By Imran Awan, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University

On Friday, the British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke at the Globsec conference in Bratislava. He argued that Muslim communities were not doing enough to combat the Islamic State narrative of extremism. He said that: “Too often we hear the argument that radicalisation is the fault of someone else. That blame game is wrong – and it is dangerous. By accepting the finger‐pointing – whether it’s at agencies or authorities – we are ignoring the fact that the radicalisation starts with the individual” (Wintour 2015).

This statement comes after the news that lawyers representing the families who recently fled to Syria with their children from Bradford, had been radicalised by officers from the North East Counter Terrorism Unit as they had encouraged contact between the families and a relative in Syria. The claims have been denied by Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee. Vaz has stated that: “…The claims of their relatives in the UK that their links with Islamic State were ‘encouraged’ by the authorities is concerning” (Piggott 2015).

However, what this does raise are important questions about the process of radicalisation and the sensitivities around counter-terrorism work. Indeed, blaming Muslims as the Prime Minister has done recently or the police as in this scenario is problematic. Radicalisation is a complex phenomenon and there is no single pathway to it.  Instead there are some common factors within the environment that can lead to trigger points that mean some people are more susceptible than others to being radicalised.  This could include abnormal behaviour from certain individuals who are seeking an identity and a sense of belonging.  My research has shown that identity and belonging are some of those key factors towards a pathway of radicalisation (Awan and Blakemore 2013). They are not the only causes. The lure and power of the Internet for example has acted as facilitators towards this process.

When groups such as Isis are able to use social media sites to entice young people, through videos, tweets, posts and forums, we are increasingly seeing a digital landscape where radicalisation does not only take place in the physical world, but the virtual world.

Other studies, have shown that radicalisation can be seen as a social movement and social progression (Kundnani 2012). This concept, uses societal causal factors to describe how people are influenced by violent actors that use different modes of recruitment tactics such as personal meetings, social activism, and online indoctrination. What we need to do is to tackle the ‘root’ causes that lead to someone being vulnerable to radicalisation in the first instance. It is clear that socio-economic and cultural factors do play a role in determining who becomes radicalised. Therefore, one of the important points of radicalisation, is the process from naive and vulnerable individuals to would be terrorists. Whether this is because people feel a sense of isolation which leads to resentment, anger and eventually wanting to re-enact violent acts of terrorism or potential grievances they hold. A recent study, has also highlighted how factors of depression and social isolation are a means to making some people more vulnerable to radicalisation then others (Channel 4 News 2014).

My research has shown that there are both ‘Push’ and ‘Pull factors’ that lead people towards a path of radicalisation. This includes, anger, frustration; perceived injustice; exclusion and dissatisfaction that push people towards this path.  There are also issues that pull people towards this form of extreme behaviour from those seeking an identity; issues of belonging; recruitment agents; seeking a sense of unity and universal brotherhood.

Radicalisation is a problem for us all, not one that simply means we can shift the blame at Muslims. Indeed, we also need to be careful to ensure that we don’t start becoming the eyes and ears for counter-terrorism policing in our own homes. What is required is a balance and a view to examine all factors of radicalisation, however distasteful we find them. This includes grievances and issues around foreign policy as Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5 has noted.  We need to stop playing the blame game and need to start to tackle the causes and drivers towards radicalisation. Only then can we stem the flow of people travelling to Syria who may either be going there for external rewards of ‘paradise’ or those who simply are going for an adrenaline rush and the excitement.

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Awan, I. and Blakemore, B. (2013) Extremism, Counter-Terrorism and Policing, Ashgate: Farnham: London.
Channel 4 News (2014) Depressed and alone: the mental health of radical extremists.
Kundnani, A. (2012) Radicalisation: the journey of a concept, Race & Class, Vol. 54, No. (2): 3-25.
Piggott, M. (2015) Bradford families: Lawyers blame UK anti-terror authorities for placing children in danger, IB Times.
Wintour, P. (2015) PM to urge Muslims and ISPs: Stop giving credence to extremist ideology, 19 June. The Guardian.
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