RadicalizationWhy don’t most people become radicalized?

By Julianna Photopoulos

Published 10 October 2018

To understand what leads people into violent extremism, scientists are turning the question on its head and asking why it is that most young people don’t become radicalized.

It’s part of a wave of research attempting to find ways of combatting extremism, which also includes analyzing people’s paths to radicalization and compiling a database of successful counter-extremism actions.

‘Understanding pathways to non-radicalization is as important to us as those that lead to radicalization,’ said Professor Hilary Pilkington, a sociologist from the University of Manchester in the U.K.

She and her colleagues are working with researchers across the EU and beyond to try to understand how young people aged between 12 and 30 respond to extremist messages or radicalization calls encountered in their everyday lives, as part of a new project called DARE.

“In understanding what makes young people not turn to violent and radical ideologies, we will also be able to better isolate what factors actually push people over the threshold into violent extremism,” said Prof. Pilkington.

Since the early 2000s, terrorist activities have intensified worldwide — with Europe increasingly becoming a target for attacks. According to Europol, in 2015, 151 people died and over 360 were injured in a year where there were 211 failed, foiled or completed terrorist attacks. In 2014, by comparison, only four people were killed and six wounded.

Push and pull
Existing research shows that radicalization is driven and sustained by multiple causes. These include broad grievances, such as inequality, injustice, discrimination and foreign policy, that push people towards a radical ideology, and factors that pull them towards extremism, such as the ideological vision of a particular group and a sense that life has a higher meaning.

But every person’s background, social situation and psychology are different, so it is hard to turn these models into predictions about their behavior or whether they will actually become a security threat.

“The many models to date show there is no one profile and no one pathway that people take,” said Prof. Pilkington. “Existing research shows that different pathways lead to radicalization, while different people on a shared pathway either radicalize or do not.”