Review # 4

Trajectories of Youth In and Out of Violent Radicalization

Recent studies* have given voice to radicalized youth and their families in documenting their trajectories in and out of violence. As such, they have provided direct and in-depth information on the breeding grounds of violent radicalization, namely:

  • Disrupted family dynamics and histories of abuse/violence;
  • Personal, enabling, motivating, and precipitating structural factors related to geopolitical grievances;
  • Social networking and psychological factors such as search for identity, need for belongingness, personal choices, and a sense of humiliation or disappointment in the institutions of society.

In addition, a number of differentiated trajectories have begun to emerge, namely:

Push trajectories, where the youth is pushed away from dysfunctional family dynamics and social problems such as discrimination, exclusion, and a polarized environment, and where he/she finds relational and emotional support in an extremist authority figure. Disengagement markers in these trajectories are often characterized by disillusionment with the hatred and violence of extremist movements;

Pull trajectories, where a well-functioning youth is pulled towards extremist movements as a result of a quest for meaning, strong ideologies, and a strong goal in life. Markers of violent radicalization are often triggered by sudden insight into the double standard of the extremist organization or investment in another equally competing life goal;

“Passionate” trajectories, for high sensation seeking youth (at times with a history of delinquency) attracted by “heroic” and powerful images conveyed by the extremist groups and in search for extreme challenges. De-radicalization markers in these trajectories seem to include dissatisfaction with the simplified content of extremist ideals and boredom with challenges offered by the group.

These trajectories constitute a valuable and theoretically sound starting point to understand the pathways of youth in and out of violent radicalization. However, the evidence is still unclear about the relative influence of each shift marker. Thus, the objectives of the fourth systematic review are as follows:

  • Produce path models of youth trajectories with weight estimates of the differential effect of shift markers for each trajectory;
  • Exemplify how this information can be used by practitioners, who face the responsibility of acting rapidly with families and communities struggling with radicalized youth;
  • Ensure that policymakers target shift markers that lead to the best outcomes when they set coordination priorities, select screening/assessment tools, and implement preventive/intervention efforts.

* Sieckelinck, S., & de Winter, M. (2015). Formers & families: Transitional journeys in and out of extremisms in the United Kingdom, Denmark and The Netherlands. The Hague, Netherlands: National Coordinator Security and Counterterrorism, Ministry of Security and Justice.
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