case of our own IT revolution and in particular the ‘Social Media’. Perhaps we might take the view that the social media is a ‘virtual’ country where law and order, moral leadership and civic society are largely absent. People tend to use it to form virtual groups some of which develop strong group identities. Vulnerable adolescents are particularly prone to this effect and may isolate themselves with their laptops and games consoles from real society and begin to abdicate their identity to a ‘group self’. In this way Jihadist propagandists adjust the inner personal narrative of their target audience so that their recruiters find ready volunteers.
In particular we might consider the effect of violent videos depicting public executions and savagery on adolescent development. I argue that these videos are the ‘flight simulators’ for brutalising the minds of young recruits to the Islamist militias.
A future James Walvin might well write; “It is reasonable to assume that the adults who displayed such fierce Jihadist zeal in the early years of the 21st century had learnt their murderous ways and acquired their sense of religious superiority in their early formative years, when watching videos and playing violent games on their laptops and games consoles.”
Update 27th September 2014
This sad piece is about a ‘Bedroom Radical’ who, despite a promising life in Scotland was radicalised in just the way I have outlined above;
….and this story of radicalisation by social media;
Read this fine essay by a respected journalist for a succinct overview of the emerging ‘Caliphates’;