Radicalisation Patterns and Efficacy of Contemporary Counter Narratives

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A select sampling from South Asia, Europe and the Middle East

Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal TI(M)*

The author is an independent analyst of international security systems. He chairs an online think-tank Pakistan Focus.



(Despite an unprecedented international effort to understand and counter radicalism, the phenomenon appears only at the formulation stage, and hence least understood; or to be exact, grossly misunderstood. Scores of flawed studies and half-baked narratives have not been able to scratch the issue beyond skin-deep. Some of such narratives have actually contributed to a rise in radicalism. This calls for a paradigm shift in global counter radicalization—starting from redoing the narrative.

This paper studies radicalization processes in South Asia, Europe and the Middle East; and scrutinizes some leading counter narratives alongside course correction recommendations. – Author)


Contemporary usage of the term “radicalisation” and its associated conceptual framework are products of the post-9/11 period. 1 Before 9/11, scholars of terrorism did not use this concept while developing models of terrorist causation. 2 For example, the most influential pre-9/11 academic study of the causes of terrorism is Martha Crenshaw’s 1981 paper “The causes of terrorism”, in which she argues for a three-level account, involving factors of: individual motivation and belief systems; decision-making and strategy within a terrorist movement; the wider political and social context with which terrorist movements interact. 3 Post 9/11 radicalisation models neglect the second and third of these levels and focus all their attention on the individual level. 4 The study of radicalisation, ostensibly in investigation of the causes of terrorism has, since 9/11, become, by and large, limited to a narrower question: why do some individual Muslims support an extremist interpretation of Islam that leads to violence? 5 Such interpretations of radicalisation emphasize the individual alongside his associated ideology and the group; and significantly deemphasizes the wider circumstances – the “root causes.” 6

In the broader perspective: prevalence, articulation and adoption of specifically violent radicalism include: living in a perceived hostile society; disenfranchisement and heightened political consciousness; anti-imperialism sentiment; lack of social justice; struggle for revivalism, emancipation and the personal search to be a good person; and adherence to symbolics as a means for liberation. 7

In the age of Daesh, while there are a number of different definitions, “radicalization” generally refers to the process by which individuals come to approve of and ultimately participate in the use of violence for political or religious aims. 8 Some make a distinction between cognitive radicalism—where a person believes violence is justified—and behavioural radicalism—where someone wants and seeks to commit violence. The academic consensus is that radicalization is a dynamic process with no single cause or personality type that leads someone down the path to terrorism. 9 There are many pathways into radicalization, and each pathway can be affected by a variety of factors ranging from personal grievances and poverty to thrill seeking and group identity which pushes an individual towards a commitment to violence. 10

Traditional trans-national and trans-regional ethno-sectarian fault lines are the readily available vehicles for proliferation of radical thinking; 11 after gathering critical mass, which may be a slow process, it spreads like a wild fire, ruthlessly submerging saner narratives and moderate options; hence creating a ‘now or never’ frenzy. Many nations have been through the pangs of radicalization, and the silver lining is that most of them were able to float viable counter narratives and implement meaningful counter radicalization programmes successfully. 12

South Asia

Asia in general and South Asia in particular are confronting the challenge of radicalization. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Maldives are prone to radicalization of one shade or the other. Sri Lanka has recently overcome the decades’ long spell of most ruthless reign of terrorism unleashed by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). 13 Adjoining regions of Middle East, South East Asia, Central Asia and West Asia are also affected by the genie. 14 Afghanistan presents a text book case incorporating all phases of transition from radicalism to terrorism or committal of violence for declared political objectives—the eviction of foreign occupation system and evolution of Islamic political structures and systems. South Asia offers trans-regional connectivity between all regions of Asia. Hence any event taking place in any region/sub-region of Asia is likely to have its impact on South Asia; likewise, anything happening in South Asia radiates aftershocks in its neighbourhood—radicalism is no exception.

Some of the contemporary processes of radicalism within and around South Asia are: the arc of instability arising out of Islamist political thought process at non-state levels; 15 politico-militancy focused resistance to the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan; the “Red Corridor” comprising of the Maoist insurgency in India and Nepal; spill over of the Afghan conflict to Pakistan through its Federally Administered Tribal areas (FATA); political rise of Hindu radicalism in India and the ensuing hype in anti-minority sentiment; anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar; remnants of ethnic driven LTTE sentiment in Sri Lanka, etc. 16

Prominent entities that radiate radical sentiments in South Asia are: 17 the Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistan & Afghanistan chapters), Al-Qaeda, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic State (IS), Shev Sena and numerous Afghan militant factions. South Asia has the highest concentration of militant groups in the world—most of these have well-articulated radical manifestos. India tops the list with more than 50 active or dormant terrorist organizations. 18 Despite group rivalries at State level, many of these regional outfits have ties with international organizations.

