If counter-radicalization policy is to be effective, it needs to better understand the process of radicalization itself.
Image Credit: The New Arab
Why is it happening ?
With the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, British counter-terrorism is at the forefront of media and public attention. However, counter-radicalization initiatives like the Prevent strategy are hindered because they fail to take into account certain key structural push factors in the radicalization process. Instead, they are too focused on ideological and psychological factors. This trend, that policy makers focus only on individual ideological and psychological causes of radicalization, ignores the political and socioeconomic, structural, factors that also have a strong influence.
The radicalized individual is often portrayed as irrational, when usually there are rational reasons for their movement towards an extremist ideology. These reasons exist on a local, national, and international scale. The current trend for methodological individualism in counter-radicalisation thinking—where one person is the focus of attention and factors in their environment are ignored—only increases the ineffectiveness of this policy.
There is growing evidence in academic and government research linking socioeconomic and public health factors at the local and national level with instances of radicalization. For example, a Brookings study proves that relative deprivation—such as unemployment among the educated—is an important driver. This suggests that, for instance, areas of socioeconomic deprivation have a higher likelihood of producing radicalized individuals. Socioeconomic factors are significant push factors in the radicalization process, yet they are still ignored in official efforts to counter it.
Why does it matter?
On a purely pragmatic level, policy which is not optimally effective wastes time and public money. However, the issue becomes more significant when one considers that counter-radicalisation policy has a safeguarding role in protecting minors.
If policy is not reformed to better understand the process of radicalization and tackle all the potential factors that can cause it, it will likely fail to protect minors from radicalization. For minors, structural factors, at the community and national level, can play a key role in the process.
Research conducted in Nigeria in 2013 indicates that poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and weak family structures make the youth vulnerable to radicalization and susceptible to joining Boko Haram. Armed groups can capitalize on alienation from the government for recruitment.
Studies identify childhood traumatization, poverty, and crime as important characteristics of radicalized individuals. In the UK, Muslims are among the most educationally and economically deprived communities, and 31% of young Muslims leave school without a qualification. It is alarming to see that this relative disadvantage to majority groups can be an offspring for radicalization and eventually terrorism.
Evidently, if states are to reduce the number of terror attacks from home-grown terrorists, it is imperative that policy acknowledges and addresses all factors involved.
What can you do about it?
Policy makers need to address structural push factors. These factors have recently been incorporated into the study of criminology, a field closely linked to the study of radicalization. Progress is possible, and there is much new research into the area to use for creating more effective policy.
On a personal level, it is important to take an analytical approach to policy changes, public discourse, and the media frenzy they often generate. Security issues like counter-radicalization can be easily manipulated to engineer public support for a particular point-of-view.
Current focus on ideology as a main factor in radicalization might also lead to anti-Muslim sentiments and stigmatization, in ignorance of both the ideology itself and the varied and complex nature of the process of radicalisation. Understanding the flaws embodied in the current discourse is crucial to counter these often destructive misconceptions.
Emily Thomas briefs from from Exeter, UK. She is a candidate for a Master of Research in Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham. Connect with her via LinkedIn.