The Boston Marathon bombing and the Fort Hood shooting are two examples of terrorist acts by people who seemed to have been well integrated into society before something took them down the path of radicalization, raising again the questions of whether and how such personal journeys to the dark side might be interrupted. Is it possible to provide an “off ramp” for those heading down the radicalization path?
There are no easy answers. “Ten years of concerted research has failed to identify a unified path to radicalization or a common root cause of terrorism,” notes a new paper titled Over a Decade Later...What Now? What Next?: A Multi-Layer Assessment of Terrorism in its Current and Future Manifestation, issued by START. But the report—which is based on in-depth interviews with a range of experts—including U.S. government officials, military personnel, researchers, and former violent extremists—calls for more focus on countering radicalization and the causes of violent extremism (VE). “VE is a way of thinking that uses violence to promote one’s views—political, religious, etc...VE prepares the mindset for a person to become a terrorist,” the report says. “While terrorism is a tactic, VE is a process of thinking that can ultimately lead to terrorism or other forms of violence.”
The paper notes that ideology isn’t always a factor, but it can be a rationalization. With regard to Muslims who turn to VE and terrorism, Islam “is more their motif than their motive,” it states. Also, notes the paper, “We need to understand how anger, shame, guilt, and humiliation play out in bringing individuals into a terrorist group…and what emotions could be mobilized to reverse that process.”
When it comes to outreach to Muslim youth, says the paper, everyday concerns may be more relevant than religion. But it’s also important to offer narratives that compete with those put forth by the radical groups that may be trying to recruit them online.