26 Sep 2022


Why Radicalization Fails: Barriers to Mass Casualty Terrorism

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Radicalization is a concept that refers to the gradual social processes used to explain changes in behaviours or ideas. There is a clear distinction between behavioural and cognitive dimensions of radicalizations. Radicalization is relative and depends on the context in which the process occurs. The term radical means being over the top, potentially dangerous, and illogical. In the world of terrorism, radicalization is not a descriptor but rather a process. When individuals become radicalized, they immediately become indoctrinated in terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda or ISIS. The person who has undergone indoctrination changes their morals, ideals and philosophies and adopts those of a terrorist group they have joined, they willingly agree to participate in the in the actions of that group. Different radicalization models explain the phenomenon behind this process and help people understand how this process occurs through social and psychological analysis. This research focusses on two radicalization models mainly 'The NYPDs Radicalization process and 'Moghaddam's Staircase to Terrorism'. Analysing the behavioural and psychological traits of the two models that lead to de-radicalization or disengagement helps develop sound strategies to solve terrorism at large. 

Moghaddam's Staircase to Terrorism model focuses on designs that have rising levels just like a staircase would. A staircase is made of different levels starting from the first level. The first level of this model is the deprivation of the individual's group, which can be either can be in existence or perceived. This is the first step of radicalization in the Moghaddam's Staircase to Terrorism model, it paves way to terrorism ( Bastug, Douai & Akca, 2020) . The second level in this model is an individual feeling towards a target individual or audience. Displacement of aggression is bound to occur in this context instead of focusing on the exact cause anger and injustice. The target in this case can either be legitimate or illegitimate depending on the terms of their participation in the deprivation of their respective group ( King & Taylor, 2011) . The next level is moral justification and believe of extremism which they use a method to combat their target or enemy. Finally, the individuals begin to take part in groups and designated teams of recruits that comprise like-minded individuals. These groups increase their view and understanding as to why they are different and separated from the target. The fourth level which is also the final level of radicalization explains why people act on their beliefs and make the final decision to join a terrorist organization. 

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After joining the terrorist groups, these individuals embrace the organization’s beliefs and are brainwashed by the leaders to the point that they are willing to do anything for the group even if they die or get injured in the process ( King & Taylor, 2011) . They are willing and ready to take any tasks assigned to them including martyrdom and violence. The Moghaddam’s Staircase to Terrorism model is linear in nature and this makes it very clear and precise in the interpretation of radicalization, it allows for limited to no deviation. 

The second model is the NYPD’s Radicalization Process model. The latter is broken into stages and not levels like in the Moghaddam’s model. It is a flexible model in its application to different radicalization situations. NYPD’s model also focuses on Islamic terrorism. Pre-radicalization is the first step in this model, this refers to the individual in their original state when they have not begun following any radicalization paths ( McCauley, 2020) . Certain traits are common to radicalized individuals; for example, they are likely to be young and energetic males who identify as Muslims, from male-dominated societies, and middle-class families. These individuals are mostly educated and recent converts. They are often second, or third-generation immigrants and most of them have a criminal history. Despite most of them being recent converts, they are not considered complete, radical or devout Muslims. The stage in this model is self-identification, it is the launching and actual point of radicalization for members who share and practice the traits as mentioned above. Certain crises are seen as main catalysts for this stage in the individuals which range from personal or religious or even an event where the terrorists derive their identities. The third stage is the actual indoctrination. In this stage, the recruits start to align, identify, and adhere to the terrorist group's goals and beliefs. They shun their personal beliefs and adopt the organizations and subsequently search and find kinship with them. The fourth and final stage is the 'Jihadization.' In this stage, the individual is assigned an active role in the organization. They carry out attacks and activities in the name of their terrorist groups. 

Each of the two models has a distinct and significant structural difference that allows them to have different levels of flexibility. For instance, the Moghaddam model; is well structured, making its application difficult about radicalization. On the other hand, the NYPD model focuses on common traits shared by more radicalized people and is more flexible. Previous research shows no correlation between behaviour and psychological traits and also the risk of radicalization in these two models. Applicability of radicalization models is important because it allows for broader understanding and access of the path of radicalization. In this context, regarding the two models discussed, the NYPD model is more superior to the Moghaddam model. 

The content of both models differs significantly in regards to the root causes of people's existing or perceived problems. The NYPD model's primary focus is on traumatic event catalysts, while the Moghaddam model views issues as a social one with procedural justice and group mobility being the main factors attributed ( Cherney & Belton, 2019) . Both models also focus on preventive strategies which aim to stop the radicalization process by gathering information to identify and interrupt those individuals at the risk of radicalization. None of the two models focuses on the primary action of radicalization including terrorists' attempts of radicalization. Despite the differences between the Moghaddam and the NYPD model, both of them work towards preventing radicalization at the individual level through psychological and behavioural analysis. 

Psychological and behavioural characteristics are mostly linked to radicalization and terrorism, which can also be applied during de-radicalization. Thus, the Moghaddam and NYPD models maintain a similar overall strategy despite differing in tactics. However, the scope of applicability of both models also differs significantly. 

