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Event Report: Radicalization in Friction

This event on 25 May 2011 was organized by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) and presented the results of recent research. Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko from Bryn Mawr College outlined the findings and implications of their study on the causes of radicalization. Arif Alikhan,
Distinguished Professor of Homeland Security & Counterterrorism from the College of International Security Affairs, offered his comments on the implications of the study from the perspective of government policy.

Professor Moskalenko started by pointing out the key difference between radicalization and terrorism. Namely, that the former is a gradual socio-psychological process whereas the latter is a specific action, event or movement. The study, which analyzed data on terrorists from various well known terrorist groups over many decades, identified 12 mechanisms that can be present for radicalization to happen. These were grouped into individual, group, and mass-level mechanisms and included causes such as personal grievance, status, martyrdom, love, and hate. It was noted that, although all of these mechanisms have been observed, they need not all be present for radicalization to take place. There is no easy formula.

Professor McCauley added to the presentation with an analysis of its implications. He argued that for anti-terrorist strategies to be successful, they must understand what really makes radicalization possible. The desire to create fear and coercion are certainly the reasons offered by individuals involved in terrorism but other factors such as the desire for affirmation, attention, and revenge are also important. Professor McCauley stressed the need to put religion and ideology in their proper context with regard to radicalization, particularly Islamic radicalization. Evidence of the relationship between ideas and action is complex. Surveys have shown that 99% of the tiny number of individuals who support jihadis never actually engage in any terrorism themselves. Moreover, the Koran does not condone violence, just as the scriptures of others of the great world religions do not.

Professor Arif Alikhan finished by saying that he disagrees with people who say that the radicalization movements of today are unique so we don’t need to look at history. The history of terrorism is key to understanding it effectively today. Moreover, researchers need to challenge the prevailing wisdom in order to solve complex phenomena. We need good analysis of how the social environment leads to the emergence of terrorists.

For a webcast of this event and more information on the study, visit the START website here.



 

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                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin