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Why conventional wisdom on radicalization fails: the persistence of a failed discourse

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Arguing against a feed-back loop of conventional wisdom on pathways to radicalisation in UK discourse between politicians, media commentators and academics, the authors suggest that the desire for simplistic explanations of how a 'good Muslim boy' became a 'suicide bomber' has led to a reliance on assumptions and conventional wisdom as opposed to testable empirical research and methods.  As a result, the prevailing wisdom focuses attention on ideology as the dependent variable in pathways to violence.  However, as the authors demonstrate through their research, this approach ignores evidence which runs counter to its efficacy to accurately predict violent radicalisation.

Through examples from two cases, of the Rahman Adam and the Brixton Salafi mosque in south London, the authors question whether ideology alone is sufficient to explain how a 'good Muslim boy' could become involved in terrorist plots.  In the case of Rahman Adam, the authors point to the case of Rahman's older brother, who despite showing a stronger commitment to the ideological cause which inspired Rahman, did not engage in violent actions.  The example of the Brixton Salafi community is also discussed as a case where an ideology often associated with violent Islamic extremism, actually ran a highly successful campaign against propagators of violent messages, before the UK Government drew up its 'Prevent' agenda.

The example of the Brixton Salafi community, which remains distinct from the wider Muslim and non-Muslim communities in terms of beliefs and outward indicators such as dress, provides evidence contrary to the conventional wisdom that suggests that issues such as alienation and a failure to integrate with 'British values' play a necessary role in the radicalisation process.  However, the authors extension of that argument to the case of Rahman Adam is problematic as both Lamine Adam and Ibrahim Adam (Rahman's two older brothers) have since been shown to play direct and violent roles both in the UK and abroad. Both absconded from control orders in 2007 and in 2011 Ibrahim was killed by a drone in Pakistan.

With this in mind, the authors' argument rests on the Brixton mosque example. However, some of the concerns they raise are still valid, such as their concern that through mutual reinforcement of the 'conventional wisdom' approach to understanding radicalisation, proponents of this approach have problematised the term itself, so that its relevance and usefulness as a concept could be called into question.

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