Thinking about Shaming and Blaming

We live in the age of blame. Blame is king.

All the evidence is in the day-to-day headlines. Selling fear has always been emotionally appealing. All you have to do is polarize people into camps of right and wrong. This is what happens in democracies. Politicians need to energize large groups of people.

Nothing works better than fear and adrenalin to get people moving. Can you imagine if someone tried to ride into office on a platform suggesting, “People just stay calm. We need to think more about these problems.”

Last week, Scott Brown showed us how to win in Massachusetts. His top pick for our national focus is how the US handles terrorists. He posed this question: Should terrorists be declared enemy combatants and turned over to the federal government?

Two advisers to Brown, strategist Eric Fehrnstrom and pollster Neil Newhouse, said yesterday that they believed the terrorism issue actually broke more in Brown’s favor than did his opposition to Obama’s health care reform plan. “National security was a more potent issue than health care, based on the polling we saw, on dealing with terrorists as ordinary criminals versus enemy combatants.”

“On the issue of dealing with accused terrorists, for whom would you vote for U.S. Senate if you knew that Scott Brown believes that accused terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants and face military justice [and] Martha Coakley believes that accused terrorists should be provided constitutional rights and tried in civilian courts?” the Brown camp’s poll asked. Respondents split 61% to 29% in Brown’s favor, Newhouse said. [1]

What would have happened if Scott Brown said we do not understand enough about terrorists and what kind of families and circumstances produce terrorists. Gaining an understanding of this should be a national priority.

You know the answer. Since when are we, the voters, asked as to think carefully or ask good questions?

Under conditions of heightened anxiety people want simple answers. If we dare to question authority, we risk being seen as the enemy or stupid and become marginalized. This happens in many small and large groups. It is simply the way emotional systems are wired. Uncertainty and increasing anxiety go hand in hand promoting polarization [see Brooks’ NY TIMES article for another look at polarization anger and/or defensiveness. ,

During times of increasing strident polarization it becomes harder and harder for one to have a “different” idea or opinion.
OK, so the calm voice of reason may not make the front page. The front page and the popular media reflect the strongest emotions, which are useful to attract attention. But is it possible that if we as a nation saw the benefits of deep understanding, the age of anxiety could become the age of mindfulness?
Questions to consider if we lived in a Mindful Age:
1) What would deep thinking require from the average person?
2) Does the first step in deep thinking just require checking out the basic facts in controversial statements?
3) Is it possible to get facts on who has been able to obtain useful information from terrorists?
4) If as in the case of information gained from terrorists, from either the federal or the local law enforcement agencies, is not available, then how can we make rational decisions?
5) If facts are not available can we make an argument based on logic, principles or person beliefs? Hopefully people can recognize that these kinds of arguments are not as viable in convincing others about the rightness of arguments if we have no facts to base our decision on.
6) How can we know if physically threatening ways of gathering information is useful? For example has water boarding produced useable information?
7) How do we decide how important human rights are when one is at war?
7) If there are no real facts available can we just monitor our feeling responses to see if we are vulnerable to make decision based on emotion rather than factual information?
8) Can any of us notice if we have feelings of vengeance (and/or relief) when we pick a solution?
9) Does making quick, fact-free decisions, make us feel relief as now we have ended the suspense or the not knowing experience?
10) Perhaps the biggest question is how strong is our tolerance for ambiguity?

Overall, mindful people are able to evaluate whether any important decision, personal or national, is “right” both by evaluating the facts and the feelings that rise up in us as we “listen” to the arguments. It takes being emotionally strong to increase our ability to consider options. If we can consider all the options carefully then mindfulness has worked its magic.

In this hoped for age of Mindfulness more people will easily acknowledge that emotional reactions are informing policy and are used by people seeking election to public office.
I am not sure when newscasters will jump up and demand, “where is the evidence” before they simply amplify fear and reactivity. How probable will we see decreased emotionality in the media and more thinking?

If it seems less than possible that each of us is on our own to figure out what does make rational sense when it comes to terrorism, and most everything else.

We could think about the news media and the talking heads as our nightly entertainment instead of our nightly entrainment. Perhaps then our world will be a better place and each of us more responsible people.
I am clear that we could learn more about terrorism from an effort to understand the families of terrorists. I am fascinated by news stories about the families who are able to convince recruits to come back from the edge of martyrdom to lead more rational lives. Below is an interesting article that looks at terrorists and their families or origin.

Terrorist Dropouts: Family Ties May Deter Violence by Pamela Hess 1/21/10
WASHINGTON — Since 2001, al-Qaida is believed to have dispatched three men to blow up American airliners. Two of them tried but failed to set off explosions, and the third backed out of his assignment.

What made him different? A new study suggests family ties may have played an important role.

The report to be released this week by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy looked at dozens of terrorists in trying to figure out what motivates terror dropouts and how others might be influenced to turn their backs on violent operations.
Michael Jacobson, who wrote the study, said one of the key differences in the case of British student Sajid Badat was his continued connection to his family, which had emigrated from Malawi to Britain before he was born.

