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Jihadi radicalization

Dr. Simon Moss


Jihadi radicalization refers to the motivation to engage in violent struggle on behalf of Islam. A multitude of factors affect the likelihood that individuals will join, stay, and leave organizations that engage in these activities.


Homegrown terrorism, in which the acts are committed by residents, is not a recent phenomenon. Acts committed by the IRA in the UK, ETA in Spain, November 17 in Greece, the Red Army Faction in Germany, the Weather Underground in the US, and many environmentalist, religious, and separatist organizations have been prevalent in the last few decades. Nevertheless, homegrown jihadi terrorism does present some unique challenges. Jihadi terrorism is more likely to involve bombings that can kill many civilians, whereas previous acts usually involved gunfire, arson, or assassination--with a few exceptions. In addition, jihadi terrorism is associated with diverse, global, and entrenched grievances, whereas traditional organizations are more concerned with circumscribed, local issues.

Jihadi terrorists, particularly in Europe and North America, are usually residents of the nation in which they plan or perpetrate attacks. Nevertheless, many of these individuals had travelled overseas to receive training in fighting or religious instruction (e.g., Hoffman, 2007)--although the proportion is probably less than 50%.

Such terrorist acts are not confined to any specific region. Homegrown terrorism does seem to be especially prevalent in some nations, such as the United Kingdom. For example, in December 2001, a convert to Islam, Richard Reid, attempted unsuccessfully to detonate a bomb that was concealed in his shoe, while he was boarded on American Airlines Flight 63. In 2005, the London train bombs killed 50 civilians and injured over 700 individuals. In 2007, a cell, operating in the United Kingdom was imprisoned. The leader was again a Muslim convert and the seven members were primarily of Pakistani descent. In 2008, another young convert detonated an improvised explosive at a restaurant in Exeter. The number of investigations that relate to terrorism has soared from 250 in 2001 to over 800 in 2005 (House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, May, 2006).

Nevertheless, terrorist attacks are prevalent in many other European nations (for a brief review of examples, see Wilner & Jehanne Dubouloz, 2009). France was often the target of organizations that are connected to Algeria, such as the Groupe Islamique Arme or GIA, especially during the 1980s and 1990s. The prevalence of attacks from other cells has escalated recently, and four major attacks have been thwarted since 2000. In 2004, the public arrest of the Hofstad group in the Netherlands, after the artist Theo van Gogh was murdered, and the Madrid bombings in Spain, which killed and injured over 2000 individuals, illustrate renowned cases in other nations. Plots have also been thwarted in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Many of these attempts are inspired by the philosophies of Al Qaeda, but are actually independent cells (Wilner, February, 2009).


Jihad derives from the Arabic word for struggle. Two forms of jihad can be differentiated: the Greater Jihad and the Lesser Jihad. The Greater Jihad refers to the personal struggle to maintain a charitable existence, adhering to the commands of god. The Lesser Jihad refers to the violent struggle to perpetuate Islam and protect this religion from heretic sources. Usually, the term jihadis refers to individuals who pursue the Lesser Jihad (Silke, 2008).

Lentini (2008) enumerates some of the key features that define or differentiate Neojihadism from other movements. Specifically, he emphasizes that:

Many authors have also attempted to define the concept of radicalization. Sageman (2007), for example, defines radicalization as the process in which individuals become increasingly willing to engage in violence to fulfill some political goal. McCauley and Moskalenko (2008), similarly, define radicalization as the changes in beliefs, feelings, and behaviors in the direction of intergroup violence and sacrifice to defend their movement.

These definitions, however, do not emphasize the intention to transform the social, cultural, and political landscape, central to radicalization. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police highlight that radicalization relates to the process in which individuals espouse a belief system that incites a shift from mainstream beliefs to extremist positions. These individuals strive to exact social, economic, and political change.

Antecedents to involvement in Jihadi radicalization

Young individuals seldom join terrorist organizations because they espouse racist beliefs and champion violent action. They might join to protect themselves from perceived threats, to engage in risky or rebellious behavior, and to fulfill many other motivations.

Racist and violent beliefs usually evolve as a consequence of their affiliation with these organizations. That is, they begin to perceive themselves as exclusively a member of these organizations, not as a unique individual. As a consequence of categorizing themselves as a member of a collective, their personal beliefs and values dissipate-a process delineated by self categorization theory (see Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987).

