Drivers for Radicalisation by Simon Gray

The term radicalisation is one that conjures an image of jihad and extreme Islam. It is a term that has lost its way, in the same way as the term terrorism has. It is a term that is now connected to politics and as such means many things to different people. Wikipedia states “Radicalization (or radicalisation) is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that (1) reject or undermine the status quo or (2) reject and/or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice.”[1] I think this definition is pretty good; it is broad and encapsulates ideas which are wider than Islam, such as far right, white supremacist extremism or far right Christian beliefs which motivated Anders Behring Breivik to kill over 90 people in Norway because “he wished to attack society and the structure of society”[2].

The problem with the term radicalisation is that it seems to be primarily used in conjunction with radical Islam. I think politicians and the media are largely to blame for this. Radicalisation is a political concept and is therefore ”essentially contestable”[3]. That is, a word’s meaning can change depending upon on how it is used. The word radicalisation is used by politicians to emphasise a point and to unsettle rival politicians. As the media present political opinions, they as a consequence, also use the word radicalisation to mean various different things. For example, using the word radicalisation, in terms of radical Islam, to gain support for further funding for their initiatives, or defending their track record on tackling radicalisation and appealing to the electorate. As a consequence the term radicalisation has lost it’s meaning, from what Wikipedia states above. Despite this and only looking at a narrow aspect of radicalisation, in this think piece I am going to look at the most common current meaning of radicalisation, its connection with extreme Islam. The common misconception is that radicalisation is purely targeting the naive and poorly educated individuals. This piece is going to show how much broader than this it is.

In Ed Hussain’s book, The Islamist, he talks about his journey into, what he calls Islamism, an extreme version of Islam. He talks about how these views garnered gently over time, through attendance at mosques and reading texts, where his inquisitive mind was fed evermore extreme views until he was converted, after which he set about pushing these extreme views onto others through school, college and his local community. The task of gaining further followers was coordinated, well run and very successful. One of the key motivational factors in indoctrinating new recruits, other that what was written in the texts, was the conflict in the Former Yugoslavia, where Muslims were being killed. Although his experience was prior to 9/11, the institutions’ ability, be it college, local authorities etc, to respond was slow, cumbersome and ineffective. His work was all done within the law, and his, and his fellow members’, passion, drive, enthusiasm and charisma made it difficult for the moderate proponents of Islam to combat. They were more reserved in their approach and therefore less effective in reaching the youth. Much legislation and work has been put in place since this period, but the same concepts will apply. When he changed his belief back to moderate Islam, it was through further reading and gaining more knowledge than his peers: that he was able to look beyond the opinions that had been presented to him by his peers on a daily basis. This would suggest that the UK domestic radicalisation problem is one that needs to be fought in the classroom.

In an article for the BBC, Tony Blair states “in order to fight a warped and worsening ideology in the long term we need to recognise that education is a security issue”[4]. Social media and the Internet make it ever easier for the extremist views, such as Salafi Wahhabism, to get to their recruits. We cannot shut down the Internet, we cannot completely monitor social media, we cannot prevent radical conversations happening in schools, gymnasiums and mosques. It must be accepted that vulnerable youths are likely to come into contact with extremist views. These extremist views will penetrate down from various sources to the UK’s youth. Therefore, to protect the youth from these extremist ideas, the younger generation need to be armed with a wider knowledge and understanding, of not just Islam but other religions as well, so they have the necessary information to prevent indoctrination. In an interview to the International Business Times[5], Mubin Shaikh, a former Taliban recruiter, states how he actively looked for recent converts to Islam, because they would likely have issues at home, and individuals who were ignorant of their religion were easier to indoctrinate.

Tony Blair’s “Faith Foundation” has representation in 30 countries and “seeks to increase understanding of the faiths and beliefs of others, the facets of identity and the requirements of global citizenship” and is seeking a future in “which people are respected as equals”[6]. This principal of education, as a way of combating extreme Islam, is being used in the Midlands, with the popular comedian Humza Arshad fronting an online video called “Think for Yourself”[7]. Humza Arshad is reported to have over 4 million followers and this video should therefore hit a wide audience. However, when looking at the source video on Youtube[8] it had received under 5000 views. The video is over a month old and this can be seen as a failure to get to the target audience.

