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Rethinking ‘Radicalisation’: Microradicalisations and Reciprocal Radicalisation as an Intertwined Process


Authors: Gavin Bailey and Phil Edwards

Date of Publication: Spring 2017

Journal / Publisher: Journal for Deradicalization


Purpose of the study

Key questions 

The radicalisation process/journey and mobilisation towards violence

Design of the study


The approach is partly empirical (field work focussing on a Far Right group – EDL and an Islamist group – Al Muhajiroun, both operating in the same town) with theoretical input re radicalisation modelling.




Mobilisation to extremist and extremist violence.

Key recommendations 

The study concludes that it is better to look at ‘microradicalisations’ than to concentrate on the small conceptional space in which an individual moves from non-violent to violent (i.e., considering there to be some kind of boundary between the two states of mind).

That the microradicalisation model forces us to look at radicalisation journey holistically, including the minor brushes with authority that may lead to ‘ideological alienation from the state’ 

It points to ‘reciprocal radicalisation’ as being based on the societal understandings of radicalisation, extremism, threat and so on, not just in state centred understandings. 

Radicalisation journeys begin small, and while most are reversed, some keep going. 

Reviewer's Notes

The study looks at definitions and points out that meeting this thresholds depends on context, cultural norms at the time and subsequent re-evaluation which may change the position of the line in the sand. It suggests that both the motivating factors, and the start and endpoints of radicalisation journeys are diverse, and are not in any way linear or straightforward. It is suggested that the radicalisation journey is split into smaller parts (‘microradicalisations’).

The study makes reference to ‘Reciprocal Radicalisation’ which is the process by which grievances help ideology and vice versa. 

There is very little written on the acceptance that some individuals have such deep routed beliefs that they cannot be deradicalised and it is difficult to ascertain the true intent of individuals. The 2019 London Bridge Attack involved an individual (from the same town where Bailey conducted his field work) who was seen as a ‘deradicalisation success’ but who continued to harbour strong extremist beliefs. It is rarely noted that some individuals originate from isolated communities and have effectively been radicalised from birth which is a very difficult scenario to address. Bailey states in the article that of the subjects he interviewed, none had been born into extremist households and that divisions were not based on ethnicity. He also found that many of the EDL members had experienced violent conflict as young people and one Al Muhajiroun member had developed a ‘cognitive opening’ as a result of anger he had experienced after the death of his father. It is suggested that because Al Muhajiroun were made a prohibited organisation in 2006, and EDL weren’t it was perceived that the State were taking sides by some. This is perhaps an unjust comparison in that by the time the article was written, Al Muhajiroun had been linked to half of the Islamic terrorist attacks in the UK, and the Far Right group National Action was also subsequently banned by the UK Government. However, it is easy to see how perceived ‘injustices’ can be amplified into grievances with the counter argument being played down or ignored.    

The authors critique the UK Government’s Prevent and Channel programmes as Islamophobic, yet even when the article was published, the number of Right Wing referrals was increasing and the proportion continues to rise. 

It is interesting that it is suggested that most radicalisations are ‘reversed’, which is rarely mentioned in radicalisation literature and usually refers to deradicalisation through state intervention. Here, perhaps the authors suggest that instead of individuals reaching different destinations along the radicalisation line, and henceforth never progressing any further, that some actually deradicalise themselves. It was not mentioned that some could simply ‘disengage’ at their end destination. Disenegagement does not necessarily mean that an individual is deradicalised, but they no longer have the intent to support or take part in violent extremism.     

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