An extremist is defined by the "activities, beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions and strategies of a person or group far removed from the ordinary. In conflict settings it manifests as a severe form of conflict engagement" (Bartoli and Coleman 2003)
Typically, the same extremist act will be viewed by some as just and moral (such as pro-social "freedom fighting"), and by others as unjust and immoral (antisocial "terrorism") depending on the observer's values, politics, moral scope, and the nature of their relationship with the actor (Bartoli and Coleman 2003)
Extremist acts often employ violence. Low power groups are more likely to employ direct, episodic forms of violence (such as suicide bombings), whereas dominant groups tend to be associated with more structural forms (structural violence meaning centralization of power etc) (Bartoli and Coleman 2003).
The structural varieties of violence are often indirect whereas violence unleashed by low power groups like the LTTE is direct or actual physical violence. The state may then counter physical from low power groups with physical violence of its own.
The core problem that extremism presents in situations of protracted conflict is the severity of the activities but also the closed, fixed, and intolerant nature of extremist attitudes, and their subsequent imperviousness to change (Bartoli and Coleman 2003).
Extremism is driven by sociopolitical, religious, economic and even psychopathic conditions. The most personal motivation, however, is fear. Fear is what drives violence and the violent-doer; it is what maintains the group to unleash violence.
Fear, as a state of mind, is deeply personal and does not require political or socio economic conditions driving it. Whenever the basic characteristics that tie a group together are threatened, the group will fear for its survival.
For example, when Prabhakaran was being pursued by law enforcement agencies in 1976 for assassinating Alfred Duraiappah, fear forged cohesion in the band of outlaws under him. As times went by and the fear grew, the group attempted to get rid of the threat through even more distorted or violent means (Barker 2003)
It is an established truth that the common thread that weaves violent political movements together is fear. ‘It is not the only motivating factor behind political violence, nor necessarily the most obvious, but it is virtually always there. Whenever we ask why people hate, or why they are willing to kill or die for a cause, the answer is invariably fear’ (Barker 2003).
Barker says that extremist groups ‘fear change, modernization and loss of influence…They fear the influence of mass media and its ability to subvert the young with song, dance, fashion, alcohol, drugs, sex and freedom….They fear a future they can’t control, or even comprehend. (Mattil 2003).
Although the LTTE has a promised goal, it is still threatened by the uncertainty of achieving that imagined future and by outside influences that can alter the course of the organization. Countless in-group leaders from Mahattaya to Karuna have succumbed to this fear psychosis. Countless other leaders external to the movement have also been killed. The LTTE even resisted sex and marriage until Prabhakaran met Mathivathini, it resisted women wearing trousers until it ran short of manpower.
Strategies have been developed to reduce extremism and to eliminate fear with mixed results. Peace-building for example, have been used in the macro-social level to address inequalities, human rights, democratization, participatory governance etc. The eastern elections in
The method that has or is presently achieving success against extremism is the use of force. This has been demonstrated in
Bartoli, Andrea and Peter T. Coleman. “Dealing with Extremists”. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium,
Barker, Phil. “Fear”. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium,
James F. Mattil, What in the Name of God?: Fundamentalism, Fear & Terrorism @ flashpoints.info, 7th March 2003.