The landscape of processes leading to radicalism in South Asia is diverse and dynamic. Not only has the menace of radicalism grown in intensity, it has afflicted new sub-regions and become more advanced technologically. An examination of South Asian radical profile reveals that it is becoming increasingly biased toward more grisly and indiscriminate actions. South Asia, which had experienced very low levels of organized terrorism until the early 1980s, has undergone a dramatic transformation to become the scene of the bloodiest terrorist violence in the world. 19 In terms of casualties, it ranks as the world’s most terrorism- battered region, followed by the Middle East. It is now being state patronised in India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. 20

The Indian government systematically encourages its hardliner non-government entities to whip-up anti-minority sentiment, often resulting in communal riots leading to loss of property, life and sacrilege of sacred monuments. Inquiry into such incidents is hardly meaningful thus radiating a sense of perpetual impunity for the perpetrators of such crimes. Pakistani sportspersons, artists and intellectuals visiting India are harassed by entities like Shev Sena, and often are not able to fulfill the objective of their visit. 21 The worst kind of Indian state terrorism is being practiced in Indian occupied Kashmir where nearly a million security personnel routinely practice state terrorism, under the impunity cover provided by over half a dozen draconian laws; this has virtually turned the occupied territory into an open cage, 22 radiating a sense of an all pervasive insecurity.

Myanmar’s attitude of indifference towards the plight of its Rohingya minority is a form of state condoned terrorism. 23 Bangladesh is whipping up sham war trials 24 as a tool to discredit its political rivals which amounts to politically motivated state terrorism. The opportunity to destroy the al-Qaeda leadership was lost in late 2001 when they fled into Pakistan where the chase ran cold. 25 Acts of terrorism in Pakistan are, overwhelmingly, a fallout of the Afghan conflict and a global cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran on the turf of a Sunni-Shia fault line. 26 Financial and training linkages of most terrorist entities operating in Pakistan are often traced back to neighbouring countries, especially India and Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda released a video on September 04, 2014 announcing the establishment of a new branch on the Indian subcontinent. 27 In the video statement, the Qaeda leader vowed to “crush the artificial borders established by the English occupiers to divide the Muslims.” 28 Though there is no organized presence of Daesh in South Asia, 29 some individuals and entities in Afghanistan have been conducting terrorist activities in its name. Daesh presence and influence is on a decline in Afghanistan as well. 30

Combating radicalism has become the biggest political challenge for national leadership as well as societies of South Asia. And if present trends are any indicator, radicalism may remain the main political problem in the region for quite some time. The efficacy of radicalization processes is reflective from the fact that the chocking of recruitment for terror generating agencies in not in sight. 31


Daesh claimed attacks in Istanbul, Paris and Brussels, as well as the downing of the Russian civil airliner over Sinai desert. This presents the emerging format of terrorist threat to Europe and its peripheries. 32 Therefore issues of radicalisation/ deradicalisation continue to be a serious item in contemporary European thought process. 33 A vast majority of the Muslim populations of Europe are also members of a visible ethnic minority. 34 Their experiences are therefore likely to be shaped by experiences such as xenophobia, lower employment and educational levels and, more recently, Islamophobia. 35

The rise of post 9/11 radicalism in Europe mainly emanated from Europe’s unconditional support to the US 36 and acceptance of the interpretation of terrorism and its chief underlying cause as ideological radicalism. Hence, emerging official European narratives about radicalism themselves became a cause of further radicalization in European countries. 37

For example, one driver for radicalism in Europe is an official British stance whereby extremism is defined as opposition to British values; 38 and resolve that government should intervene to stem the expression of extremist opinions—radicalism—by demanding allegiance to British values. 39 A growing body of academic work holds this position to be fundamentally flawed, at best partial and at worst counterproductive, because factors which lead someone to commit acts of terrorism are complex and cannot be reduced to holding a set of values deemed to be radical.

The UK’s Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) programme that seeks to stem radicalisation is not based on solid evidence but rests upon the assumption that “extremist” speech and beliefs are the most significant factors in causing terrorism. 40 The “Prevent Policy” based on this single cause has, in fact, further fed the process of radicalism in Europe. The December 2013 report of the British Prime Minister’s “Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism” illustrates that there remains an assumption that al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism is caused by particular kinds of religious ideology, what it calls a “poisonous extremist ideology that can lead people to violence.” 41 Another linked argument, made consistently by governments is that the extremism underpinning terrorism is encouraged by a failure to celebrate and promote the values upon which European society is seen as resting. In addition, lack of allegiance to these values, according to the European official understanding, creates a cultural and psychological environment in which proliferation of radicalism, extremism, and as a corollary, terrorism is more likely. 42

This flawed argument – linking terrorism to questions of values and identity – received its definitive statement with Prime Minister David Cameron’s “muscular liberalism” speech to the Munich Security Conference in 2011. 43 There, he stated that behind Muslim terrorism lay “a question of identity”; that “the passive tolerance of recent years” had to be abandoned in favour of a much more assertive defence of British values against “Islamist extremism”; and that British Muslims had to give priority to their Britishness over their global allegiance to other Muslims. 44

After 9/11, European experts and officials started referring to the idea of ‘radicalisation’ whenever they wanted to talk about ‘what goes on before the bomb goes off’. 45 In the highly charged atmosphere, it was through the notion of radicalisation that a discussion about the political, economic, social and psychological forces that underpin terrorism and political violence became an accepted norm. 46 The concept of radicalisation became central to the emerging analysis of the causes of terrorism in European security circles. 47 The aim was to develop models that could explain the process by which ordinary people, including members of European societies, became willing to carry out acts of mass violence, even against their fellow citizens. 48 This distorted the public discourse, legitimized the erosion of civil rights and fostered social divisions, in turn, causing societal frustrations. This resulted in patchy studies and contributed toward a rise in radicalism. 49

Following the neoconservative paradigm, most models of radicalisation assumed that extremist religious ideologies drive terrorism. 50 Within this broader context, most of these models focused overwhelmingly on acts of violence carried out by Muslims 51 and rarely address political violence and terrorism more generally; starting from “Islamism” or “Salafism” – which are thought to be capable of capturing the minds of Muslims and turning them into terrorists. 52 This stereotyping became a cause of proliferation of terrorism.