A variety of factors affect this decision to join. These individuals seldom exhibit personality disorders (Silke, 2008)--although some researchers argue otherwise (e.g., Pearlstein, 1991). Most individuals assume that terrorists manifest psychological disorders. For example, the psychological profiles of surviving Nazis seemed to reflect a violent personality, to psychologists who were apprised of their identity but not to psychologists were oblivious to their identity (Harrower, 1976). Instead, the factors that seem to promote participation in violent societal endeavors seem to be more subtle.

No consistent and cohesive trajectory to radicalization has been uncovered& instead, the antecedents, motivations, and dynamics of radicalization vary dramatically across individuals and contexts (Awan, 2008& Githens-Mazer, 2008). Nevertheless, a variety of studies and reports have explored some of the individual and contextual factors that often coincide with radicalization (see Horgan, 2005& Richardson, 2007). These factors include failure to integrate in society, religiosity, perceived injustices, divorce, bereavement, boredom, need for adventure, financial difficulties, social connections to violence, and charismatic leadership.

Personal agency

When individuals decide to engage in Jihadi radicalization, they are sometimes perceived as honorable, courageous, and important by other members of their community. They are regarded as freedom fighters. In Palestine, for example, youngsters who join Fatah-the largest faction of the PLO-or Hamas-a Palestinian Sunni paramilitary organization and political party-are often treated better than other adolescents (Silke, 2008).

This acceptance, according to the sociometer hypothesis, tends to boost self esteem (see Leary, 1990& Leary, Cottrell, & Phillips, 2001& Leary, Haupt, Strausser, & Chokel, 1998& Leary, Schreindorfer, & Haupt, 1995& Leary, Tambor, Terdal, & Downs, 1995). That is, according to this perspective, low self esteem represents an index, warning individuals they might be rejected or excluded soon. If they feel such rejection is unlikely, self esteem thus rises, and mood improves.

Sensitivity to shame

Individuals might agree to participate in jihadi organizations merely because they do not want to refuse a request to contribute towards this cause. Indeed, Flynn and Lake (2008) showed that individuals are often more inclined to acquiesce to a request than expected. That is, society tends to underestimate the extent to which individuals acquiesce merely to curb any impending shame or embarrassment-feelings that are especially common when the request is direct and personal. Accordingly, individuals who are especially sensitive to such feelings are more likely to acquiescence to requests.

A sensitivity to shame can also reduce the capacity of individuals to trust their own intuitive and inclinations (Kuhl, 2000). To illustrate, some individuals feel unable to achieve their aspirations, often because of constraints in society-a situation that provokes feelings of dejection (Higgins, 1987). According to personality system interaction theory (Kuhl, 2000), unmitigated dejection activates a cognitive system called intention memory, which in turn inhibits a cognitive system called extension memory. When intention memory, but not extension memory, is activated, individuals can reach logical, rational decisions, but these choices are devoid of their intuitive and emotional preferences. They might, for example, recognize the logic of terrorism, without experiencing the usual intuitive and emotional aversion towards these activities.

Need for rebellion and risks

Some individuals join terrorist organizations deliberately to engage in rebellious or dangerous behavior. This need to rebel, alone, might represent an adaptive attempt to divorce themselves from the duties and aspirations that society has imposed.

That is, according to Kuhl and Goschke (1994), in a discussion on volitional control, parents, teachers, and other authorities often impose obligations or goals onto younger or subordinate individuals. When individuals pursue their own goals, they recognize the conditions in which these objectives are no longer applicable. In contrast, when individuals pursue the goals that somebody else has imposed, they cannot as readily reject or postpone these objectives when warranted. They continue to feel that infeasible duties and goals are still applicable. Their incapacity to fulfill these duties and goals provokes agitation, dejection, or both.

To override this problem, individuals need to learn how to form their own duties and goals. Rebellion might represent some preliminary attempts to cultivate this adaptive form of independence. That is, rebellion enables individuals to reject all the duties and aspirations that were imposed by other figures in their life.

Individuals who feel the urge to fulfill the duties and aspirations that are imposed by parents or other figures, and thus seldom pursue their own values and priorities, are likely to change their preferences and inclinations rapidly across different circumstances. As a consequence, they essentially develop distinct personas in different contexts, sometimes called compartmentalization (see Showers & Zeigler-Hill, 2007), which is related to splitting. Indeed, these individuals are often described as warm and caring by some friends and frustrated or angry by other friends.


