What is Violent Radicalization?

The Power of Words

  • Words matter. The words we use to understand events in our lives, their causes, and their solutions can justify and mobilize political and social actions. We must therefore be cautious about what words we use to talk about hate, extremist violence, violent radicalization, or terrorism, as their misuse may cause unintended (or intended) harms to individuals and communities.
  • Generally, what or who is defined as violently radical changes across social, political or historical contexts. Also, historically, groups using supremacist and racist ideologies, as well as state-supported forms of violent extremism, have been responsible for large-scale atrocities—such as genocide or those resulting from slavery and colonization—as well as hate incidents and crimes.
  • More recently, when the term violent radicalization was used and defined, it was heavily infused with ideological and political bias and mainly targeted Muslim communities. This resulted in over-surveillance, repression, unjustified policing measures, and ostracization of Muslim individuals across the world. We need to remember that all religions—including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism—have been used to inspire different forms of extremism.
  • Because of potential biases and double standards in the field that reinforce systemic discrimination towards some historically marginalized groups, it is necessary to constantly examine the words and definitions we choose and the ways we use them. • To capture this complexity, CPN-PREV took on the challenge of offering the following nuanced definition, which we acknowledge must be constantly re-examined as the knowledge base evolves.
  • At CPN-PREV, we consider violent radicalization to be a non-linear process by which an individual, a group, or a government undergoes systemic transformations (e.g., behavioral, socioeconomic, psychological, identity-based, political, and/or ideological) that lead them to support, facilitate, or use violence towards an individual or a group in order to further their cause and bring political, social, or economic changes to society.

Is Radicalization Always Violent?

It is important to understand that radicalization rarely leads to violence and that in fact, very few people in the process of radicalization will value or resort to violence. Indeed, radicalization is often motivated by a refusal of the status quo, a desire to change society for the better. In this respect, radical movements have often, throughout history, brought about beneficial changes in society. We can think of feminism or ecological movements. Also, we can evoke people who, by their thoughts or their gestures, have radically changed society or our way of being in the world.

We also stress that historical and contemporary movements of resistance to colonization should NOT inherently be conflated with violent radicalization.