For some radicalisation analysts, the role of extremist religious ideology in this process is akin to a “conveyor belt” that mechanically pushes an individual into terrorism. 53 This implies that, once someone has adopted radical views, terrorism is likely to follow sooner or later. For others, this process is more complex and depends not only on ideology but also on psychological factors, such as the experience of a recent traumatic event.

There is a wide range of domestic policies in European countries whose introduction has been significantly encouraged by acceptance of the official British narrative on the causes of terrorism, like surveillance of the political and religious lives of Muslims to identify indicators of radicalisation. The Terrorism Act of 2006 binds Muslims to share information on perceived risks with police counter-terrorism units. 54 It criminalises individuals for expressing extremist opinions. Moreover, the Act required suspected extremist individuals to undergo “de -radicalisation” programmes. Financial restrictions were imposed on Muslim individuals and charities thought to be radical or involved in extremism. These policies, alongside aggressive removal and denial of entry to foreign nationals, are another radicalising influence.

A flawed understanding of processes of radicalism in Europe, as in America and elsewhere, fostered social divisions, undermined civil liberties and counter-productively made terrorism more likely. Initially, policy -makers focused on community structures, such as mosques, as the locations where extremist ideology had to be blocked; later, focus turned to prisons and universities; more recently, the focus has been on the circulation of extremist ideology through social media—all piece meal approaches which show absence of a comprehensive approach.

Surprisingly, the official European articulation implies that, once an individual has adopted an extremist religious ideology, terrorism will result, irrespective of the political context or any calculation on the part of an organisation or social movement. Advocates of this approach argue that, since the 1990s, there has been a transformation in the way terrorism works – what scholars refer to as the “new terrorism” thesis – so that the intellectual tools used to analyse political violence in the past are no longer applicable. 55 Policies that result from such models, which ignore much of what causes terrorism to occur, are a source of fresh wave of radicalism.

Over the last ten years, scholarship on terrorism has increasingly challenged the radicalisation models that have informed counter-terrorism policy-making in the UK, finding them to be reductionist 56 and insufficiently grounded in empirical evidence. It is clear that the role of ideology in driving terrorism was exaggerated in the early years of the War on Terror. Yet, among counterterrorism practitioners and policy-makers, there remains an unwarranted faith in this, now discredited, analysis. The emerging approach acknowledges that the social psychological process by which Muslim individuals become active in radical Islamist groups is not all that different from moderate, non-violent Muslim groups or from non-Islamic social movements, even if the content of the ideology differs. 57

The internet has brought extensive change in peoples’ lives. This has led to important changes in the organisation and functioning of society, and as violent extremists and terrorists form part of this society, it is widely assumed that the internet plays a particular role as a tool of radicalisation. 58 The internet had been a key source of information, communication and propaganda for extremist beliefs. The internet may act as an ‘echo chamber’ for extremist beliefs; in other words, the internet may provide a greater opportunity than offline interactions to confirm existing beliefs. 59 The internet appears to facilitate this process, which, in turn, may or may not accelerate extremism and terrorism. The internet allows radicalisation to occur without physical contact. 60 The internet increases opportunities for self-radicalisation. 61

Although circumstances and views still somewhat vary from country to country, it is possible to observe some common trends across Europe. Few governments today believe that the majority of terrorists are deviants, sociopaths or psychopaths who were born terrorists or that “once a terrorist, always a terrorist.” 62 On the contrary, it is now widely believed that, in perhaps a majority of cases, the radicalization processes that lead people to carry out acts of politically motivated violence can be prevented or even reversed. 63 Working from these revised assumptions, over the last few years, several countries have created counter radicalization programmes that differ markedly in their extent and aims. 64

Middle East

The Daesh brand process of radicalization is essentially a Middle East and North Africa (MENA) grown and globally sustained phenomenon. 65 It has mainly been triggered by the contemporary wrong wars/ extra regional interventions in the region; and uncontrollable undesired effects of the Arab spring. 66 Even though the upheaval of Arab spring itself was a result of radical youth venting their dissatisfaction with the incumbent regimes, the hijacking of the anticipated benefits by pro status quo forces quickly changed the tenor of radicalization in MENA. From a peaceful movement, it has now transformed into a combatant struggle. Due to unsurmountable hurdles in the way of peaceful processes, the wave of militant radicalism has over whelmed the youth, which is duly impressed by the ability of Daesh to run a d’facto state, at least for the time being.