Generally, the profile of jihadi operatives differs considerably from the profile of other criminals. Jihadi operatives, for example, are often educated, employed, and married-more than are their criminal counterparts (see Sageman, 2004& for a review, see Silke, 2008). Indeed, even solid marriages do not preclude jihadi activity, as some wives support these endeavors (Sageman, 2004). Hence, political and social motives, rather than economic and financial reasons, provoke radicalization.


Many individuals join terrorist organizations to avenge past injustices. Indeed, jihadis often feel they are continuing an established practice of redressing injustices against Islam-referring to the rebellion of Mohammed against the oligarchs in Mecca.

Muslim individuals might feel aggrieved towards insults against their religion, exemplified by the Mohammad Cartoons (2005) as well as movies such as Submission (2004) and Fitna (2008). Other individuals might feel frustrated by Western complacency to Muslim suffering, especially in Bosnia, Kashmir, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Chechnya, and Xinjiang--a western province of China. Finally, they might be resentful towards overt military aggression of the West against muslims, such as the 1993 intervention in Somalia, the Iraq Wars, the 2001 Afghan war, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Jihadi, from this perspective, may be an act of revenge against unjust foreign policiesss (Pape, 2005).

Nevertheless, the relationship between foreign policy and subsequent terrorist attacks is not definitive. Nations that castigated the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, such a Germany and France--or had previously withdrawn support, such as Span, Italy, Denmark, and Netherlands, have experienced many of these attacks. Some of the nations that participated, including Japan, Poland, Romania, and South Korea, were not subject to any attacks.

Van den Bos and Miedema (2006) showed that individuals are especially sensitive to injustice after their mortality is highlighted. From the perspective of terror management theory (e.g., Pyszczynski, Abdollahi, Solomon, Greenberg, Cohen, & and Weise, 2006), injustice might prevent individuals from feeling a sense of clarity, certainty, and control. Their usual responses to the threat of mortality, such as attempting to perceive themselves as a valuable member of a predictable society, are thus compromised when injustice is rife. Positive attitudes towards revenge are possibly common in jihadi radicals.

Social identity

One of the most debated precursors to jihadism is limited integration with the broader society. In some nations, such as Canada for example, younger Muslim citizens tend to be more committed to their faith than were their parents, but do not identify with the nation at all (e.g., Granatstein, 2007). They do not assume the principles and norms of their country, which can facilitate the application of violence. Accordingly, many attempts to prevent radicalization, common in the Netherlands, involve integrating young Muslim men into the broader society. Nevertheless, contrary to this perspective, many of these jihadi terrorists have actually been, at least moderately, integrated into modern society (Wilner & Jehanne Dubouloz, 2009).

According to Roy, however, young Western Muslims experience a conflict between the socio-religious beliefs and their secular environment--amplified by the modernization, urbanization, secularism, and information technology that epitomizes globalization. To justify this sense of exclusion, they construct a radical version of Islam, facilitated by the Internet, which confers a sense of meaning to their dislocation and instills a feeling of belonging.

Several studies also imply that individuals join Islamic terrorist organizations sometimes to experience a connection to a broader entity, collective, or cause. Proponents of terror management theory (e.g., Pyszczynski, Abdollahi, Solomon, Greenberg, Cohen, & and Weise, 2006) assume that such a motivation to connect to an enduring entity or cause instills a sense of symbolic immortality, alleviating the existential angst that an awareness of personal mortality can evoke.

Consistent with this need to override this existential angst, individuals who engage in Jihadi radicalization almost always identify closely with Islam, at least immediately before they join a terrorist organization (Sageman, 2004). Nevertheless, during their youth, more than 50% of these individuals were not devout, and almost 10% in some studies were reared in the Christian faith (Sageman, 2004). Religion might afford individuals with the capacity to connect themselves with an enduring collective or cause, conferring a sense of immortality, and thus circumventing existential angst.

Indeed, a connection to an enduring cause is ubiquitous in the discourse that surrounds recruitment of potential jihadis (see Ryan, 2007). That is, this discourse often refers to historical battles, intended to protect Islam, highlighting the eternal struggle and thus an enduring cause. For example:

Some features of these terrorist cells significantly increase the likelihood that individuals will assume the norms and values of these organizations, utterly and absolutely. In particular, these organizations are often easy to join initially. As a consequence, individuals can almost immediately feel included, which tends to boost self esteem (e.g., Leary, 1990). Nevertheless, acceptance into the inner circle can be very difficult, which diminishes their perceived status. They need to show increasingly more violent or extreme behaviors to penetrate this circle.

