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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Nicolai Sennels, a Danish psychologist who worked for several years with young criminal Muslims in a Copenhagen prison. He is the author of Among Criminal Muslims. A Psychologist’s Experience from the Copenhagen Municipality. The book will be out in English later this year. He can be contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
FP: Nicolai Sennels, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about how a Muslim upbringing creates terrorists.
Let’s begin with this question: as a child psychologist, how would you explain that so many Muslims become terrorists or sympathize with terrorists?
Sennels: Thanks Jamie.
I have been working with children and adolescents for 15 years and as an experienced psychologist I have both theoretical and practical experience with the development of children’s personality. Having counseled more than 150 Muslim children and their parents, my clear conclusion is that Muslims in general raise their children very differently than non-Muslims. Even though all children are innocent babies when they are born, they can develop into violent and hateful fanatics when they grow up, if confronted with certain psychological circumstances.
Many have asked themselves: Why do so many Muslims become terrorists or sympathize with the terrorists? The answer does not only involve theology, but also psychology.
The question is if there are aspects of the way children are raised in Muslim culture that promotes a mindset that makes people more prone to become terrorists or to use terrorist like tactics such as using fear and violence in order to further a case that is directly against basic human rights, basic human values in general and the law.
My professional experience from working with criminal and non-criminal Muslims is that the general Muslim way of educating children contributes to the psychological development of such a mindset.
Sennels: Muslim upbringing is under the influence of religious views and cultural traditions which put the Muslim and Western cultural psychology into opposition in several central areas. As I have written about before (“Muslims and Westerners: The psychological differences” and “Among Criminal Muslims“) I have observed four major differences between the Muslim and the Western mind. I will explain later how these four Muslim psychological traits increase the risk of becoming a terrorist.
The first concerns anger. Western children are brought up to think that anger is a negative thing and that showing anger is embarrassing and probably the fastest way to “lose face” (lose social status). It is a sign of lack of control, joy and ability to do what one wants. As we say in Denmark “Only small dogs bark”. Muslim children on the contrary are to a high degree taught that anger and aggression is a socially acceptable tool for handling conflicts and expressing frustration. These clinical observations are supported by a major study done by the German University of Lower Saxony involving intense interviews with 45,000 children between 14 and 16 years of age. The conclusion is that “boys growing up in religious Muslim families are more likely to be violent“. The study, which was conducted by the leader of Lower Saxony Research Institute of Criminology and former Minister of Justice Christian Pfeiffer, also showed that “even when other social factors were taken into account, there remained a significant correlation between religiosity and readiness to use violence” among Muslims. My professional experience with Muslims is that not showing aggression when feeling provoked or criticized is seen as lack of courage or ability to protect one’s honor and this will cause loss of social status. The lack of will will in Western countries to defend our culture and values are generally among Muslims seen as an exploitable sign of vulnerability, because it makes us look weak, without courage and without pride in what we stand for.
The second difference between Muslim and Western upbringing concerns honor and self confidence. Westerners are in general brought up to think that handling criticism objectively and emotionally undisturbed is a sign of mental balance and personal strength. Trusting oneself and being able to use the criticism constructively if it is true and not caring if it is not, is a sign of authenticity and true self-confidence. In Muslim culture criticism is seen as an insult and it is expected – according to their view on anger – to respond aggressively. Being acutely aware of any kind of criticism and reacting aggressively (even being ready to kill own family members) in order to protect one’s honor is not seen as honorable in Western psychology. It is a sign of feeling insecure, weak and mentally out of balance. A recent study in so-called gelotophobia highlights this important cultural difference.
Gelotophobia is the “fear of being laughed at” and gelotophobic people easily feel ridiculed and victimized. They are characterized by a low self-esteem and lack of humor. Some societies are more gelotophobic than others. Studies show that the Middle East (33 percent) is three times more gelotophobic than the average Western European country (11-13 percent). Denmark turned out to be the least gelotophobic country in the world (1,7 percent is slightly gelotophobic). Gelotophobic cultures can not participate in intellectual debates because this involves taking critical arguments serious. People who can not handle criticism and only have very few valid arguments, easily feel powerless. Violence and threats (terrorism) then very easily becomes an – unfortunately often effective – option to avert criticism and get one’s way.
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