While Daesh ideology appropriates concepts found in Islamic thought, often characterised as ‘Salafi’, it is an overtly political ideology that has been developed outside of Islamic jurisprudence. Violent radical narrative reconstructs ‘jihad’ as a permanent obligation and attempts to dilute the authority /propriety of the state in terms of declaration of Jihad, hence creating and sustaining forceful waves of radicalism at a non-state level.

Daesh, though on decline in the Syria-Iraq landscape, is in the process of replicating its Syria style state model in Libya as well. Expanse of its extra-regional activities indicate that this brand of radicalization is effective and kicking—at least for the time-being. Moreover, appeal of this process is almost global. Some older jihadist organizations across the Middle East and even in South Asia have, at least nominally, begun announcing their support for the Islamic State; these include Al-Qaeda in Yemen and some groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a few individuals of the Pakistani Taliban and small factions of the Afghan Taliban.

Daesh is now considered as the largest and richest of militant outfits in the world, radiating militant radicalism globally. It has gained strength from anarchy. It’s a combination of split warring factions. The MENA region has become a magnet for attracting foreign fighters. Daesh has its recruiters all over the Western world seeking out new members through social media. According to the United Nations Al-Qaeda-Taliban Monitoring Team, around 15,000 foreign fighters had joined terrorist groups, mainly Al-Nusra Front and ISIL by the end of 2015; they came from more than 80 States, including the UK, the US, Balkans, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, etc. 67

To a greater extent than any prior jihadist movement, Daesh supporters are committed to an interpretation of Islam—Salafism— whose sectarian and literalist interpretations were first articulated centuries ago. 68 It is this originalism that defines the direction and aims of Daesh and gives its “caliphate” a sense of authenticity amongst its followers. 69 A key aspect of Salafism’s appeal among its followers is its claim to represent the original and authentic version of Islam as practiced by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself. 70

Salafism rejects not only modern Western institutions and processes (nation states, elections, and parliament) but also traditional Sunni ones, like the Islamic schools of law, canonical texts, and institutions of “official” Islam such as al-Azhar. Salafis perceive these structures as agents of local governments. 71 This approach of exclusivism-inclusivism dynamism is the major underwriter of radicalism in the Middle East. 72

Proposed counter narratives

Despite an unprecedented international effort to understand and counter radicalism, the phenomenon appears only at the formulation stage, and hence least understood; or to be exact, grossly misunderstood. Scores of flawed studies and half-baked narratives have not been able to scratch the issue beyond skin-deep. 73 Some of such narratives have actually contributed to a rise in radicalism. This calls for a paradigm shift in global counter radicalization—starting from redoing the narrative.

National circumstances and domestic political considerations influence the choice of policy responses, so a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work. However, the problem of online radicalisation crosses national borders and will require a concerted international response. 74

A typical de-radicalization process should be triggered by a credible narrative, taking in to account all contributory factors. A widely accepted narrative creates a shield to prevent vulnerable individuals and communities from radicalizing; and provides incentives for rehabilitating those who wish to renounce radicalism. 75

Managing a narrative for countering radicalism is like a game of chess. It requires political will, perseverance and a composite state-societal effort. 76 This means understanding the traditional fault lines leading to societal fragility and the ensuing threat of mass radicalization. Another pre-requisite is to comprehend the enemy and his methods; and be able to anticipate and thoughtfully respond to how it changes and adapts. This requires an approach strategy that uses reason and astuteness, not just brute force.

A key dilemma in formulating the narrative is whether the end objective should be disengagement or deradicalization of militants. 77 Disengagement entails a change in behaviour, but not necessarily a change in beliefs. Deradicalization is the process of changing an individual’s belief system, rejecting the extremist ideology, and embracing mainstream values. 78 Deradicalization may be necessary to permanently defuse the threat posed by these individuals. Limiting the objective for disengagement leaves the vulnerable groups and individuals liable to relapse. It should focus at breaking the militant’s affective, pragmatic, and ideological commitment to the radical group. 79

While European narratives focus on inclusiveness and integration efforts, most Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian narratives employ a form of theological dialogue in which mainstream scholars and, sometimes, former radicals challenge extremists in discussions of theology in an effort to convince the militants that their interpretation of religion is wrong. A narrative should leave space for responding to overtures from radical group leaders who have already begun to reconsider their positions and then engage these leaders to facilitate their process of disengagement.

As of now, most international counter radicalism narratives are not evidence based, rather, these are politically motivated. 80 No wonder, despite years of vigorous efforts, counter-radicalization narratives remain despairingly underdeveloped with little empirical evidence of success. This calls for a paradigm shift in the global counter radicalization effort by addressing the underlying causes leading to radicalism through realistic narratives and practical steps. As the state is the implementing entity for all policies, each country facing the issue of radicalization should formulate its own narrative, keeping local conditions and sensitivities in mind. 81

There are numerous case studies from democratic European countries, where authorities have implemented ambitious counter radicalization strategies for over a decade, even though most of these have been inherently flawed. In the US, New York City has had some success in countering radicalized individuals through its Community Affairs Bureau. 82