Furthermore, individuals often experience a powerful event together, such as a battle or victory. When individuals share a unique event together, they become more likely to conceptualize themselves as a collective (e.g., Jaussi & Dionne, 2003)

Aversion to diversity

In society, when individuals feel connected to a social collective, like a club, they often experience a sense of security. This sense of security, according to personality system interaction theory (Kuhl, 2000), should activate a cognitive system called extension memory, which increases the likelihood that individuals engage in courses of action that align with broader personal and social needs.

In the context of jahadi radicalization, however, individuals might not experience this sense of unconditional security when they join a terrorist organization. In particular, in these cells, members are sometimes suspected of acting as traitors, unless they show absolute alliance with the principles and priorities of the cell. Diversity in values and priorities is often not tolerated. As a consequence, individuals feel they might be rejected unless they satisfy specific duties and obligations, and this possibility provokes a latent sense of insecurity. Accordingly, from the perspective of personality system interaction theory, these individuals might be unable to access their core social values.

Nevertheless, these practices highlight the disloyalty that pervades some of these organizations. As a consequence of this disloyalty, individuals do often become disillusioned with the collective, which can promote departure.

Need for certainty and control

The need to override existential angst, according to Fritsche, Jonas, and Frankhanel (2008), is primarily driven by a desire for control and certainty. That is, individuals experience a fundamental need to perceive the world as predictable and controllable. An awareness of mortality can undermine this sense of control.

Extremism, thus, affords individuals with a means to gain certainty and control. Extreme perspectives override the ambiguities and complications that arise when societal values are embraced. If individuals can reject the norms, imperative, demands, and priorities of society, and instead adhere to a single set of standards, the world is initially perceived as more predictable and controllable.

Social dominance

Individuals feel the need to identify with social collectives, like jihadi organizations, not only to experience a sense of certainty and control. In addition, according to social identity theory, individuals attempt to become connected to a social collective to enhance their self esteem (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). That is, if individuals feel connected to a powerful and dominant force, they also experience a concomitant sense of pride and security.

Conceivably, the extent to which individuals experience a social dominance orientation-that is, the endorsement of hierarchies and the belief that some groups are inherently superior to other groups-might exacerbate this need to join groups as a means to boost self esteem (for a discussion of this orientation, see Hing, Bobocel, Zanna, & McBride, 2006). That is, if individuals perceive some groups as superior, they are more inclined to bias their attitudes towards their own collective, and against other collectives, to boost their self esteem.

Alternatively, social dominance might be low in jihadi operatives. Specifically, in one study when social dominance orientation is elevated, individuals in Lebanon were less likely to support terrorism against the West (Sidanius, Levin, Federico, & Pratto, 2001). This finding confirms the proposition that social dominance orientation reflects the inclination to accept policies that reinforce extant hierarchies.

Antecedents to persistence with Jihadi radicalization

Many individuals eventually reject the perspectives of terrorist organizations. Nevertheless, several factors increase the likelihood that individuals will continue to espouse these racist and violent beliefs, both publicly and privately.

The relevance of these factors might depend on the role of these individuals within the organization--such as leader, chief of communication, chief of finance, suicide bomber, and so forth. The pertinence of these factors might also depend on the personality and motives of these individuals, for example, whether they are more entrepreneurial, technical, aggressive, or lost.

That is, some of these Jihadi operatives are entrepreneurial: driven by ideas, motivated to seek justice, and often involved in social issues. Jamal Beghal--the Algerian, involved in the GIA campaigns in France--and Mohammed Siddique Khan--leader of the cell that perpetrated the London attacks--epitomize this description. Some of these operatives are impressionable prot?g?s, with excellent skills in IT, bombs, or other technical activities. Kamel Daodi, who worked with Jamal Beghal, and Shehzad Tanweer, involved in the suicide attack against London, are examples of this classification. Some operatives are more troubled, with criminal records and difficulties in social environments.

World views and prejudice

Many individuals often perceive society as either unsafe or as competitive. As Duckitt, Wagner, Plessis, and Birum (2002) show, individuals who perceive the world as unsafe and dangerous feel especially threatened by behaviors that depart from norms and customs. Hence, over time, they develop a tendency called right wing authoritarianism--the belief that customs, traditions, and authority should be followed unconditionally.

In addition, individuals who perceive the world as competitive and ruthless begin to assume that some collectives will prevail. As a consequence, they often show a tendency called social dominance orientation, which is the belief that some groups are inherently superior to other groups.

This regard for authority and tradition as well as belief in the hierarchical structure of groups increases the susceptibility of individuals to terrorist leaders. These individuals will adopt the beliefs of leaders unconditionally as well as embrace the perception that other groups are inferior and abominable.