Badat, then 21, didn’t go through with a December 2001 shoe-bombing operation. He stashed the bomb under a bed in his family home in Gloucester, England.
British intelligence tracked down Badat two years later using evidence found on shoe bomber Richard Reid, who attempted to bring down a plane in December 2001 and is serving a life sentence in a high-security U.S. prison. More recently, a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas with explosives sewn into his underwear.

Jacobson, who interviewed 10 of the dropouts, said that unlike Reid and Abdulmutallab, Badat returned from militant camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan and eventually moved back in with his family.

Badat told prosecutors he bailed out because he was hoping “to introduce calm into his life.” He is serving a 13-year sentence.

Families can play either a positive or negative role in a terrorist’s plans, something al-Qaida recognizes. Lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta instructed his compatriots to cut off ties to their families. However, the two Sept. 11 conspirators who dropped out were both in touch with their families, against al-Qaida instructions.

At the same time, al-Qaida is known to realize the power that families can exert in keeping a terrorist in the fold. It has paid extra to men with wives, given them additional time off to be with their families and encouraged them to recruit their spouses to the cause, according to the report, which cites captured al-Qaida documents.

In one case, it was al-Qaida’s seeming indifference to the plight of the wife of one of its operatives that ultimately turned him into an American informer.

L’Houssaine Kherchtou, a former member of al-Qaida who was a key witness in the trial of four men accused in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, turned against the organization in part because it rejected his request for $500 to cover the cost of his wife’s Cesarean section. Khertchou saw the slight as part of a larger pattern of stinginess, and he split from the group when it moved from Sudan to Afghanistan.
Another would-be extremist from the United States was intercepted by his sister at a foreign airport en route to Pakistan and persuaded to go home. The intercept was orchestrated by an imam in Texas who was contacted by the family and who has close ties to the FBI, according to the report.

Others have been turned off by the gritty reality of the terrorist life versus the romantic vision that brought them into it in the first place.
Five of six young Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, N.Y., who pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism in 2003 dropped out of their Afghan training camp in 2001 despite pressure from their al-Qaida recruiter. Bad food was one irritant; when one discovered the meals were better in the infirmary, another faked a leg injury and spent the rest of the time in the facility.

An unidentified British official quoted in the report said many young Britons who have traveled to the tribal areas of Pakistan have quickly returned home after being disappointed by their experience.

The disappointment is due in part to the severe changes al-Qaida made in its training camps because of the war in Afghanistan. Before Sept. 11, the camps had not just religious studies but also weapons and physical training.
Camps now are smaller and more ad hoc, and recruits have sometimes been asked to pay for their own equipment and housing, Jacobson writes.

The reasons terrorists and extremists reverse course vary but could point to a way to encourage more dropouts, Jacobson says.
One effective method: puncturing the mystique of terrorist leaders. Jacobson said the 2006 dissemination of a videotape showing slain al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi not knowing how to fix and fire a jammed machine gun was a good example.
Highlighting the hypocrisy of killing civilians and other Muslims in terrorist attacks can also be effective, Jacobson found.

The U.S. government should also publicize the fact that leaving terrorist organizations is possible, Jacobson said. The Lackawanna Five actually received permission from Osama bin Laden himself to leave the camps early.
But Jacobson points out that the government is often the least effective messenger for a counter narrative to terrorists; former terrorists and extremists are in a better position.

Research on Families of Terrorists:

Professor Clive Walker, who has both an LLB and PhD, is a terrorism specialist and Professor of Criminal Justice at Leeds University. He notes that terrorists feel rejection by both their culture and their fathers. They then reject the culture and form a close bond with a small close circle of friends who reinforce their beliefs.

A slightly different finding was presented by Marc Sageman-
A study of 172 al-Qaeda terrorists conducted four years ago by Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA case officer in Pakistan, found that 90 per cent came from a relatively stable, secure background.
Three quarters were from middle-class or upper-class families, two thirds went to college and two thirds were professionals or semi-professionals, often engineers, physicians, architects or scientists. The average age for making an active commitment to violent jihad was 26, and three quarters of the terrorists were married, most of them with children. Only one in a hundred had shown any form of psychotic disorder. Two thirds became drawn towards a terror group while living in a country that was not their homeland.
Dr Sageman’s findings, published in 2004 in Understanding Terrorist Networks, led him to conclude that “most of these men were upwardly and geographically mobile”. He wrote: “Because they were the best and brightest, they were sent abroad to study. They came from moderately religious, caring, middle-class families. They spoke three, four, five, six languages.”
Unlike the lone serial killer, these men functioned well in groups. Indeed they depended, isolated as they were in a foreign country, on a close circle of friends who reinforced and legitimised their beliefs. “You could almost say that those least likely to cause harm individually are most likely to do so collectively,” Dr Sageman wrote. Yesterday he told The Times that the existence of a terror plot involving foreign doctors should surprise no one.
“When you look at the global Salafi jihad, you have three waves. The first were the companions of bin Laden, the characters in Afghanistan in the 1980s,” he said. “The second, on whom my 2003 research was based, were the best and the brightest from the Middle East. Those are the guys who became radicalised in the West. Many of them are engineers and physicians.
“And the third are what people call the home-grown, these are the guys who are second or third generation in the West, and they are less well-educated. Their average age is about 19 or 20, and there are more criminal elements there.”
Both groups, however, typically experience a sense of dislocation from the society in which they live and work. Clive Walker, a terrorism specialist and Professor of Criminal Justice at Leeds University, says that Mohammad Sidique Khan and his three companions shared a form of “social anomie”.
“It’s a kind of in-between state, a symptom of rejection in many ways. They feel rejected, but equally they reject the available cultures, both of their fathers and of the society they find themselves in,” he said.