Saudi Arabia’s counter-radicalization strategy is known as the Prevention, Rehabilitation and After-Care (PRAC) approach. It is predominantly known for its rehabilitation programme. 83 The programme is premised on the notion that Islamist extremists have been lied to and deceived into following a misinterpretation of Islam. It therefore focuses on removing a detainee’s radical understanding of Islam and reintroducing the official state version of the faith. This is achieved through a complex process of religious dialogue with official clerics, psychological counselling, and extensive social support for the detainee and his family. 84 Once detainees are released, the government provides a stipend, a car, housing, and often a government job. The Saudi government claims to have an 80 percent success rate, with less than 5 percent of released detainees rearrested. 85 It is essentially a Saudi solution for a domestic deradicalization programme based on Saudi Arabia’s official version of Islam, and thus may not be suitable for replication, however, a suitably adapted version could be used in Islamic countries. 86

The UK’s counter-radicalization programme PREVENT, focuses on partnering with police, local governments, and NGOs to challenge radical Islamism and increase the capacity of communities to intervene in the radicalization process. 87 The programme has 5 components: 1) countering radical Islamist ideology by bolstering moderate Islamic leaders; 2) impeding and criminalizing efforts to radicalize others in mosques, schools, prisons, and on the Internet; 3) increasing local communities’ resilience to radicalization efforts by bolstering moderate religious leaders; 4) eliminating grievances by reducing inequality and discrimination; and 5) intervening with vulnerable individuals through mentorship and training programmes. To achieve the last component, the UK government instituted the Channel Project, a local programme that relies on communities to identify individuals who are radicalizing and then help them to return to a better path. 88

In June 2011, the UK government revamped its Prevent programme to “de-securitize” its efforts to integrate Muslims into British society in order to prevent the alienation of Muslim communities. The results for the UK programme have been mixed. Though the programme is comprehensive and sophisticated, it has received significant pushback from Muslim communities that feel targeted for discrimination and spied upon by their government. The most successful element of the UK’s strategy has been the government’s partnership with Muslim NGOs, particularly organizations, which promote moderate interpretations of Islam and use former de-radicalized terrorists to engage ‘at-risk individuals’.

The Dutch government views radicalization primarily as a youth phenomenon that occurs when isolated individuals are searching for identity, rather than as a distinctly religious issue. The Dutch counter-radicalization programme therefore specifically aims to enhance social cohesion by integrating alienated individuals back into society. Launched from 2007-2011, the Dutch Polarization and Radicalization Action Plan 89 places responsibility on local governments—including local youth workers, truancy officers, police and other local authorities— to prevent, identify, and intervene in cases of potential radicalization. Local authorities are given broad discretion to develop their own programmes, though all are expected to focus on strengthening the link between individuals and society. 90

A typical narrative should also take into account that it may not always be possible to convince someone to give up an ideology, but it can still convince someone to give up violent elements of that ideology. Moreover, it should allow for experimentation and innovation at local levels, particularly in developing channels for community outreach.

Narrative and policy should be careful not to stigmatize communities or alienate community leaders, since the community is vital for identifying at-risk individuals. It should support international, foreign counter-radicalization programmes with regional countries through sharing best practices, facilitating intelligence and information sharing and providing financial support. More often than not, success at domestic level depends upon the success of regional counter-radicalization programmes. Each country should substantially support the regional countries as they develop their own programmes; and understand that context matters and various programmes of each nation may look different.

A typical narrative should also encourage group deradicalization where it seems feasible and facilitate the public disclosure of the writings and arguments of militants who renounce extremism. A broader theme should also incorporate the likelihood of collective deradicalization through political co-option because this is the most efficient way to change the behaviour and beliefs of a large number of militants at once and ultimately discredit extremist ideology.

Near-term objectives of a narrative should focus on preventing would-be violent extremists from becoming active 91 through closer intelligence sharing, more rigorous local law enforcement programmes, and working with social services and community outreach programmes to identify and track signs of radicalization and at-risk individuals; particular emphasis should be on assumptions about the resonance of the ideology among recruits. Medium-term objectives should focus on trust-building with local communities through partnerships between state and society. Long-term objectives should aim at countering the extremist narrative and ideology by working through NGOs and scholarly communities to challenge radical interpretations of religion and establish coherent and credible institutions of religious authority and instruction in order to, more effectively, disseminate moderate interpretations of Islam.

The narrative should take into account that grievances, real or perceived, result in the employment of violence; and these are not ‘irrational’ i.e. not subject to rational analysis, but supported by ideological frameworks with a view of perceived problems, a vision of the future and a prescription for action.

Focus should be on developing a multi-layered counter-narrative strategy, incorporating many different elements designed to appeal to a wide variety of people. 92 Looking back at cases where individuals have voluntarily left terrorist organisations, two themes seem to emerge that should be included in any counter-narrative campaign: portraying terrorists as criminals who fail to live according to their religious principles; and focusing on the difficult, financially unstable, fear-filled life of a terrorist. 93

Beyond carefully crafting the counter-narrative, governments must also be mindful of how they deliver the counter-narrative. 94 Utilising former terrorists may prove quite advantageous given their ability to directly connect with – and counter – the terrorists’ narrative. In addition, terrorists’ family members have, more often than not, successfully persuaded recruits, as well as active radicals, to leave behind extremist organisations. Conjoint working by state and society with terrorists’ families, therefore, may enable the governments to effectively transmit their counter-narrative.