Many of the practices that underpin terrorist organizations reinforce the belief that danger and competition pervades the world. Members are told, for example, to be cautious when using telephones or email.

Escalation of commitment

Individuals often show a tendency called escalation of commitment--the inclination to persist with some failing endeavor merely because they have invested significant resources into this pursuit (e.g., Bazerman, Guiliano, & Appelman, 1984& Bragger, 2003& Brockner & Rubin, 1985). Accordingly, individuals who dedicate considerable time and effort to the jihadi cause will often tend to persist even if their endeavors are failing rather than flourishing. This problem is especially pronounced if the individuals feel they chose to participate themselves and were not coerced (Bobocel & Meyer, 1994).

Anxiety can exacerbate this undue commitment to failing causes, as shown by Moon, Hollenbeck, Humphrey, and Maue (2003). The threats and dangers that characterize radicalization, therefore, is likely to promote the anxiety that culminates in this escalation of commitment. Likewise, feigned or unfounded pride can also exacerbate this issue (Moon, Hollenbeck, Humphrey, & Maue, 2003).

Personal values

Some individuals, throughout childhood, develop personal values that depart appreciably from the collective values of terrorist organizations. When they operate in these cells, they often engage in behaviors that depart from these personal values--and the social stigma of their actions can amplify this dissonance.

As a consequence, whenever they conceptualize themselves as an individual, distinct from the cell, these personal values might be activated, and a sense of shame might develop. In contrast, when they conceptualize themselves as a member of this social identity, these personal values are not salient, and the shame dissipates. These affective reactions, therefore, might motivate alliance to the organization.

If the individuals cannot suppress their personal values, however, the continued shame and need to inhibit their natural inclinations, can be taxing. Such inhibition of personal inclinations promotes a form of exhaustion, called ego depletion (see Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998). In particular, after individuals suppress their core or innate inclinations, their capacity to suppress other their core or innate inclinations--like the need to relax or the urge to express emotions--dissipates. They cannot motivate themselves to engage in this stressful like, and instead experience profound exhaustion.

Limited identity

Often, when individuals participate in jihad, such as training camps, they adopt a new name--often putatively to protect their identity or their family. Passports and other forms of identification of also frequently maintained by coordinators.

Gebauer, Riketta, Broemer, and Maio (2008), however, highlight that individuals form associations with their personal names. If their self esteem is low, these associations tend to be unfavorable. Each reference to their name, hence, is likely to activate these negative associations. When individuals relinquish their name, these negative associations might be less salient, and self esteem might effectively rise.


Often, when individuals become involved with jihadi activities, such as training camps, they experience intense deprivation or illness. Food, for example, is often gruel only. Such deprivation, and the corresponding dangers, increases the salience of mortality in these individuals.

As proponents of terror management theory emphasize, such heightened awareness of mortality increases the likelihood that individuals feel the need to follow the norms and practices of their social collective (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991, 2004). Deprivation, thus, might foster compliance and loyalty to the leaders of these cells.

Antecedents to disengaging from Jihadi radicalization

Most jihadi activists will, at various times, consider leaving the organization and embarking on a more conventional, and usually more relaxing, life. They might, for example, yearn the simplicity and freedom of a conventional life, feel concerned about their career prospects, or want to establish a family. Several factors can promote or hinder this disengagement.

Preview and expectations

Many individuals who decide to participate in jihadi activities receive false information about the context in which they will operate. They are not prepared for the difficulties they might encounter, especially in Afghanistan for example. In the contexts of jobs, many studies show that elevated expectations often culminate in disappointment, and these disillusioned individuals often leave prematurely (e.g., Buckley, Mobbs, Mendoza, Novicevic, Carraher, & Beu, 2002).

Presumably, these unmet expectations might also affect commitment to the jihadi cause. That is, these individuals often leave comfortable lives to travel to places like Afghanistan, believing they can help protect their families and fight for a genuine cause. They might be compelled by displays of persecuted Muslims or motivated to perform zakat--distributing donations or aide, teaching the Koran, helping their Muslim brothers, and so forth. Alternatively, they might want to leave the difficulty of home or challenge themselves. They might be exposed to these possibilities at Mecca, during the hajj pilgrimage, at a mosque, or at home, while scanning the internet, using sites like Islam online or Islam Q&A.

However, the context is usually less fulfilling and more arduous than expected. Illness at training camps, for example, is rife and medical supplies are scarce, with few if any trained doctors. Most of these individuals had not been warned about illness and had not been vaccinated. Food is also scarce and inadequate. Operation Anaconda, immediately after 9-11, further exacerbated the dangers these individuals experienced.


Exhaustion often provokes departures. In particular, when individuals need to inhabit core inclinations and impulses, their capacity to maintain effort dissipates (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998), and exhaustion or burnout follows. Individuals, for example, are often encouraged from disregarding kaafireen--non Muslims. Yet, research individuals the decision to refrain from social interactions does deplete effort (Ciarocco, Summer, & Baumeister, 2001) and ultimately promote burnout.

Antecedents to returning to Jihadi radicalization

Some individuals, after leaving the cell or organization to some extent--either absolutely or gradually--might subsequently return. Some programs in Europe have been established to offer support to individuals who have departed from these cells, offering support, guidance, and liaison to relevant agencies. Networks of parents have also been established to facilitate these endeavors. Such networks are difficult to establish, because some parents prefer to deny their children are involved in such organizations, concerned they might be branded as negligent in their role.

Again, many factors might foster or inhibit this return. For example, these programs and networks seem to be less effective when the individuals are older.


Some of these individuals might feel they have been stigmatized. They might be labeled as a "terrorist" for example. This label not only stigmatizes their behavior, but might also instill an entity theory of malleability--the belief that individuals cannot fundamentally change. Somewhat paradoxically, this belief has been shown to impair the capacity of individuals to cope with change (Werth, Markel, & Forster, 2006) and to exacerbate racist perspectives (Plaks, Stroessner, Dweck, & Sherman, 2001).

Antecedents to the Neojihadist movement

Political developments that promoted Neojihadism

Several key political developments might have enabled or facilitated the development of Neojihadism (for a discussion, see Lentini & Bakashmar, 2007). The Iranian Revolution of 1979, in which a state was organized along theocratic principles, might have been a source of inspiration--even if these Nejis oppose Shiites. Second, the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan might have also been a source of inspiration, reinforcing the benefits of force and instilling a sense of invincibility.

In addition to confidence, Muslims who fought in this war as well as other battles, particularly in Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, Philippines, and Somalia, developed key skills, knowledge, and networks. Training camps were also developed. A common narrative, referring to previous success, shared enemies, and possible future states, gradually developed.

Another potential source of progress was funding, partly from Saudi Arabia. Because of an increase in petrol prices, the Saudi elite were able to contribute vast sums of moneys to charities and other Islamic ventures around the world. These activities might have facilitated the dissemination of Wahhabist interpretations of texts, which sometimes challenged and overrode local customs and practices.

Developments in theology and jurisprudence

Reinterpretations of sacred texts as well as reformulations of the role and responsibilities of Muslims have augmented the progress of Neojihadism. The Qur'anic verses, or ayat, generally highlight the need to maintain peace and delineates strict rules of engagement. Neojihadism, thus, represents a blatant divergence from this perspective. Several events facilitated this shift in theology and jurisprudence.

To illustrate, jihad was initially conceptualized as the capacity of individuals to transform society through goodwill, as Hassan al-Banna promulgated. Later, jihad was perceived as a more revolutionary process, intended to establish a better society, as Abul Ala Mawdudi, the Pakistani political figure maintained. Offensive rather than defensive jihad was also accepted, as propounded by Sayyid Qutb, a leading figure of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Similarly, Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian scholar, maintained that Muslims must engage in battle to establish sharia or Islamic law in all Islam nations.

Although these perspectives highlighted the importance of violence, these attacks were typically directed towards the state and not towards civilians. In contrast, Osama bin Laden promulgated the notion citizens are equivalent to the state. As a consequence, violent activities were more often directed towards civilians (see also Lentini, 2008).


Ideological approaches

As Bin Hassan and Pereire (2006) emphasize, many commentators now accept that military interventions are not sufficient to counteract terrorism. Indeed, such interventions ignite tension and resentment, escalating the likelihood of continued conflict. Instead, the ideology of terrorism needs to be challenged.

Bin Hassan and Pereire (2006) discuss this ideological approach in the context of Singapore. JI in Singapore began in 1988, evolving from Darul Islam fugitives. Although the Internal Security Department were not initially aware of this group, after former members warned authorities, two major operations uncovered many JI operatives during 2001 and 2002. Although JI in Singapore has been severely weakened, threats remain.

The overriding strategy of the Singapore government is to invite Muslim leaders and scholars to challenge the ideologies that emanate from Al Qaeda and JI. For example, the government established the Religious Rehabilitation Group. In essence, two Muslim scholars attempted to understand the misinterpretations of JI and to generate material that counters these ideologies as well as to offer public education. The group expanded to comprise administrators, scholars and judges from Syariah Courts, and rehabilitation counselors, all buttressed by the Internal Security Department. Some former detainees, who have relinquished their previous ideologies, have been involved in uncovering material to combat extremist positions but not in presenting their perspectives publicly.

In addition to this formal initiative, the Singapore government also attempts to develop strong relationships with members of Muslim communities by, for example, supporting the families of detainees, both psychologically and financially, partly to prevent radicalization of their children. Muslim community leaders are also briefed about arrests before this information is disseminated to the media.

Furthermore, the government also highlighted they did not perceive JI as representative of the Muslim community in Singapore. The government also ensured the broader Singapore population upheld the same assumptions. For example, the public was informed that members of the Muslim community informed police of radical activity. Many initiatives, like the Inter-racial confidence and harmony circle, were introduced to improve relationships between communities.

These initiatives were facilitated by the responses of Muslim communities in Singapore, many of which had united to condemn terrorism publicly and espouse moderate ideologies. Furthermore, Pergas, an association of Muslim scholars, developed position papers to counter radical ideologies. One of their books, for example, comprises excerpts from the Quran and hadits that counteract the assumptions of extremist beliefs, as promulgated by JI. The book also included a charter of moderation, stipulating 27 key principles to promote moderate Islam.

Another project was to encourage individuals to develop a Singapore Muslim identity, inviting individuals to contemplate and understand the unique combination of both the national and religious culture. This identity ensued that individuals were not as likely to be swayed by foreign extremist groups, because they maintained some connection with their nationality as well.

These initiatives were not intended to change the perspectives of entrenched terrorists, but to inspire the broader Muslim community. Without any support from this community, radical groups are not as likely to thrive. Furthermore, these initiatives were also intended to curb fear and suspicion in the broader population, to facilitate integration and harmony.

Nevertheless, according to Bin Hassan and Pereire (2006), many generalizations and simplifications need to be avoided. A simple dichotomy between radical and moderate Islam neglects the nuances and variations in beliefs. That is, even some Muslim leaders might sympathize with some radical concerns, but nevertheless be willing to work with authorities. The assumption of dichotomies might deter leaders whose perspective is complex and multifaceted. Furthermore, simple assumptions, like the belief that all Wahabis are extremists, needs to be challenged. Initially, some of the initiatives were perceived by Wahabis or Salafis as attempts to promote Sufism instead. Finally, negative perceptions of madrasahs, emanating from the Taliban, need to be questioned in Singapore, because these schools have been constructive and cooperative.

Theoretical perspectives

Several theoretical frameworks have been applied to explain radicalization. One example is social identity theory (see Reicher, Haslam, & Rath, 2008).

Transformative learning

Wilner and Jehanne Dubouloz (2009) argued that transformative learning could be applied to understand the evolution of radical perspectives in individuals. According to this perspective, transformation entails a series of phases (Mezirow, 1978, 1981, 1991, 2000& see also Boyd & Gordon, 1988& King, 2005& O'Sullivan, 2003)), which can be roughly divided into three main categories (Dubouloz, Laporte, Hall, Ashe, & Smith, 2004). The first set of phases revolves around the events that incite change. Specifically, individuals experience instances in which their assumptions about the world, intended to confer a sense of meaning, seem to misalign from their experiences. These contradictions evoke negative emotions, such as anxiety, anger, and distress.

The second set of phases revolves around the process of change. In particular, individuals assess some of their underlying assumptions. Next, they recognize, one some level, that transformations in these assumptions could alleviate the distress. Furthermore, they explore roles they could attempt, ambitions they could achieve, relationships they could form, and actions they could undertake to cultivate a novel set of assumptions--to seek another sense of meaning, called critical reflection. Finally, they commit to another course of action and develop the skills and insights that are needed to fulfill this intention.

The final set of phases revolves around outcomes. That is, individuals experiment with new roles, enhancing their confidence with these modified perspectives. They also attempt to integrate these modified perspectives into their daily life.

According to Wilner and Jehanne Dubouloz (2009), transformative learning might characterize the events that elicit a shift from identification with the host country, which is common in many jihadi terrorists, to identification with an extremist group. Specifically, a variety of events, such as unjust foreign policies, feelings of alienation from the broader culture, and related events could evoke the feelings of anger, distress, and despair that elicit critical reflection. Religious or other texts could facilitate the cultivation of a new set of assumptions and identities.

