Why do we use the term 'radicalization'?

The word ‘radicalization’ has been used intensively over the past decade to talk about recruitment to extremist terrorism, usually within an Islamist framework. But why do we use it?

This is the question put by Sarah Marks and Daniel Pick, who look at radicalization from a psychological standpoint. The use of the word in its modern meaning may be new, but we have been here before. In the 1950s, western societies lived in fear of communist ‘brainwashing’. The lessons of that Cold War scare are that terms such as ‘brainwashing’ and ‘radicalization’ obscure as much as they explain about the paths to extremism.

Olivier Roy, a French researcher into violent extremism, questions the focus by counter-terrorism agencies on de-radicalization. This is no more than a sop to public opinion which want to see something being done which they can understand. More important, in his view, is to understand jihadis in social and political terms.

Last year Europe witnessed a wave of lone-actor terrorist attacks – those carried out in the name of a cause but without material support from a group. Lone terrorists are by definition difficult to prevent, writes Christopher Stewart, but social media can provide early warning.

In the fevered atmosphere of terrorist incidents in Europe and Turkey, Oliver McTernan offers a timely reminder that Islam is not the only religion which is used to justify atrocities. All major world faiths including Buddhism whose central tenet is non-violence have been used to justify the aggressive promotion of sectarian interests.

Many have wondered how the Islamic State group has managed to recruit so many young women to join its self-proclaimed caliphate. Sumayah Fatani, a Saudi Arabian researcher, reveals that the propaganda directed at women in the Islamic world is very different from that aimed at Muslim women in Europe and North America. Muslim women in the West have a daily obligation to dress in a way that represents Islamic values and this sets them apart from their fellow female citizens in the rest of society. The resulting social anxiety, and longing to live in a tightly knit sisterhood, is open to exploitation.

Alan Philps, editor, The World Today.

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