Counter-radicalisation efforts should be increasingly coordinated across national boundaries, thereby, enabling individual programmes to be strengthened through international cooperation. 95 Better understanding of not only why people join but why they leave terrorist organisations is key to developing a message that resonates with those considering joining these groups, and perhaps even those already on the inside. Until all aspects of the radicalisation cycle are better understood, including the reasons for abandoning the extremist cause, it will be difficult to develop an effective strategy to defeat the terrorist narrative and win the softer side of the fight against terrorism.


Confusion on what is radicalism and who is a radical and the ensuing narratives was quite evident from the concurrent post Brussels attack remarks by the then President Barack Obama and the then candidate Donald Trump. Obama urged Americans not to stigmatise Muslims following the deadly attacks in Brussels, saying that doing so is “counterproductive” in the fight against terrorism. 96 Obama said Muslim-Americans are “our most important partners in the nation’s fight against those who would wage violent jihad…It plays right into the hands of terrorists who need a reason to recruit more people to their hateful cause. 97” Donald Trump, repeated his demand for the government to temporarily bar all Muslims from entering the US. 98 This widely polarized understanding of what is and what is not radicalization sets into motion a trainload of faulty narratives that need to be derailed and offloaded.


1- Mohammed Elshimi, “De-radicalisation interventions as technologies of the self: a Foucauldian analysis”. Critical Studies on Terrorism (Volume 8, 2015 – Issue 1). Published online on April 09, 2015. p. 110-129. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17539153.2015.1005933?journalCode=rter20

2- “Terrorism”, Encyclopedia.com http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/political-science-and-government/political-science-terms-and-concepts-92

3- Professor Arun Kundnani Arun Kundnani, “A Decade Lost Rethinking Radicalisation and Extremism”, (Claystone January 2015. http://docplayer.net/15237324-A-decade-lost-rethinking-radicalisation-and-extremism.html

4- Ibid.

5- Arun Kundnani, “Radicalisation: the journey of a concept” First Published September 18, 2012 Research Article. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0306396812454984?journalCode=racb

6- Basia Spalek, “Radicalisation, de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation in relation to families: Key challenges for research, policy and practice”, Security Journal (University of Derby: February 2016, Volume 29, Issue 1) p. 39–52. Original Article First Online, December 29, 2015. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057/sj.2015.43

7- Dr Sadek Hamid, “Studies into violent radicalisation: The beliefs, ideologies and narratives”, Academia, https://www.academia.edu/718793/Studies_into_violent_radicalisation_The_beliefs_ideologies_and_narratives. “This study has been produced by the Change Institute for the European Commission (Directorate General Justice, Freedom and Security). This study does not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the European Commission or of the Change Institute, nor are they bound by its conclusions.”

8- John Hay, “Developing Counter-Radicalization Programs Against ISIS”, John Hay Initiative January 14, 2016”. http://www.choosingtolead.net/john-hay-blog/2016/1/14/developing-counter-radicalization-programs-against-isis-1

9- Rex A. Hudson, “The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?” A Report Prepared under an Interagency Agreement by the Federal Research Division. (Library of Congress: September 1999). https://fas.org/irp/threat/frd.html

10- John Hay, “Developing Counter-Radicalization Programs Against ISIS”.

11- Air commodore(R) Khalid Iqbal, “Deconstructing Terrorism: A Holistic Approach”. Criterion Quarterly, (Vol 10, No 2). Posted on July 26, 2015. http://www.criterion-quarterly.com/deconstructing-terrorism-a-holistic-approach/

12- Ibid.

13- Eugene Chausovsky, “In Sri Lanka, the Wounds of War Are Healing”, Stratfor Worldview, January 8, 2017. https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/sri-lanka-wounds-war-are-healing

14- Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal, “Countering Regional Extremism and Terrorism: Pakistan’s Perspective” Criterion Quarterly (Vol 10, No 3), Posted by admin on August 1, 2015. http://www.criterion-quarterly.com/countering regional-extremism-and-terrorism-pakistans-perspective/

15- Ibid.

16- Ibid.

17- Ibid.

18- Animesh Roul, “South Asia: Hotbed of Islamic Terrorism”, Appears in “Aspects of Islamism in South and Southeast Asia”, August 2008, The National Bureau of Asian Research,  http://www.nbr.org/publications/element.aspx?id=136

19- Muhammad Feyyaz, “Putting terrorism and response in perspective”, University of Management and Technology (Pakistan),January 2006. ResearchGate, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275019506_Putting_terrorism_and_response_in_perspective

20- Ibid.

