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Going to Extremes: New Book Shows How Groups, Nations Radicalize Each Other

August 2, 2018 – Psychology professor Fathali Moghaddam of Georgetown College is a scholar of cognitive processes underlying collective behavior. His latest book looks at how groups and leaders radicalize each other. 

Book: Mutual Radicalization: How Groups and Nations Drive Each Other to Extremes (American Psychology Association, 2018)

Reason for the book: Moghaddam worked for five years in post-revolution Iran. He says the relationship between the United States and Iran is a classic case of mutual radicalization, which involves each group pushing the other to increasingly extreme positions and views.

Why we should care about mutual radicalization: “The main purpose of each group becomes about who can inflict the most pain on the other. The main objectives being argued are forgotten about, and the two groups become unable to work collaboratively."

Book Cover of Mutual Radicalization: How Groups and Nations Drive Each Other to Extremes by Fathali MoghaddamWhy you should read the book: Moghaddam says people should read his book if they are puzzled by Congress’ inability to agree on legislation want to understand why relations between the United States and Iran keep going from bad to worse, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or why the gun crisis in America can’t be solved.

Case studies examined: The Iran-U.S. mutual radicalization is one of 10 case studies examined in the book. It also looks at Republicans vs. Democrats on Capitol Hill, the National Rifle Association vs. gun-regulation groups, Israel vs. Palestine and North Korea vs. South Korea.

Who mutual radicalization attracts: “Mutual radicalization has a universal nature – it is found in all societies and groups. It is an irrational and collective process, in which rational and well-intentioned individuals become entrapped.”

Understanding mutual radicalization: The professor says a conflict that begins as a fight over water, for example, can become a fight about identity and collective humiliation, then shift to being about land and other resources and then change to religious values.

How to de-radicalize: Moghaddam says groups must first recognize mutual radicalization has taken place, then understand that peace is beneficial. That gets them interested in changing their relationships, with practitioners increasingly butting heads with the extremists in their groups. With help, they can then adopt mutual goals that neither group can achieve without mutual cooperation.