Interview with Maria Luisa Maniscalco: Cultural Delusions. Seven, religious fundamentalisms, sacrificial practices, genocide

(To Maria Grazia Labellarte)

The intense research activity on conflicts, on peace processes, on the relationships between culture, religion, politics and society of Maria Luisa Maniscalco, formerly full professor of Sociology at the University of Roma Tre and coordinator of the Master in Peacekeeping & Security Studies, has also dealt more recently with the problems linked to the rooting of Muslim populations in the European territories to which it has dedicated two volumes (European Islam. Sociology of a meeting, 2012 e Voies et voix de l'islam européen, 2014) and numerous essays.

Through this interview, the professor tells us about the new volume, edited together with the anthropologist Elisa Pelizzari, entitled Cultural delusions. Seven, religious fundamentalisms, sacrificial practices, genocides.

The volume contains essays by specialists from different sectors (anthropology, international law, transcultural psychiatry, sociology) united by the intention to reflect on social phenomena, such as terrorism, sacrificial practices, religious fundamentalisms, as well as the genocides that have characterized the history of the recent past.

In the interdisciplinary comparison that animates the volume, the notion of "cultural delirium" appears as a transversal interpretative key with a broad value that transcends the purely clinical field.

Professor Maniscalco, how the idea of ​​volume was born Cultural delusions. Seven, religious fundamentalisms, sacrificial practices, genocides, published by Harmattan publishing house, Italy?

The idea of ​​a collective volume around violence and its ties with culture was born within a multidisciplinary discussion group promoted by Goffredo Bartocci, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, with considerable experience in transcultural psychiatry and by Elisa Pellizzari, an anthropologist with substantial research experience in Africa and teacher of "anthropology of violence". Without disregarding the biological and instinctual basis of aggression, we found ourselves in agreement that violence manifests itself in collective life as a historical product of culture that forges personalities and behaviors through education, socialization, indoctrination and inscribes them in a collective dynamic of belonging. Hence the interest in starting a path of reflection on the radical, totalitarian and prone to violence cultural dimensions.

What is a "Cultural Delirium"?

In the specialized terms of the essay by Bartocci and Zupin the cultural delirium is defined as a cultural structure that, internalized on a psychic level, performs the function of a sort of tuning fork that can make the representations take preconceived colors. In non-clinical terms the concept crosses the whole volume and is used as an idea related to an exaltation that manifests itself in a dizzying manner, in an excess of certainties and with an inability to exercise any kind of reflexivity on one's actions. Profiles of closed cultural universes emerge, aggressively jealous of their identity and fearful of contamination. The others are considered non-human, can generate repugnance, disgust; killing them can be a duty to purify the world (as in the case of genocides), to reaffirm a religious norm (as in the case of cultural crimes), to achieve a religious political ideal (as in the revolutionary jihad) or to obtain a benefit (as in the case of sacrificial practices).

His essay in the volume, entitled "The song of the Sirens. Jihadist narrations, sectarian dynamics and radicalization processes ”is, in my opinion, an edifying reflection on radical political violence or that of Sunni jihadist terrorism. What are the socio-cultural dynamics that would support the radicalization of the jihadist homegrown, is there a "type" jihadist?

On the processes of violent jihadist radicalization and on the relative causes, literature presents many interpretations; in general some focus on psychological problems (traumatic experiences, psychiatric disorders, ongoing stress ...) and on emotional factors (personal or socio-cultural distress, identity crises, social pressures to conform, perception that Muslims are subject to persecution), others on socio-economic factors (discrimination on the labor market, economic inequalities, discrimination ...), others on socio-environmental factors (kinship network, friendship, neighborhood) and on biographical experiences (broken families, prison, borderline experience ..) . Finally, there is no lack of references to political and ideological factors from the legacies of colonialism to international and national politics.

In my essay I conceptualized radicalization as an incremental process, initially of an essentially psychological nature, which takes the form of a change of mentality following new beliefs which then gives rise to a change in daily practices. It proceeds with a rupture of relationships, family, friendship, social ties and leads to the assumption of a new identity (frequently marked with the change of name) with declarations and behaviors that record the eclipse of ordinary morality.

I have developed a multidimensional model that takes into account different factors and dimensions that we could summarize in this way: a micro level (psychological characteristics, personal stories and daily dynamics), a meso level (type of family and social network, community characteristics of life and triggering circumstances) and a macro level (ideologies and symbolic-cultural elements, international geopolitical situation).

Finally, I focused on doctrinal aspects and narratives as they emerge from jihadist propaganda for proselytizing purposes; this offers a system of reference meanings to shape perceptions, support identity transformations, forge behaviors and incite violence. The aspect of militant Islamist propaganda is to be considered fundamental both in its contents (such as: the idea that Muslims are persecuted, attributing the Muslim crisis to having abandoned the true divine message, presenting jihadists as the only defenders of the Sunnis, the myth of the arrival of the Apocalypse ...) both in the ways in which it is conveyed (charismatic leaders, European mother-tongue supporters ...) and finally in the media (social media, media ...). In the long run, ideological confrontation is perhaps more relevant than the mere aspects of security.

For his other question I must answer that there is no "standard" jihadist, since radicalization is the result of very different personal paths and concerns different social categories; some variables are more frequent such as the male sex (but the cases of women who have carried out attacks even sacrificing their own life), the young age, but also in this case with exceptions as demonstrated by the last attack of London (22, March, 2017) perpetrated by Adrian Russell Elms (aka Khalid Massood) of fifty-two years and having stayed in jail even for minor offenses. This last variable is not always verifiable and does not have a predictive character.

What could be the socio-cultural tools useful to contrast the continuous spread of violence by tracing collective life?

The violence unfortunately heavily marks our collective life and is certainly not the exclusive prerogative of jihadist extremism. Going back to the latter, to whom the essay I wrote for the book "Cultural delusions" is dedicated, I believe that on a socio-cultural level we need to work a lot with Muslim communities, to avoid the formation of enclaves, parallel societies, no-go zones within which all Muslims are induced to conform to a radical Islam because these realities, very present in countries such as Great Britain, France, Belgium, increasing the differences, fragment the social fabric, producing a sensation in Muslims of estrangement from the rest of the company. The latter have the right / duty to feel themselves citizens in their own right and to live their culture as an enriching factor and not as a point of contrast.

But for this to happen, without fear of accusations of Islamophobia and without weaknesses, we need to have clear ideas about the rules we want to be respected in our countries, avoiding intellectual exercises and sterile questions about our inability to coherence with respect to the rights and freedoms that we also profess , but that we would deny others by forbidding them to follow all the dictates, even extreme ones, of their culture, pushing the accelerator on an ethics of convictions in a flight forward until suspending any assumption of responsibility towards the consequences and future generations.

Perhaps we have not yet reflected enough on how to move to support a peaceful and mutually respectful life together without undermining our system of values ​​and guarantees.