Dr. Walker’s is Professor Clive Walker | Staff | School of Law | University of Leeds he obtained his LLB from the University of Leeds in 1975, Leeds and his PhD from the University of Manchester. His research also seems to fit with the research on the families who suffer from intense cut offs over the generations. These kinds of descriptions also fit with how families that produce “terrorists” are portrayed in fiction.

Is Life Stranger than Fiction ?
In Dan Brown’s newest novel The Lost Symbol, he creates a believable look at how a family unit innocently drives a young son into becoming a “terrorist” of sorts by over helping and not holding the son responsible for his actions. This son, like those in the research mentioned above, also rejects his father and his culture. He strikes back at both and attempts to destroy them.
Dan Brown also realizes that the polarization in society and especially polarization around religious groups, leads to extreme dysfunction. His books make us mindful of the role of both families and organizations in setting up one person or one group against another.

I am not going to give away too much of Brown’s novel, just recall a fact, the Catholic Church took it up against Galileo resulting in the bashing of science for three hundred years.

Other kinds of extreme behaviors in families end up with one child being seen as “the problem.”

The child is spoiled and or infantilized and becomes a person who never expects he will or can be held responsible and so indulges in all kinds of activity to pay the family back for seeing them as week, being ambivalent and on and on.

There may be inconvenient facts about how the family influences the behavior of the young. It may be that we set ourselves up as “experts” and get an emotional high by blaming, shaming and posturing rather than thinking through hard questions?

My Interest
Because of the polarization that occurred in my family when my father joined the Air Force during WWII, I have remained interested in how families inadvertently make life more difficult for returning veterans.

Over the years I wondered how much his inability to integrate himself back into society after the war had to do with 1) his reasons for joining the service, and 2) with how little he was able to talk about his experience and 3) to what degree people’s expectations of him made it more difficult to adapt to a new world.

Many say his descent into alcoholism after the war was due to his work during the war. He was one of the intelligence officers responsible for helping plan and coordinating the fire-bombing of Japan.

There are usually many factors that lead to one person’s dysfunction and we need to know what they are in order to aid other returning veterans.

Warriors and Terrorists Different Families or the Same?
We know that in every family children turn out differently. There are many factors, but one of the important ones is a few are: the quality of relationship the parents have with one another and with the extended family during their developmental years.

Others include:
1. The child’s niche in the system,
2. What are the other siblings like, and what is their position with one or both parents?
3. Is the child’s position similar to or different from the position of the parents in their families or origin?
4. Are the parents other focused projecting blame or hope?
5. Are the parents looking at the reality of the child’s talents?
6. What kind of fiends does the child make?
7. How much and what kind of contact is there with the extended family?
8. Have their been unusual stressors in the child’s life?

Osama Bin Laden has many sons. What determines which ones are close to him do you think? Was the “dye cast?” Did it happen before the child was a teenager?
How mindful are the military or any of us about the reasons people become warriors or terrorists? How much do we know about the kinds of families that produce warriors versus those who produce terrorists?

Of course, who’s a warrior and who’s a terrorist may depend on your point of view. One person’s “terrorist” is another’s “warrior”. What difference do the words mean to the health of an individual and a nation? If your family is invested in the military you have a better chance to be a warrior as long as you get along with the family and feel valued.

If the family is full of pacifists you may have a harder time being a well-respected warrior. Words are the vehicle on which emotional energy is loaded up and aimed at a person.

How mindful are any of us about how our family relationships have influenced us to be the people we are? How many of us have had to define ourselves to our family that we were going to be “different,” from their hopes and dreams.

The scale of differentiation may help us understand the influences that create terrorists or warriors, though even the distinctions between the two may only be clear within a particular cultural context.

The scale of differentiation is based on the observation that people who are highly fused with others do not have the backbone to develop a well-developed self. Less differentiated folks are more likely to make decisions to minimize their current discomforts and to sell out their future to get along with others.

It’s a short-term solution to find some kind of love or a bit of approval from others who might use you down the road. Once people have undue influence over you its easy to become a scapegoat or a martyr for them

In reading Bowen’s book, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, you get a different idea of what it takes to be self, especially in your own family. Perhaps this knowledge will one day become useful as we move from the age of anxiety to the age of mindfulness.

”We forget that Family System Theory is a way of life to be lived out in everything we do, and that it is not just another dogma to be preached to gullible disciples. We know with our heads that good things can happen in families when we can maintain a modicum of self control and stay in contact, but we forget the same things applies to us as professionally.”
Murray Bowen in a letter to the faculty and staff in 1982

Many thanks to Judy Ball for her very thoughtful editing help!!!!

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