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The edge of violence: a radical approach to extremism


The data for this report comes from five countries: the UK, Canada, Denmark, France and the Netherlands. Through investigating non-violent radicals ('radicals') as well as violent radicals ('terrorists') the authors sought to understand how some kinds of radicalisation leads to violent action. Whilst they make a clear distinction between the two kinds of processes and the impact each can have on liberal democracies, the authors are also clear that the boundaries between these processes are permeable and that individuals may change their position with regards to extending or removing support for violence.

The report is based on new data, as opposed to summaries of previously existing research and, as such, is a welcome and useful addition to the field. There are a number of findings and the report is worth reading to examine these in greater depth than undertaken in the few brief highlights selected here.

In reinforcing the distinction between radicals (non-violent) and terrorists (violent) the report highlights some of the distinguishing factors, such as that radicals were more likely than terrorists to have attended university and to have been employed. Whilst radicals and terrorists were both likely to support the right of Iraqi and Afghan people to defend themselves radicals had a less-shallow and more self-critical knowledge of Islam than terrorists did. The report also stressed the idea that much support for al Qaeda could be due to its 'dangerous, romantic and counter-cultural characteristics' - it could be cool to be seen to support it. In addition, support for violent ideology did not necessarily follow directly from support for radical ideas, as violent radicalisation frequently followed its own path, characterised by a culture of violence and confrontation.

Within the recommendations from the report were included the need to de-glamorise violence and finding ways in which young people can be radical and dissenting without resorting to violent actions. Finally, the report also stresses that being radical and being violent isnot the same thing, and that non-violent radicalisation does not necessarily lead to violence, a point which government policy should acknowledge.

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