Number 4 – December 2008 RADICALISATION AND RECRUITMENT IN EUROPE
Policy recommendation for the Commission
Research on radicalisation should be conducted in which the individual and his or her social environment are the central focus of analysis. More specifically, we point to the necessity of empirical research that investigates the role that social identification plays in the emergence of radicalisation. This social factor appears to intervene in practically each and every relationship between external factors and radicalisation.
First and foremost, there is no single explanation for radicalisation. The
causes of radicalisation are as diverse as they are abundant. On the one hand,
this implies that independent factors are insufficient to result in radicalisation. On
the other, radicalisation can only be the outcome of a complex interaction
Radicalisation is an individual process of socialisation, which is prominently
caused by a combination of social and individual causal factors. What we are
facing is that individuals involved in violent radicalisation leading to terrorism
come from a range of different social, cultural, educational and professional
backgrounds. They enter into individual paths of radicalisation according to their
specific background and personal history. Furthermore, each individual is
motivated by a specific combination of reasons for entering violent radicalisation
and is exposed to different triggers and catalysts.
Secondly, causal factors differ in the extent to which they contribute to
radicalisation. More explicitly, we argue that external factors like political,
economic and cultural conditions indeed shape and constrain the individual’s
environment but that they do not have a direct effect on individual behaviour. At
the social and individual level, dynamics in which the individual is directly
involved need to be started in order for external factors to lead to radicalisation.
In addition to these three measurement levels, causal factors are further
distinguished into causes that set the foundation for radicalisation, and catalysts,
which abruptly accelerate the radicalisation process.
The complexity and uniqueness of the causal factors of radicalisation signal that
it is hard to define social groups that are vulnerable to radicalisation. The
proportion of potentially radical individuals is so small and diverse, that it is hard
if not impossible to categorise them into groups with specified social boundaries.
Furthermore, research with the intention of profiling specific “ideal types” of
individuals, who are more susceptible to enter into violent radicalisation, seems
However, certain common traits and patterns for people who get involved
in violent radicalisation are discernable, which might open up the possibility of
• Processes of radicalisation are social processes which are inherently
individual in nature and depend on the specific background, situation and
personal characteristics of the person involved.
The complex, multidimensional nature of the processes of radicalisation
demand scientific research investigating the underlying mechanisms that
lead to individual radicalisation and radical behaviour. Under which
conditions will individuals be willing to change their attitudes and
behaviour to the extent that violent radicalisation is the outcome?
Research should be conducted in which the individual and his or her social
environment are the central focus of analysis.
• Social identification with allegedly harmed groups is an important indicator
of vulnerability to radicalisation. In particular for people for whom group
membership of the relevant group is central to the individual’s self-
identity, threats towards the group are likely to increase radicalisation
Social identification appears to intervene in practically each and
every relationship between external factors and radicalisation. For
example, the degree to which people identify with a relevant social group
determines the extent to which they are affected by political, economic,
and cultural circumstances. Whereas observing an Afghan Muslim in
absolute deprivation is not very likely to lead to radicalisation of a non-
Muslim European, a similar observation can be a very painful and
provocative experience for a European Muslim who strongly identifies with
Afghan Muslims. In other words: it is the perception rather than the
objective situation that is relevant in the emergence of radicalisation. In
order to gain further insight into the relationship between direct and
indirect causes of radicalisation it is essential to map the complex
interactions between causal factors at different levels and dimensions.
Thus, we point to the necessity of empirical research that investigates the
role that social identification plays in the emergence of radicalisation.
• Two frequently mentioned causes of radicalisation are western foreign
policies in the Middle East and the poor integration of Muslims in European
societies. However, we hypothesise that the relationship between western
foreign policies and radicalisation is moderated by social identification and
that the stronger people identify with the relevant social group, the
stronger the radicalising effect of western intervention in conflicts
involving Muslims will be. Furthermore, we hypothesise that the fact that
Muslim communities are poorly integrated in European societies can lead
to individual feelings of social exclusion and rejection and that in turn,
these feelings can contribute to radicalisation.
Thus, young second generation European nationals, who a) are Muslim
and who can be classified as identity seeking and as high-identifiers with
the perception of Muslims around the world being humiliated, who b) are
poorly integrated and politically, socially and culturally marginalised would
as individuals have a higher than normal incentive to be drawn towards
Research should determine how these factors relate to other causal
factors and via which mechanisms they lead to radicalisation. If we want
to thoroughly understand why a very small proportion of young, western
Muslims turn to radicalism we should pay close attention to what inspires
and motivates them. Not only should we listen to what grieves them, we
should most prominently understand their aspirations.
• Network dynamics (especially group dynamics) appear to play a central
role in most processes of radicalisation. This is not surprising, since the
process of radicalisation essentially is a process of socialisation. Some
‘network places’ deserve further attention: radical mosques and places of
religious training, prisons, internet, etc., as does the influence of peers.
• Although every terrorist is a radical, not all radicals are terrorists – or will
ever become terrorists. Processes of radicalisation are individual and may
evolve in many different directions, including non-violent ones.
• Recruitment can only enhance the speed of ongoing radicalisation
• Here, radical ideologies or radical interpretations of religion are not seen
as direct causes of violent radicalisation. The reason for this is that people
differ in the extent to which they are susceptible to or appealed by radical
ideologies – only a few of those exposed to radical ideologies become
violently radicalised. Instead, a person adhering to a radical ideology is
here seen as a sign that this person has undergone a process of
radicalisation. However, radical ideologies may become a driving or
guiding factor for an already radicalised person, thus giving impetus to
what action is acceptable and necessary and what the targets are.
The project entitled Transnational Terrorism, Security and the Rule of Law
(TTSRL) is a research project, conducted by a consortium of research institutes
for the European Commission in Brussels. The project is part of the 6th
framework program specifically that of priority 7 entitled: ‘Citizens and
Governance in a Knowledge-based Society’. More information about this
Transnational terrorism is one of the most substantial threats to security and the
Rule of Law within the European Union. Approaches towards this problem,
however, diverge. As Member States implement different policies based on
differing basic assumptions, a structured, univocal strategy towards transnational
terrorism is absent. Considering the continuing integration within the European
Union, a Union-level strategy with regards to terrorism is imperative. In order to
support the formulation of such a strategy, this project will study both the
conceptual nature of the problems identified here, and the possible measures
This project will entail the conducting of a structured, well-founded survey into
the various response options towards transnational terrorism and the theoretical
assumptions on which they are based. A holistic approach has been chosen in
which policy-areas specifically dealing with terrorism as well as affected policy-
fields are taken into account. In this respect, this project is unique in that it
integrates diverse aspects of the issue into one comprehensive and
The TTSRL project proposes to start bridging the gap between the new daunting
challenges posed by transnational terrorism and our current conceptual and
policy deficiencies. It addresses what we see as the key issues involved: new
notions of security and the role played in it by transnational terrorism; the
definition and etiology of terrorism; the societal impact of terrorism; its economic
impact; and - last but not least - the policy options available to deal with it.
The main added value of the project will lie in the benchmarking of approaches
and policy-options in use in the various Member States. Combined with the
conceptual underpinnings of this benchmarking exercise, the project will yield
insights into the appropriateness and effectiveness of various approaches and
measures from a national and a European perspective, the ethical issues related
to this field, and cost-benefit considerations.
For more information on the recommendations in this policy brief of the TTSRL
project at large, visit ouor contact the COT:
COT, Institute for safety, security and crisis management B.V. an Aon company
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