Searching for a sense of belonging – what leads people to being radicalised?

Searching for a sense of belonging – what leads people to being radicalised?

The common thread among those radicalised, whether it be joining the far-right or Islamic extremist groups is that search for the sense of belonging.

Radicalisation is an incredibly complex phenomenon, the reasoning’s behind it occurrence are much debated and can bring fraught divide among experts. Radicalisation arises out of a myriad of factors or issues that are often inextricably linked. Despite this many agree that individuals who are vulnerable to grooming, recruiters and therefore radicalisation, are connected by; identity or lack thereof.

In today’s highly digitalised world individuals are often exclusively radicalised online, social media creates a world where at the click of a button individuals can access extremist materials. It is what prompts individuals to seek out such materials however that remains the most sought after answer. It is important not to over simplify the drivers of radicalisation as they are often very localised and specific to individual circumstance.

There are a magnitude of reasons for an individual to become disenfranchised and lacking a sense of individual and collective identity, that leads them seeking personal significance and a sense of belonging in the most unconventional manner.  Such reasoning can include factors such as: socioeconomic opportunity or lack thereof, societal marginalisation, and institutionalised oppression, leaving individuals with feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability. These circumstances leave individuals vulnerable to those who are willing to exploit feelings of powerlessness and marginalisation, creating the possibility of an attachment to an extremist organisation. These groups and organisations are able to provide those lacking a sense of identity, a sense of collective belonging and a purpose.

It has been argued that sympathy with both Islamic extremism and ethno-nationalism, are symbolic of an era in which many young people’s lives are marked by a sense of uncertainty – the increasing lack of social and financial security that is characteristic of neoliberalism and globalisation.

The outcome of accepting that identity plays a huge part in the radicalisation of individuals and in particular the young, leads to the need to address the issue of identity, which in itself can be incredibly problematic. In the UK the government has decided that the most successful way to do this is through the promotion of British values, and most notably through the Prevent programme. At JAN Trust we support and educate young people on the threats posed by online radicalisation, including both Islamic and Far right. Our SAFE programme, safeguarding from extremism, delivers workshops in schools and colleges across London. We know that by engaging with youth and listening to their grievances whether it is isolation, or bullying steps can be taken to prevent a vulnerable young person becoming at risk. Participants leave our workshops understanding how they can prevent themselves and their peers from turning to extremism. Our workshops are aimed at encouraging community cohesion, rather than isolating communities. The promotion of British values is an attempt to create a sense of shared history and common endeavour; a shared sense of identity.

Addressing our fraying humanity in order to protect our young people and future generations, from the danger of recruiters and extremism is a pressing agenda. There is a need to move away from the vilifying of the ‘other’ and create a politics that works for all; fostering equality. This will require us to address the vast disparities that exist across society, providing opportunity for all regardless of differences. We must have an open dialogue and be willing to hear and understand others to truly move forward in our fight against extremism. This requires a true alternative to the entrenched hatred seen currently across the globe; we must build a value system that everyone can buy into.

To read more about the vital work we do counter extremism please visit our website.