The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

Event Report: Preventing Violent Radicalization in America

28 June 2011

An event held by the Bipartisan Policy Center featuring speakers, Governor Thomas Kean, Chairman, 9/11 Commission, Peter Bergen, Director of National Security Studies Program, New America Foundation, Peter Neumann, Founding Director, International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College London, was a long ranging investigation of the extent of radicalization in the United States. The main area addressed was the importance of including the communities of radicalized groups and individuals in the process of tacking the roots and processes of ideas and ideologies that can lead to violent terrorist action.

The event raised some interesting questions for the role of psychology in addressing radicalization.

1.    Effective evaluation using psychological indicators
The difficulty of proving a negative for terrorist events that don’t happen was raised. Measures of the psychological extent of radicalization and levels of integration and cooperation between different cultural or religious communities are an important part of program evaluations.

2.    Understanding political environments and the motivations behind collective action
The Prevent program of the UK government was heavily criticized for being a waste of money. Many of the objectives that were identified were implemented carelessly with not enough regard for the effective communication of objectives and understanding of the interests and fears of communities.

3.    Individual intervention with at-risk individuals
This part of the Prevent program was its most successful and offers an important role for the work of psychologists, particularly clinical.

4.    Public communication heads off trouble
Another success of Prevent was ensuring that media and public interest groups in the UK understood the psychological underpinnings of the controversial Dutch cartoons.

5.    Building effective relationships with community leaders
The role of leaders from within at-risk communities was highlighted as an area of great importance. However, there are sensitive psychological implications for involving individuals in positions that give them a very public profile.

 The full video of the event can be found on the Bipartisan Policy Center website here.

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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin