The trouble with radicalization

Authors

  • PETER R. NEUMANN

    1. Professor of Security Studies at the Department of War Studies, King's College London, and serves as Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, which he founded in 2008.
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Abstract

Though widely used by academics and policy-makers in the context of the ‘war on terror’, the concept of radicalization lacks clarity. This article shows that while radicalization is not a myth, its meaning is ambiguous and the major controversies and debates that have sprung from it are linked to the same inherent ambiguity. The principal conceptual fault-line is between notions of radicalization that emphasize extremist beliefs (‘cognitive radicalization’) and those that focus on extremist behavior (‘behavioural radicalization’). This ambiguity explains the differences between definitions of radicalization; it has driven the scholarly debate, which has revolved around the relationship between cognition and behavior; and it provides the backdrop for strikingly different policy approaches—loosely labeled ‘European’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon’—which the article delineates and discusses in depth. Rather than denying its validity, the article calls on scholars and policy-makers to work harder to understand and embrace a concept which, though ambiguous, is likely to dominate research and policy agendas for years to come.

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