Terrorism is a complex social problem. The October 31 attack in New York City raises questions about the social forces that drive seemingly “normal” individuals to acts of violence, and how leaders and citizens can constructively respond to terror attacks without driving more individuals into resentment or opposition to “mainstream” society.

Mirta Galesic, a professor and the Cowan Chair in Human Social Dynamics at the Santa Fe Institute, is available to comment on the social forces that lead to radicalization.

“One reason some people accept beliefs that most in their society would consider radical is because they don’t see alternative ways to feel respected and valuable,” Galesic says. “One of the ways to try to counter that is to provide alternatives paths for people to find social status or affirmation. This cannot be provided by an outside community. In the case of Sayfullo Saipov, such respect and support would have needed to come from the local Uzbek community, or another community he would trust.”

Galesic also notes that, in the wake of such attacks, political leaders must be very careful not to alienate whole communities by labeling everyone of a certain ethnic or religious background as dangerous. Cooperation from these communities in recognizing and preventing radicalization of their members is crucial. “When you respond by labeling a whole community as undesirable, you make it more likely for members of that community to perceive an in-group/out-group divide, and to feel threatened,” she adds. “This can facilitate radicalization of people who wouldn’t have otherwise considered themselves to be outside of mainstream society.”

More information can be found in this editorial, which Galesic wrote for the Christian Science Monitor in 2016: https://www.csmonitor.com/Science/Complexity/2016/0121/Why-people-become-terrorists

Journalists can reach Galesic directly at [email protected]