Conceptualising radicalisation

by | May 31, 2017 | Radicalisation | 1 comment

by Joanna Hodgkinson

The number of people being radicalised in the UK and Europe have increased drastically in the past decade. Almost 4,500 people were referred to the UK government’s flagship counter-terrorism scheme last year. “Nearly triple the figure in the previous year”[1] (Halliday, 2017). With the rising statistics and frequent media reports, it cannot be denied that radicalisation is a concerning problem today. Terminologies referring to ‘radicalisation’ and the word ‘radical’ are often misinterpreted whilst worryingly, they are even used to mean the same things.  The term ‘radical’ itself means to represent or support an extreme section of a party whilst ‘radicalisation’ involves embracing violent behaviour and extremist ideas. From these terms, being a radical itself does not make you an extremist[2]. (Sedgwick, 2010) The misinterpretation from these terms can cause complications as groups of people can be unlawfully targeted and stereotypes can be identified and used against resulting in discrimination, marginalisation and a rise in hate crime. Ultimately, it is important to look at the root causes of our confusion towards the concept ‘radicalisation’ by focusing on social institutions that misinterpret these terms. From this, explanations as to why people are becoming radicalised can be identified. Could it then be said that this misinterpretation is contributing towards an increase in radicalisation in western society?

Causes of misinterpretation

Before we can begin to understand why radicalisation is increasing we must look at the way in which social institutions use the term ‘radicalisation’ as interpreting this term falsely can cause an immediate effect upon which certain groups can be automatically wrongly targeted, or even worse, be subjected to discrimination. The term is often used by the media in conjunction with terrorism which contributes towards changing public perceptions and framing an ‘image’ in our minds. This immediately changes our interpretations, as including different varieties of radicals within the term ‘radicalisation’ not only causes a source of confusion, but also categorises them as one subgroup. What also adds to our confusion is the term being used wrongly by politicians for their own benefit. For instance, Donald Trump’s election campaign focused on “radical Islam”. This complicates the term further, as by using radicalism in connection with theology results in confusion and stereotypes; as by holding one particular belief you are automatically considered a radical, the term radical then from Trump’s point of view does not mean to only support an extreme party but rather, involves carrying out deliberate violent attacks whilst holding extreme ideological beliefs. Trump even responded in an interview whilst talking about radical Islam “It’s radical, but it’s very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.” [3] This wrongly makes theology an extreme form of radicalism creating stereotypes as it profiles certain groups of people based on their religion or ethnicity.

Factors of radicalisation

So why are people being radicalised? This is difficult to answer and quite confusing as there isn’t one conclusive reason, but rather there are different factors which contribute towards people being radicalised. And as I mentioned previously, being stereotyped against could facilitate towards marginality which is a factor towards people being radicalised. Being marginalised against  is also heightened even further as ‘radicalism’ is often used with theology thereby contributing towards individuals losing their sense of identity especially in a western world where ethnic groups have to embrace both their ethnic culture and their national westernised culture. This is problematic for young British Muslims and could be a possible explanation as to why statistics are increasing. For many this feeling of being out of touch contributes towards a separation of ‘them vs us’ culture where this form of alienation can often result in young individuals turning towards extremism as an alternative way to fulfil their identity, since extremism can be seen as a source of status due to the role of the media providing a platform for terrorists to be showcased. A more recent example of young British Muslims joining extreme radical organisations took place in 2015 where 3 young students from Bethnal Green Academy in London joined Islamic State. Despite their intentions being fully unknown, a possible factor was the glorified appeal of ISIS providing thrill and excitement, furthermore the increase in media attention, raises their status. “There is a sense of adventure, feeling like you want to belong to something that’s bigger than you is a big appeal when you’re that age”[4] (, 2017). This ultimately contributes to the appeal as to why young British Muslims are turning to extreme radicalism as a form of expressing their identity. Other factors also do play a part in the increase in radicalisation such as personal victimization which can be a symptom from stereotypes that are portrayed in the media. For instance the rise in hate crime has soared recently in big cities such as London and Manchester after recent terrorist attacks or elections. Two weeks after the result from the EU referendum there was a hate crime attack on a Manchester tram in 2016 which was also given immediate media attention. Racially aggravated attacks like these also contribute towards a ‘them vs us’ culture.

Without question radicalisation is difficult to conceptualize as different social institutions; from the media to politics hold conflicting understandings of ‘radicalism’ and much often wrongly assume its meaning, whether or not this misinterpretation is to blame for the rise in radicalisation is questionable, but it cannot be completely ignored as it is a factor that does contribute towards radicalisation and by misusing the term could have negative consequences leading to discrimination, personal victimization and loss of identity. So, although it is important to continue academic debate to understand more about the discourse of radicalisation the term itself should be clearly defined and used properly to avoid misinterpretation and immediate stereotypes.
[1] Halliday, J. (2017). Almost 4,000 people were referred to UK deradicalisation scheme last year. The Guardian.  [Accessed 25 Apr. 2017].
[2] Sedgwick, M (2010) ‘ The concept of Radicalisation as a source of Confusion’, Terrorism and political Violence, 22 (4) : 479-94
[3] Friedman, U. (2017). The Coming War on ‘Radical Islam’The Atlantic.  [Accessed 25 Apr. 2017].
[4] (2017). The London girls lost to Isis: what became of the “jihadi brides”. New Statesman  [Accessed 25 Apr. 2017].

1 Comment

  1. Simran Karwal



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *