Radical, radicalism and radicalisation

Deliverable AFFECT-RP4-2018. There has been considerable political and academic interest recently in studying ‘radicalisation’ and a multiplicity of research programmes aimed at developing alternative ways of engaging with the issue, evaluating strategies and suggesting policy directions. Very often, radical, radicalism and radicalisation are used as inseparable concepts, coherent entities and eloquent words. Yet, the threshold between holding ‘radical’ views and becoming violent is still the subject of many academic debates and it is not entirely certain that the notions of radical, radicalism and radicalisation really help to clarify and may even have contributed to obscure the scope of the debate. The term radicalisation is an unhelpful concept to understand the context, contents and mechanisms of recruitment, activism, violence and escalation. There is little hard evidence that proves interaction with violent and extreme content (videos and/or discourses) leads to participation in violent and extreme activities. People who become involved in violent activities are not suddenly converted to this path and then inherently stuck with a single-minded line of action. This process is gradual and it is an incremental dynamic full of uncertainty about what might be next. The unfortunately commonly-shared idea that extremism is nothing but the fatal conclusion of an ineluctable linear process is a crucial misunderstanding of the realities of violence. When besieged with emotional appeals, evocative imagery and threatening news, it is certainly not easy to disrupt this taken-for-granted assumption that violence and warfare are appropriate responses to violence. The question of whether such measures could contribute to increasing the risk of escalation of violence and the further exclusion of an already disenfranchised population seems almost forgotten.

Author: Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet

Date: November 2018

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