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Extremism and terrorism as new parameters of a social crisis
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Extremism and terrorism as new parameters of a social crisis

Author: Roumian Roussev

Colonel Rumjan Rusev, expert with the MoD of the Republic of Bulgaria, is the author of the following monographs: Ideological Aspects of Terrorism,1987; Terrorism Against the Struggle for National Liberation, 1988; A View on Turkey,1990; Islamic Extremism,1991; Terrorism in Turkey, 1955; Anatomy of Extremism, 2000

For science both facts and messages are important and are an incentive for conclusions and corrections.
For the first time in the course of several years, the following scientific theses on the issue of Extremism and Terrorism were outspoken:
- the differentiation and dissection of two mutually connected social phenomena – Extremism and Terrorism;
- modern terrorism and extremism were explored as self-organizing social systems;
- modern terrorism was defined as a specific type of armed struggle;
- 14 general regularities of terrorism in a conflict situation were defined and characterized it as a struggle;
- The first version of a structural and functional model of modern terrorism was presented;
- Terrorism was given a characteristic in the social conflict as a dependency.
We should admit that a big part of these ideas was accepted with no enthusiasm by the scientific community not only because of the fact that they were new and excelled from the mass understanding about the phenomena. At the same time we ought to point out that later on these ideas were acknowledged as correct with no exclusion and now they are used both here and abroad.
However, the lack of enthusiasm has to have an objective explanation.
One of the explanations is also the existence of a widely spread opinion that terrorism is to a higher extent politics, i.e. something, which is more a result of subjective influence rather than objective datum. Of coarse this thesis is one of the possible ones and no matter how objective it is, it in no way exhausts the issue. Moreover, it is not even a major problem.
Preformed these thoughts are actually questions and when science faces a question, there comes an effort to find the answer.
So, how to explain these facts?
When we look for the answer of the new challenges in a new way, we have to start from somewhere. The degree of fundamentality of our starting point or idea in the scientific research is one of the efforts to find better answers.
In that respect a new viewpoint can be announced to the scientific community via that forum.
A logical explanation from the point of view of science is hidden in the very nature of extremism and terrorism as a conflict.
Principally, the conflict is a means for interaction of complex systems. During this interaction in the specific case with extremism and terrorism, the disintegration of the two conflicting sides could bring a new entity – a “supra-system”, which possesses separate characteristics not typical for either of the systems, but influencing their behaviour. In that direction we have to better understand the fact that modern human society is more different after the continuous and continuing clash with the global terrorism. Whilst at the end of the 20th century terrorist suicidal attacks used to shake public opinion, today we witness the fact that they are accepted with a higher degree of apathy. It means that they are not as shocking as before. This fact is a very disturbing indictor for the extreme changes in public conscience, which have arisen recently. This is also the most dynamic parameter for the undergoing social crisis in humanity that is conditionally drawn in the public area with the notion of “international terrorism”.
The notion “crisis” is irreversibly related to the notion “conflict”. But a new question arises. Could extremism and terrorism be put in the contents of the parameters of our understanding for a conflict? What are the similarities and the differences? What could be done in order to obliterate the discrepancies?
Extremism and conflict. Extremism as a “super conflict”
One of the true challenges in the analysis of that side of the huge problem Extremism is the necessity to observe it as a system of ideas, as a status and as a specific supra system, which could arise in the dynamics of a conflict situation.
Beginning from such a difficult and multisided initial assignment, in order to achieve a legitimate research every stage of the analysis is important, even the choice of its first step. Let us do this effort from an entrance position where the self-organization of a specific supra system in the conflict situation starts. Extremism is not just present in this system, it is a dominating factor. Standing behind the thesis for the emergence of a self-organizing system as a rule suggests the existence of objective conditions for the emergence of the social phenomenon extremism. We will get back to this side of the issue in more detail, but here we have to emphasize that the objective character of a phenomenon does not take out of the boundaries of legitimacy the effort to limit the phenomenon in society, neither the scientific analysis does.
Conflict is a natural presence and in that way a status for society. It is not only a clash of theses, but also existence of different even controversial concepts and analogical behaviour in community. In a certain sense and dimension it is also the existence of tolerance and balance. One almost retrospective confirms that thesis. It is not necessary for a word game, but for the further logic of the arguments on the issue.
In the 5th century B.C. an excelling Helene Tukiditus wrote a work preserved till our times, which commented real international relations in the cases of an escalating conflict between Athens and Sparta. The essence in the work for the context of the research is the lack of doubt on the natural right to use force in a conflict situation. Being a historic reading which as such remained unfinished, History of the Peloponnesian War is something more and constitutes a moral and legal photography of a long-lasting conflict. The English philosopher of the 17th century Tomas Hobs developed the hinted idea and called opposition a natural condition. For Hobs natural condition is not an idyllic picture, but a counteraction of each against all. This thesis is projected differently on a conflict situation in the country or in the international field. Objective reasons impose differences in legal, political and social plan between the territories of internal and international conflicts. For instance internal state rules are binding and respected by everyone and those refusing to abide by them are sanctioned. It is not the same way in international aspect. The criteria framework of international order is determined by international law, which is based on competitive legal systems that are not commonly applied and not commonly binding as a whole. From the point of view of conflictology the international field is a “self-regulating kingdom” whilst the internal conflicts develop in the conditions of a more or less accepted social responsibility, norms for justice and idea for legitimate power. In the area of international conflicts when the different states are observed as sides in the conflict, things do not look in the same way. And the smallest reason is because the sense for global unity is underdeveloped.
Such difficult issues required real effort by the scientists who have explored conflict. Darwin and Wallace, Ratzenhoffer and Sumner, Freud, Horney, Erikson and Sherif, but especially Marks and the influenced by him Simmel, who are acknowledged predecessors of modern conflictology. The last two of them are the authors of a systematic description of the processes of struggle and conflict in society.
All of them have paved the way for the first conflictologist in the full sense of the word Kurt Lewin.
The German-American scientist is the first psychologist who has thoroughly explored conflict as such. In 1931 in his book “The Psychological Situation of Rewards and Punishments” he determined conflict as “a situation, in which… forces with potentially equal quantity influence in opposite directions”. Later on in 1948 his thesis was further developed in “Resolving Social Conflicts”.
The German sociologist Dahrendorf and the American scientist Coser – the classics of contemporary conflictology, published their ideas, which became conceptual basis of the paradigms of modern conflictology. For Dahrendorf the social conflict has a constant presence in every society, because there is a constant condition – the difference of interests. For Coser the conflict is principally an implicit part of social progress.
Later on in 1989 the authors of Introduction to the Theory of Conflict determine it as a “form of purposeful interaction of social systems”.
The numerous definitions of the conflict make it difficult to point out one, which will satisfy all, because the phenomenon is too complex and multisided and as a result of this even its thesis characteristic would look too large but incomplete. However, we will suggest two opinions, which are closest to our viewpoint.
For Dahrendorf social conflict is “any relation between the elements, which could be characterized through objective (latent) or subjective (open) opposites.”
For B. I. Hassan “Conflict – this is a characteristic of the interactions, in which the actions unable to exist in their unaltered way are mutually determining and changing themselves by requiring a special organization for that…
Together with that every conflict is for itself an upgrading contradiction, i.e. it embodies the interaction of opposite values, understandings and motives. Only through the clash of actions, literally or virtually, do the contradictions emerge.”
It is difficult to innumerate all significant names who have left a print in the study called conflictology but justice requires pointing out Erikson and Sherif. For Erikson “every personal or social crisis represents a certain signal leading the individual to personal development and overcoming of vital obstacles.” This is a true scientific, but also optimistic approach, which at the same time gives us the opportunity to draw the first boundary between the conflict and the super conflict extremism. Our understanding for extremism, projected on Erikson’s idea, brings us to the determination of several not only significant differences between the conflict and the super conflict extremism, but deep distinctive boundaries between the two terms, the elucidation of which will find place in the present paper.
We consider that here we also have to point out the work of the Russian scientist Nataliya Grishina “Psychology of Conflict”, in which the author explores conflicts as “ fundamental building blocks…, which …do not turn to be destructive factors, but most important sources… for development and self-recognition.”
Despite of the fact that we do not cite all prominent and valuable definitions for conflict, all of them could be systematized in several theses:
1. Conflict is a natural fragment of human life. It is not pathological or abnormal for the real human interaction.
2. Conflict cannot be observed as solely destructive phenomenon and the one-sided assessment for it is illegitimate. It also consists of potentially positive opportunities.
3. Conflict can be managed. A situation where conflict goes out of control does not fit in the modern understanding for social conflicts and needs to be defined in another way. (Later on we will make an attempt to define such a condition).
So, where to look for and how to define extremism in the coordinate system of conflictology?
For us it is indisputable that the nature of extremism positions it on the surface of conflict, but it is more than an ordinary social conflict. The necessity to outline the differences is very actual, because the definition of acute conflicts as extremism or of extremism as an ordinary social conflict is more a result of political expediency or scientific adventure rather than of objective approach in science.
Which is the common and the different between extremism and the modern understanding for conflict?
1. The sad side of human history has convinced us that extremism naturally exists in the social practice. There is no real human society without extremism. It has an objective character to the extent to which social pathology is also objective.
2. In contrast to conflict, extremism is always destructive.
3. A conflict situation in which extremism is not only present but dominating cannot be managed. In the best case it can be put under control by the means of more powerful out-of-system influences, which in parallel to its inner contradictions can reach a result.
These core differences together with the similarities give us the grounds to define a crisis situation in which extremism dominates as a super conflict extremism.
This specific situation of the social system emerges, develops, spreads or dies away in the field of conflictology.
In a conflict situation between complex systems a process of self-organization goes on as a result of which a supra-system is formed. Our intuitional idea is that in a conflict situation where extremism exists and dominates as one ore more of the conflict sides, a specific supra-system is created. Actually this is the status of extremism as a super conflict. This is a notion that we introduce to conflictology for the first time.
And now let us get back to the modern logical coordinate system at which the theory of conflict could be positioned in its dynamics.
