Synthesis Report Young People's Trajectories Through Radical Islamist Milieus
From late 2017 until early 2020, researchers in the DARE (Dialogue about Radicalisation and Equality) consortium conducted field research and interviewed individuals exposed to and, in some cases, engaged with radical Islamist messaging. Islamist radicalisation is understood here as the process whereby an individual, small group, or larger collective moves towards an ‘Islamist’ position, and demonstrates a willingness to adopt an extreme stance vis-à-vis what are considered to be political and ideological adversaries. The core premise of the DARE project is that insight into Islamist radicalisation can be advanced by studying the social environment in which radical messages are encountered from the perspective of those in this environment who have been exposed to such messages.
We studied young people in these environments in ten countries across Europe. In Greece, we studied unofficial prayer houses where Muslims, often with an immigrant background, come together. In France, we studied young Muslim men in prison, a third of whom had been convicted for terrorism related offences. In Turkey, we studied civil society organisations that have, over time, taken on an Islamist imprint and played a role in stirring up support for Islamist groupings in the civil war in Syria. In many of the Northern European countries, the focus has been on neighbourhoods that are often associated with Islamist activism, a significant presence of migrants from Muslim majority countries, social problems including unemployment, poverty, and crime, and the burden of stigma. For example, in Russia, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium, the ethnographic research focused on the lives of young people coming from such areas insofar as they had also encountered Islamist radical messages. The Tunisian field research focused on neighbourhoods with similar characteristics and a significant Islamist presence. The Norwegian field research focused on young people in the vicinity of two virtual Islamist networks that eventually become real world advocacy groups.
In each of these fieldwork sites, ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews with young people were recorded, resulting in an extensive dataset of several hundred in-depth interviews and observations, containing a wealth of insights regarding the interviewees’ understanding of radicalisation and extremism, their experiences with different types of radical messaging, their perceptions of links between equality and radicalisation, their experience of radicalisation trajectories and their perspectives on the future and their visions of constructive change.
At the most general level, a salient common thread across fieldwork sites and themes studied, concerns the relational nature of radicalisation. Radicalisation and extremism are above all considered relational terms, indicating an often conflictual relationship between someone who applies the labels and the person or group to whom it is applied. Media and state authorities are often thought to play a key role in provoking such contention through their tendency to apply the notion of radicalisation too easily and too generally. In studying experiences with radical messaging, we encountered profound experiences of discrimination and exclusion, combined with the availability of internet Islam, to respectively push and pull some of the young people participating in the study into radical Islamist extremist points of view. The research also revealed an ‘in between’ world of the neighbourhoods and cultural milieus of many of the respondents, enabling a subcultural identification that was observed, in some cases, to facilitate receptivity to extremist messaging, while in others to forge a resilience to it. Online communication is the dominant source of radical messaging. Internet/social media assisted self-radicalisation was consistently observed as a critical phenomenon in all milieus studied.
Inequalities figure prominently in radical Islamist narratives. But that does not imply that all inequalities experienced by Muslims lead to radicalisation. Inequalities are not only perceived to be between Muslims and non-Muslims, but also between generations, ethnicities and on the basis of neighbourhood residence. We propose the concept of ‘relational inequality’ to represent a critical factor in the lives of our respondents. The experience of relational inequality is characterised by a sense of being different (horizontal inequality), and of being subjected (vertical inequality) to an authority perceived as inadequate, unworthy or illegitimate. Consistent encounters with inequalities and injustice in relationships at many different levels combine, leading to feelings of frustration and ‘angst’ that one is controlled by malevolent authorities. Relational inequality was experienced in relationships with parents, with teachers and supervisors, with the police, and with the state. None of the different types of injustices are by themselves a direct cause of radicalisation. Exposure to radical Islamist narratives may bring a ‘cathartic’, purifying experience of profound insight into one’s own conflictual relationships by situating them in relation to a global struggle between what ideologues refer to as the ‘true Islam’ and the unbelievers, offering the prospect of becoming a meaningful contributor in this struggle. Most of the respondents, regardless of their location, hold pessimistic views on future global developments, and fear for the position of Muslims in society. Many seek happiness by investing in social connections with family and friends.
We consider the academic contributions of the research conducted to lie in its emphasis on the subjective and relational nature of radicalisation, its focus on the position of those exposed to radical messaging in social context, and its ambition to identify dialogic rather than conflictual measures to counter it.
The National Reports on which this synthesis report is based are available below.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 725349