21- L K Sharma, “Of sacred cows and profane men”, OpenIndia, June 07, 2017, https://www.opendemocracy.net/openindia/l-k-sharma/of-sacred-cows-and-profane-men

22- “Everyone Lives in Fear”: Patterns of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir, Human Rights Watch, September 11, 2006. https://www.hrw.org/report/2006/09/11/everyone-lives-fear/patterns-impunity-jammu-and-kashmir

23- Maryam Ishani, “Myanmar’s minority Muslims under attack”, Daily News Egypt, July 02, 2017, https://dailynewsegypt.com/2012/07/02/myanmars-minority-muslims-under-attack-2/

24- Julfikar Ali Manik, “Al-Badr Commander Mir Quasem to Die”, Dhaka Tribune, November 3, 2014, in War Crimes Prosecution Watch, Volume 9 – Issue 17, November 17, 2014. http://www.publicinternationallawandpolicygroup.org/wpcontent/uploads/2014/11/WCPW_111714_master.html#bang2

25- Bruce Riedel, “Al-Qaeda Five Years After the fall of Kandahar”, Article, Brooking, January 18, 2007. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iraq/2007-01-01/united-states-iraq-and-war-terror

26- Lee Kuan Yew, “The United States, Iraq, and the War on Terror”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2007 Issue. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iraq/2007-01-01/united-states-iraq-and-war-terror

27- Allen Barry, “Al Qaeda Opens New Branch on Indian Subcontinent”, New York Times, September 04, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/05/world/asia/al-qaeda-announces-new-branch-on-indian-subcontinent.html

28- Ibid.

29- Ayaz Gul, “Pakistan Investigating Suspected IS Militants”, VOA, December 31, 2015. https://www.voanews.com/a/pakistan-investgating-suspected-is-militants/3125676.html

30- Borhan Osman, “The Shadows of ‘Islamic State’ in Afghanistan: What threat does it hold?” Afghan Analysts Network, February 12, 2015. https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/the-shadows-of-islamic-state-in-afghanistan-what-threat-does-it-hold/

31- From Rehabilitation to Recruitment, ISSU, (The Macdonald-Laurier Institute: 2014), July 21, 2014. https://issuu.com/macdonaldlaurier/docs/fromrehabilitationtorecruitment

32- “French President to Meet with Pres. Obama Next Week”, WSAZ News Channel, The Associated Press, November 17, 2015. http://www.wsaz.com/home/headlines/Police-At-Least-26-Dead-in-Acts-of-Violence-Throughout-Paris-347897071.html

33- Tahir Abbas & Assma Siddique, “Perceptions of the processes of radicalisation and de-radicalisation among British South Asian Muslims in a post-industrial city”, Journal Social Identities, (volume 18, Issue 1: 2012) 119-134. Tylor & Francis Online. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13504630.2011.629519?src=recsys&journalCode=csid20

34- John L. Esposito, “The Challenges in Defeating ISIS”, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-l-esposito/the-challenges-in-defeati_b_5722118.html

35- “The Challenges in Defeating ISIS”, World Observer Online, June 27, 2015. http://worldobserveronline.com/2015/03/27/the-challenges-in-defeating-isis/

36- Péter Krekó and Lóránt Győri, “Don’t ignore the left! Connections between Europe’s radical left and Russia”, openDemocracy, June 13, 2016. https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-kreko-lorant-gyori/don-t-ignore-left-connections-between-europe-s-radical-left-and-ru

37- Adrienne Ou, “ Hearts and Minds: A Comparison of Counter-Radicalization Strategies in Britain and the United States”, Cornell International Affairs Review Volume 11, No. 2) (Cornell University: 2016) 1/3. http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1413/hearts-and-minds-a-comparison-of-counter-radicalization-strategies-in-britain-and-the-united-states

38- Moving Target: UK–GCC Relations and the Politics of ‘Extremism’, Research paper, Chatham House, September 14, 2016. https://reader.chathamhouse.org/moving-target-uk-gcc-relations-and-politics-extremism

39- Sadia Habib, “A Decade Lost: Rethinking Radicalisation and Extremism”, The Sociological Imagination, January 6, 2015. http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16655

40- Ibid.

41- Ibid.

42- Ibid.

43- “State multiculturalism has failed, says David Cameron”, BBC News, 5 February 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-12371994

44- Ibid.

45- Sadia Habib, “A Decade Lost: Rethinking Radicalisation and Extremism”.

46- Ibid.

47- Garvin Heerah, “Does T&T have a counter Terrorism Strategy?”, Guardian, June 07, 2017. http://www.guardian.co.tt/columnist/2017-06-07/does-tt-have-counter-terrorism-strategy

48- Sadia Habib, “A Decade Lost: Rethinking Radicalisation and Extremism”.

49. Ibid.

50- Matthew Francis, “Does ideology really contribute to radicalisation?”, Radicalisation Research, 6 Jul, 2015. http://www.radicalisationresearch.org/debate/francis-ideology-radicalisation/

51-Khaled A. Beydoun, “Islamophobia: Toward a legal definition and framework”, Columbia Law Review, Volume 116. http://columbialawreview.org/content/islamophobia-toward-a-legal-definition-and-framework/

52- “Salafi movement”, WikiVisually, http://wikivisually.com/wiki/Salafism

53- Garvin Heerah, “Does T&T have a counter Terrorism Strategy?”

