Militarisation of Research: Meet the Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation

We have discussed a lot about the strengthening ties between the military and universities in the USA and Britain, but similar things are happening in Scandinavia. And there is no public debate about it here.

One example is a research center that was founded last year by the Danish Ministry of Defence: the Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation.

It is part of the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus and focuses according to the website on radicalisation, ideologies and the international consequences of “Islamism":

The Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation will assemble anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists and theologians, who can contribute to the understanding of what happens when Islam becomes a political ideology with the objective of overthrowing Governments.

And the role of anthropologists? (source):

The anthropological part of the project will mainly focus on processes of radicalisation, on how radicalisation manifests itself gradually, through adaptation of new world views, values and lifestyle. Data will be collected through field work and surveys. The main hypothesis is that interaction between an individual in search for identity and a radicalised group play an important role in the process of radicalisation.

It is described as an independent research institute but I wonder how free it is when the establishment of the research center is part of the U.S-led “war on terror” and the premises are so clear. The project regards terrorism as a phenomenon that is mainly linked to islam. “Islamism” is according to the Minister of Defence, Søren Gade, the biggest threat to peace on earth. The Minister of Defence said that the research findings will play a central part in Denmarks policy in their so-called “war on terror".

This world view is also reflected in many project descriptions, for example “Islamic Radicalisation among Muslims in Denmark. A Policy-oriented Empirical Study” by Shahamak Rezaei and Marco Goli:

Islamism is designated as the primary enemy of the democratic world, the omnipresent threat, and when, at the time of writing, at least two major wars are being fought against Islamism (in Afghanistan and Iraq). A vast number of billions drained from the Western state funds are being invested in national and international security.

The aim of this project is to provide empirical knowledge about factors that characterise the processes of radicalisation among young Muslims, e.g. from faith to politics, from religion to ideology, from civic society to the enemy.

The project’s key empirical questions to be answered are:
1. Which processes characterise the movement from “normal", cultural or religious Muslims to radical Islamists, mainly from the group of young Danes with an immigrant background from third countries?
2. What motivates this process?
3. How can we identify radical Muslims?

Or take a look at Lene van der Aa Kühle’s project, called “The Cultic Milieu“:

The development of a European Islam has not followed the expectations of most researchers. Instead of forming and reforming in a liberal and secularized manner, radical Islam has developed as perhaps the most distinctive form of European Islam.

But the question of why some Muslims become radical has not been easy to answer. Studies propose that there is no single pattern which can explain how and why some young European Muslims become radical. Marginalization, deprivation and resentment may provide part of the explanation, but Muslims who are radicalized are often fairly well integrated and at least not any more marginalized and deprived than large part of the Muslim community.

Studies have failed to find any psychological deficiencies and while the impact of radical religious authorities seems in some cases to have had an influence, in others the process seems to be one of self-radicalization.

Then there is one project with a different perspective. Jonathan Githens-Mazer actually challenges much of what is said on the website. From his description of his project “Causes and Process of Radicalisation among Young Muslims in Leicester (UK)“:

While there exists a very real threat of violent extremism in the UK, this threat comes from an extremely small minority, and many young Muslims feel as though they are under constant surveillance and scrutiny despite rejecting any form of political violence.

These same young people also often feel as though their own individual efforts to empower communities to be resilient against violent radicalisation and violent extremism aren’t being understood and/or heralded by non-Muslim communities, politicians and the police and security services.

This project will seek to act as a corrective to this neglect of Muslim community perspectives on issues of radicalisation and violent extremism – by conducting a series of qualitative structured interviews with young Muslims, their parents, community social workers and Imams from Leicester (UK).

I’m not 100% sure what I should think of this but it reminds me of a British initiative, see my earler post Protests against British research council: “Recruits anthropologists for spying on muslims”

There are lots of papers and links on the website that might be worth a study. Among the institutions they link to, we find The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence.

Maximilian Forte has written several interesting posts on his Open Anthropology blog recently, among others What are the Pentagon’s Minerva Researchers Doing? and Militarizing the Social Sciences and Humanities in Canada


The dangerous militarisation of anthropology

“War on terror": CIA sponsers anthropologists to gather sensitive information / see also debate on this on Savage Minds

Fieldwork reveals: Bush administration is lying about the “war on terror” in the Sahara

Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of Their Curious Relations

Two Books Explore the Sins of Anthropologists Past and Present

Cooperation between the Pentagon and anthropologists a fiasco?


Comment from: Maximilian C. Forte [Visitor]  
Maximilian C. Forte

Lorenz, this is very alarming! I am reading all this as if the air had been sucked out of me. It is so brutally frank, so extremely anti-immigrant, and “civilizational war” in tone, that I wonder if the wider populace of NATO countries understand that they have signed on to a war without end, with a genocidal dimension. That academics should participate in this is…well, a torrent of verbal fire will spew forth, so I will stop here and take some time to digest this.

2009-06-20 @ 06:56
Comment from: Bart [Visitor]  

I think the field of extremism/terrorism studies can use a good dose of ‘anthropology’. There’s quite a lot of additional value in the input of anthropologists. Instead of sounding the alarm clock, the fact that the intelligence community is reaching out, should be considered an opportunity, rather then a threat. Why automatically look upon it in such a negative way ?

2009-07-15 @ 21:49
Comment from: [Member]

I agree that the extremism/terrorism studies need a “good dose of anthropology” but not under these conditions where the premises are already set as I have explained in this post

2009-07-17 @ 01:42
Comment from: An American in Denmark [Visitor]  
An American in Denmark

Hello from Aarhus. I know I am a little late to this discussion, but I wanted to point out some observations from on campus and in Denmark. (I’m not part of the Centre). First, anthropologists here generally stay clear of the Centre and are also uncomfortable with its existence generally. I say that in an intentionally vague way to protect identities and to be fair to the participants at the Centre who are engaged in non-politically motivated research. With that said, I think the involvement of the Danish Ministry of Defense is very informative and not a cause for celebration, but for suspicion. Xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment (especially following the cartoon incident) is at a very high level here. So high, that the political mainstream (both left and right) basically agree to be xenophobic. In effect, there is not a strong non-xenophobic opposition. Though Danes are proud of Fogh Rasmussen (home-boy does good), his promotion can also be interpreted as evidence for a growing anti-Islam culture at the highest echelons of NATO. Finally, the lack of ethnic diversity in Denmark is unsurprising, but as a left-leaning American, the lack of interest in multiculturalism and affirmative action for refugees and “new-Danes” is surprising.

2009-10-03 @ 00:50
Comment from: [Member]

Thanks for your comment. You’re never to late!

Interesting (and encouraging) to hear that anthropologists stay clear of the Centre and are uncomfortable with its existence. Nevertheless strange that there has been no public debate about the center - or am I wrong? Haven’t found anything online.

Here in Norway there was much talk about Denmark’s shift from being a liberal to a more and more xenophobic country

2009-10-03 @ 14:27

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