In modern science conflict situations are classified in several groups:
1. Conflict “aspiration-aspiration”
Two objects or objectives exist. They have positive and potentially equal valences, but a choice has to be made between them.
2. Conflict “avoidance – avoidance”.
This is a situation where it is necessary to choose between two potentially equal evils.
3. Conflict “aspiration – avoidance”.
A situation where one and the same objective attracts and repulses as a result of mutually existing positive and negative moments.
4. Conflict “double aspiration-avoidance”. (Conflict of double ambivalence)
A situation born by the existence of two or more opportunities with positives and negatives, between which a choice has to be made.
These are, of coarse, typical and very much simplified situations. They are usually a starting point, which is a subject to development.
The conflict situations, interesting for the research, are those that start as a typical conflict case but escalate in their dynamics to degrees reaching beyond the boundaries of the conflict and entering a qualitatively new status – super conflict extremism. In such conflict situations extremism is a distinctive characteristic to one or more of the sides in the conflict, which are dominating.
Analyzing the first from the above enumerated cases it is necessary to observe the influence, which a situation in itself has on the participants in the conflict. This influence has been commented for the first time in 1968 (V. Michelle). It could be definitely concluded that such a situation as described in the first case cannot in any way grow to super conflict extremism even if the contradictions maximally escalate. That can be said not only based on the analysis.
The rest typical cases in certain conditions can escalate to super conflict. This is one of the biggest and actual challenges to modern conflictology. Because no one nowhere has yet explored the mutation of a conflict situation into extremism as well as the questions related to the return of extremism to the criteria network of the legitimacy of modern times.
As a condition extremism in all cases is a simple conflict, but leaving the space of the social norm reached by civilization, it is an acute social mutation. This way criterion for the emergence of a super conflict extremism is a situation, in which one or both of the sides in the conflict have left the widely accepted boundaries of civilization achievement. In that respect extremism is a super conflict. We speak about a situation, in which extremism as one of the sides is dominating or when extremism turns to an essential manifestation of the other side. For instance – attempt to revive slavery, apartheid, cannibalism or to exterminate a race or a people, etc., if the power, emanating such methods denied by civilization, is allowed to become dominating in a conflict.
It is just a detail whether turning a conflict situation into an extremist one is a result of a possibility, convincement or real threat to the human fundamentals coming from the other side or of fanatic enforcement of an idealized model. The existence of conditions threatening the existence of one or all groups participating in the conflict does not always grow to extremism, but usually inspires or manifests extremist reactions.
In a conflict situation with high intensity, depth or antagonism the existence of extremist ideas or viewpoints in a part of the subjects of the opposing sides could determine the overall mutation of the behaviour of one or the two sides in the conflict only if they are dominating. In the other case they are observed as building blocks of substantial characteristics of the situation. It is an intuitive idea that each of the sides in the conflict represents a public system, which can be classified as extremist not when extremist components can be found in it but when it leaves the settled boundaries of the norm of a specific historic time.
It is indisputable that this corresponds with both political conflicts and others that can be related to them. This is a common rule with no exclusions and can emerge as a result of differences in the nature of conflict.
Ralf Dahrendorf explores one such common example, connected with the ecology problems. The Green, a typically German phenomenon which has long ago internationalized and in many countries turned into political parties, are actually a social movement, representing one of the sides in the conflict for preservation and salvation of the planet from the pollutions leading to the destroying of the ecological balance. As a social movement they appear from one of the biggest discrepancies in the social position of the people, from one common but differently realized interest of the otherwise mixed majority. This is the interest in a bearable, not destroying health environment, because the threats to it actually affect all. Every other party, group or organization which oppose against such a social movement does not create just a contradiction but a conflict. This is a new conflict situation when a vitally important thesis is contradicting to another thesis. No matter how the second one is presented, even as an aspiration for increase in the material welfare of people, it is a deny or neglect of the first, which in the case affects and ruins the common living environment for the whole mankind.
Only the weakness of this social movement, the mass domination of the production morale and ethics in society have hampered the world to reach by now another consensus on the widespread problems of ecology not only on declarations level but engaged with the overall specifics of international law. The small steps with the limitations of the nuclear tests or the chemical and biological weapons are just a part of the huge problem. The lack of such a specific framework of admissibility of pollution on a world scale is the reason for ecological extremism to be used now and then mainly with ethic reasons.
The example with the Green is not a coincidence. In the polity and human society as a whole conflicts exist and they are at the stage of ripening in which they can be determined as extremism by a series of symptoms (e.g. to what extent they threaten the fundamentals of planetary existence as whole).
The right to disagree is not extremism. The right to civilian disobedience, which stands in the essence of modern polity, is not a right to extremism, because extremism is excluded by the essence and the contents of modern society.
When it comes to large groups of people, states or even groups of states, which by the criteria of international law are extremist and constitute a side in a conflict with others, the question for the opportunities and means to modify extremism (understood as a condition) to a conflict situation not leaving the boundaries and criteria of modern times is natural.
There are enough examples in the world for the development of conflict in such an evaluation scale in both directions – to escalation or to fading away.
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