Sharon Morris talks about the problems with the Pakistan’s youth where “upwardly mobile”[9] individuals seek fulfilment and not meaningless employment. “They want to change the world to fight injustice, to earn respect, and maybe, most of all, to challenge the status quo”. The Scottish Nationalist Party recently exploited the same youth passion, during the Scottish referendum. They challenged the youth to “reject the status quo”[10]. The campaign, although ultimately unsuccessful, was successful in that it galvanised the youth behind a cause, with political poll turnouts in excess of what would normally have been seen. The response from the three main political parties was seen as stifled and sluggish. Although not extreme in its views, it demonstrated how powerful the concept of challenging the status quo can be. The debate is certainly not finished, with the support for the Scottish Nationalist Party ever increasing, as described during the morning news on BBC Radio 4 – it is a matter of time before Scotland calls for another referendum[11]. If a referendum were not to be granted, I can see the conditions for radicalisation ideas to be common in Scotland.

Both of the motivating factors outlined above can be proven to be wrong as well. Take for example Bilal Abdulla, who was convicted, in 2008, of plotting terrorist attacks, against London and Glasgow. The case was in connection with Kafeel Ahmed, who died after the attack in Glasgow[12]. Abdulla was a junior doctor within the NHS and Ahmed was an engineer who had previously studied for a PhD[13]. Neither of these individuals fill the ill educated or want to change the status quo description. Instead Abdulla’s QC in court stated “This is not a case where his intention was driven by religious faith but by his frustration with what he saw as an unjust war”[14], that war being Iraq.

So there are a wide variety of backgrounds that are susceptible to radicalisation and with a number of motivational factors. I think the backgrounds of the 7/7 bombers best articulates this. From the four bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan was a respected teaching assistant, Shehzad Tanweer was a sports science graduate, Germaine Lindsay was a convert and temporally unemployed, and Hasib Mir Hussain had just finished an advanced business course after receiving 7 GCSEs. They were from both Pakistani and Jamaican backgrounds[15]. The motives of the four individuals is not known exactly: some are thought to have been motivated by martyrdom, but the best evidence is described in Khan’s video will and testament in which he states “Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation….”[16]. The only things in common among the four bombers are that they all came from a densely Muslim populated area and are young.

The backgrounds, motives and education of individuals who have been radicalised are diverse. The only true single thing they have in common is that they are young when they gain these radical ideas. The plan to tackle this problem needs to include education, such as Tony Blair is championing, but it also needs to be much wider, with foreign policy being aware of unintended consequences.


[1]Wikipedia, ‘Radicalisation’.

[2] Black, ‘Norway terror suspect’s motive revealed: he wanted a revolution’.

[3]University of London, ‘What does radicalisation mean?’

[4] Blair, ‘Tony Blair: Fight wars of ideas against extremism’.

[5] Masi,, ‘ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How The ‘Islamic State’ Goes After Non-Muslims And Recent Converts In The West’.

[6]Blair, ‘Tony Blair: Fight wars of ideas against extremism’.

[7] Ashrad, ‘Comedian Humza Arshad fronts anti-extremism school campaign’.

[8]Viewed on the 12 November 2014.

[9] Morris, ‘Teenage Wasteland: Why do so many efforts to stop young people from joining extremist groups fail?’.

[10]Wikipedia, ‘Radicalisation’.

[11]BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’, 0630hrs.

[12]BBC News Channel, ‘Doctor guilty of car bomb attacks’.

[13]Taylor, ‘Profile: Kafeel Ahmed – the mastermind’.

[14]BBC News Channel, ‘Doctor guilty of car bomb attacks’.

[15] BBC News Channel, ‘7 July bombings: The bombers’.

[16]House of Commons, ‘Report of the Official Account of the Bombings in London on 7th July 2005’, pg 19.

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