54- The terrorism act, https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/terrorism/the-terrorism-act.php

55- Florian Schneider, “How to Do a Discourse Analysis”, Politics East Asia, May 13, 2013. http://www.politicseastasia.com/studying/how-to-do-a-discourse-analysis/

56- “Terrorism Contest and cohesion”, April 16, 2009, OpenDemocracy, https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/5225/0/feed

57- Arun Kundnani, “Radicalisation: the journey of a concept”, SAGE Journals, September 18, 2012. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0306396812454984?journalCode=racb

58- Matthijs van der Mijn(uploaded by), “Radicalisation in the Digital Era”, Rand Corporation, https://www.scribd.com/document/318901968/Radicalisation-in-the-Digital-Era

59- Kriti Singh, “Digital Terrorism: Choreographing the Terror”, Centre for Air Power Studies, India, Forum for National Security Studies, February 16, 2015. http://www.academia.edu/10963854/DIGITAL_TERRORISM_CHOREOGRAPHING_THE_TERROR

60- “Radicalisation in the Digital Era”, RAND Europe, http://www.rand.org/randeurope/research/projects/internet-and-radicalisation.html

61- Ibid.

62- Lorenzo Vidino & James Brandon “Countering Radicalization in Europe”, (ISCR, Kings College London: 2012).

63- Ibid.

64- Ibid.

65- “Middle East and North Africa Economic Monitor October 2015” World Bank Publications, ISSUU, October 19, 2015. https://issuu.com/world.bank.publications/docs/9781464807350

66- “Arab Spring”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Spring

67- “Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution Condemning Violent Extremism, Underscoring Need to Prevent Travel, Support for Foreign Terrorist Fighters”, United Nations, Meetings Coverages and Press Releases. http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11580.doc.htm

68- “Developing Counter-Radicalization Programs Against ISIS”, John Haley Initiative, January 14, 2016. http://www.choosingtolead.net/john-hay-blog/2016/1/14/developing-counter-radicalization-programs-against-isis-1

69- Ibid.

70- Ibid.

71- Ibid.

72- Marianne Moyaert, “Fragile Identities Towards a Theology of Interreligious Hospitality”, Brill, http://www.brill.com/products/book/fragile-identities

73- Air Commodore(R) Khalid Iqbal, “Countering Regional Extremism and Terrorism: Pakistan’s Perspective”, Criterion Quarterly, Volume 10, number 3, August 01, 2105. http://www.criterion-quarterly.com/countering-regional-extremism-and-terrorism-pakistans-perspective/

74- Ibid.

75- Ibid.

76- Ibid.

77. Zora A. Sukabdi, “Terrorism In Indonesia: A Review On Rehabilitation And Deradicalization”, Journal of Terrorism Research, The Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. http://jtr.st-andrews.ac.uk/articles/10.15664/jtr.1154/

78- Ibid.

79- Ibid.

80- “‘Stop Feeding Terrorism with Blood of Our Youth,’ Jordan’s Crown Prince Tells Security Council during Debate on Violent Extremism”, United Nations Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, April 23, 2115. http://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc11872.doc.htm

81- “Homeland Security 4.0: Overcoming Centralization, Complacency, and Politics”. Homeland Security Report, August 23, 2011. http://www.heritage.org/homeland-security/report/homeland-security-40-overcoming-centralization-complacency-and-politics

82- “Developing Counter-Radicalization Programs Against ISIS”, John Haley Initiative, January 14, 2016.

83- Abdulrahman al-Hadlaq , “chapter 2: Saudi Efforts in Counter-Radicalisation and Extremist Rehabilitation” in “Terrorist Rehabilitation A New Frontier in Counter-terrorism”. http://www.worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/9781783267446_0002

84- Ibid.

85- Ibid.

86- Ibid.

87- Uploaded by Aleksandra Markovic (Uploaded by), “Preventing and Countering Youth Radicalism in EU A study for the LIBE Committee”, Directorate General for Internal policies, European Union, 2014. https://www.scribd.com/document/323236564/Preventing-and-Countering-Youth-Radicalism-in-EU

88- Ibid.

89- James Brandon, Lorenzo Vidino, “European Experiences in Counter radicalization”, Combating Terrorism Centre, June 21, 2012. https://ctc.usma.edu/posts/european-experiences-in-counterradicalization

90- Ibid.

91- “Developing Counter-Radicalization Programs Against ISIS”, John Haley Initiative, January 14, 2016.

92- “ Invitation for a Seminar on Islamic Perspective to Root-out Violent Extremism and Measures to Counter Radicalization”, Indialogue Foundation, http://indialogue.in/announcements/invitation-for-a-seminar-on-islamic-perspective-to-root-out-violent-extremism-and-measures-to-counter-radicalization/

93- “Challenges in the Transmission of Counter-Extremism Narratives, Acritical Look at the Social Media Platform”, Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, University of Nairobi. http://idis.uonbi.ac.ke/node/188489

94- Rachel Brigs, Sebastien Feve, “Review of Programs to Counter Narratives of Violent Extremism”, DOCPLAYER, http://docplayer.net/4673424-Review-of-programs-to-counter-narratives-of-violent-extremism.html

95- “Tunis Agenda”, The US Department of State, https://2001-2009.state.gov/e/eeb/rls/othr/2005/57997.htm

96- “Stigmatising Muslims ‘plays into hands’ of terrorists: Obama”, Express W, March 26, 2016. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1073272/stigmatizing-muslims-plays-into-hands-of-terrorists-obama/

97- Ibid.

98- Ibid.