Limitations of the research

Data collection

Silke (2008) highlights that only limited data about jihadi radicalization has been collected. Most of this research is derived from anecdotes and scattered case studies. Even these data have usually been extracted from court transcripts or media reports. Most of the articles that discuss jihadi radicalization are reviews, not original sources of data.

Even the most comprehensive studies, such as the interviews conducted by Sageman (2004) and Bakker (2006), are limited. Comparison groups are seldom included.

In addition, committed terrorists have seldom been assessed or interviewed. That is, by the time individuals are willing to be interviewed by researchers, they have either slightly disengaged or have not yet committed fully (Reich, 1998).

Some information is derived indirectly. For example, some studies examine the general population to investigate radical perspectives rather than radicalization per se (e.g., Ansari et al., 2006, cited in Silke, 2008). Other studies examine different terrorist groups. Woolman (2002) approves this approach, challenging the popular misconception that jihadi terrorism is fundamentally different to other forms of terrorism, as experienced in the Philippines, for example, in the beginning of the 1900s.

Generalization and reductionism

According to Reich (1998), many researchers generalize an insight they derived from terrorists in one setting or context to terrorists in other settings or contexts. Yet, the historical antecedents and motivations of terrorist acts vary dramatically, and thus such generalizations are often flawed.

Similarly, related to this issue, many researchers attempt to ascribe terrorist behaviour to a single cause, representing undue reductionism. Examples might include vitamin deficiencies, alcoholism, inner ear vestibular dysfunction, diminished GAMA and serotonin, psychopathic personality, or narcissism. Yet, no consistent personality has been found in terrorists (Reich, 1998).

Contemptuous assumptions

According to Reich (1998), researchers often fail to consider the rewards that terrorism can evoke in the perpetrators, such as power, prestige, privilege, and a sense of rebellion, excitement, pride, or belonging. Similarly, they often disregard the rational need to engage in terrorism& that is, they might neglect the possibility that such as individuals do not feel they can engage in any alternative action to maintain their identity. Indeed, researchers often do not consider the role and impact of Western policies on oppressed groups, because of their own ethnocentric perspective.

Characteristics of jihadi cells

Individuals, at least in Europe, often join cells of 5 to 10 individuals who plan to engage in violence against other collectives. Usually, the individuals are young, between 15 and 30. These groups operate autonomously but are sometimes supported by other movements, such as Al-Qaeda, the Algerian GSPC, the Northern Iraqi Ansar al-Islam, and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.

Some of the members of these groups have received training in camps coordinated by Al-Qaeda or other similar groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They might have even met key leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi--responsible, until his death in 2006, for acts of violence in Iraq including suicide bombings and hostage executions--Abu Zubaydah--arguably the top military strategist of Al-Qaeda's since the death of Muhammad Atef in 2001--and Ayman al-Zawahiri--a surgeon who was last head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad before this organization was merged with Al-Qaeda.

Related concepts

The effect of social interactions on radical behavior

Social discussions about political behavior are sufficient to promote political engagement and, in some circumstances, extremism. However, as Thomas, Mcgarty, and Louis (2014) showed, such discussions will provoke extremist or illicit behavior only if the need to circumvent the law is first reinforced or primed.

In one study, participants read information about the practice of battery farming. They read that many campaigns to curb these practices have been implemented but that people still often buy caged eggs. Next, they read an excerpt from an expert in collective action. In one condition, this person indicated that lawful action tends to be more effective. In the other condition, this person indicated that direct action is more effective even if the law needs to be breached. Then, only half the participants were granted an opportunity to discuss strategies to circumvent battery farming. Finally, all participants completed a series of questions.

Some of these questions assessed determinants of political engagement, such as shared grievances (e.g., "Lots of other people in the community agree with me on this issue"), the tendency to blame adversaries (e.g., "People who support battery farms are to blame for this situation"), and the need to target society to change practices, called triangulation (e.g., "People who oppose battery farming should work to convince the Australian public that battery farming is intolerable"). The intention of individuals to engage in lawful and unlawful action was also assessed.

If participants discussed strategies with other people, they were more likely to experience shared grievances and triangulation, ultimately increasing the likelihood of their intention to engage in lawful actions, like writing letters. They were also more willing to engage in unlawful actions, such as illicitly rescuing chickens, but only if unlawful actions were legitimized by an expert.


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