Behavioural and Psychological Factors Associated with Disengaging from Terrorism 

Disengagement refers to a behavioural change in one's role within a group or alternatively leaving the group for good. It does not necessitate the ideals and values but rather relinquishes extremist groups' primary objective of achieving change through violence. On the other hand, de-radicalization means a cognitive shift such as a fundamental change in crucial approaches such as understanding and meaningless objectives. Deciding to leave a terrorist group is an incremental process that takes a significant amount of time. The decision to leave a terrorist group is in most cases voluntary, and the individual comes to such a decision after weighing all the available alternatives. However, the decision may also be involuntary, such as incidences including, incarceration, forced demobilization, or death. 

Various factors make terrorists result in disengagement from terrorism. Common examples of behavioural and psychological factors include personal trauma, especially when an individual loses a colleague, family member, friend, or combat experiences due to violent hatreds and ideologies. They may also decide because of disillusionments evident within the group’s leadership. Some of these individuals get exhausted of illicit lifestyles and decide to quit because of the risks and stress they face by being in the group. Some of these terrorist and extremist groups do not allow their members to live a normal civilian life and enjoy all the rights and freedoms like ordinary citizens. As a result, they quit to enjoy life through marriage, begin a family, and find a stable, legal, and long-lasting career. Additionally, most terrorists face a lot of pressure from family and friends, more so partners/spouses and parents who use social relationships to understand the pull factors and disadvantages of being in the group. 

There are different levels of disengaging from politics, mainly micro, meso and macro levels. At the micro-level, disengagement happens at the individual level. At the meso level, disengagement is focused on social contexts such as group dynamics. Macro analysis, on the other hand, focuses on large-scale problems and the government is involved. They may affect the radicalization of party politics and issues between minority and minority groups. Certain factors influence an individual disengagement. These individuals may face some challenges within these groups that make them result in disengagement ( Ellis et al., 2020) . Some are mistreated in the groups, especially if they consistently fail to achieve the organization's goals. Some methods of violence used by some terrorists are inhuman and disappointing, and they cannot be undertaken by the faint-hearted. Another factor is the loss of personal status within the group. If an individual is in a leadership position and fails to accomplish assigned tasks, they may be demoted, forcing them to quit. These people face a lot of pressure from the law enforcers. They are always hiding from the police and hence no peace of mind. Being a member of a terrorist organization also means that you have to face stigma, primarily through social media. Terrorism is widely condemned as it leads to the loss of lives and resources, particularly after executing deadly attacks. These factors can be grouped as push factors that lead to disengagement. 

In addition to the push factors, scholars have also identified crucial pull factors associated with the process of disengagement from extremist and terrorist groups. One major pull factor is the availability of alternatives and attraction to the outside world ( Simi & Windisch, 2020) . Being a member of such an organization means that you have to focus solely on the organization's activities and work hard to achieve the goals and ambitions in place at the expense of personal growth and development. As a result, it becomes pretty hard for these people to pursue their careers or even attend to the educational needs. 

Besides, groups can collectively decide to disengage. This happens when the group is facing a crisis, including unsuccessful ideologies, failing organizational means, failed leadership, lack of public support, suppression and policy changes. When leaders are arrested or killed, the group lacks people to act as role models and inspire them, death can also make the members fail to adjust well to changes ( Pettinger, 2017) . Resistance happens when new leaders take roles in the organization whenever a leader is detained or killed. The group can also come to a conclusion to carry out its agenda through legal and legitimate political channels and shun violence completely. Disengagement may occur independently of de-radicalization. Factors important to the process of include doubts about ideologies, infeasible ideologies and hypocrisy of group members. 

Efforts and Programs Effective in Countering Radicalization and Why they are Important

De-radicalization programs are effective in combating insurgency and terrorism behaviors. The main aim of this program is the rehabilitation of individuals who have been in the organization for quite some time ( Ellis et al., 2020) . Rehabilitating these individuals helps show these individuals the reality and help them understand that there are other ways of resolving conflicts besides violence. The main objectives of this program will be the cessation of violence and reintegration. This program is implemented under conditions such as post surrender, post-detection, and post-conviction. 

Counter radicalization programs are also very effective in countering radicalization. The target behaviors such as the transition to terrorism, violent extremism, and extremism. The primary aim of the program is mitigation ( Aiello, Puigvert & Schubert, 2018) . It aims to prevent terrorism and extremist activities in society. Mitigation is the first step to eliminating these groups, the authorities responsible can enlighten the recruits on the consequences and how bad and inhuman the activities of such groups can get and, in the process, change their minds. The main objective of this program is disengagement, reintegration, and rehabilitation of individuals. It is implemented under specific conditions, including pre-conviction, pre-detention, and active radicalization. 

Anti-radicalization programs are also effective in countering radicalization. These programs target certain behaviors such as vulnerability to risk from violent extremism and radicalization. The main aim of the program is the prevention of both terrorist and extremist activities. The program's objectives include detection and deterrence. It is implemented under conditions such as pre-radicalization and early radicalization. 

In conclusion, the above programs must be evaluated keenly in the wider context of prevailing conditions and locations. The prevailing political and socioeconomic situations present in society ranging from stability and the rule of law and civil conflict, impact the de-radicalization measures and approaches to use. 


Aiello, E., Puigvert, L., & Schubert, T. (2018). Preventing violent radicalization of youth through dialogic evidence-based policies.  International sociology 33 (4), 435-453. 

Bastug, M. F., Douai, A., & Akca, D. (2020). Exploring the “demand side” of online radicalization: Evidence from the Canadian context.  Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 43 (7), 616-637. 

Cherney, A., & Belton, E. (2019). Evaluating case-managed approaches to counter radicalization and violent extremism: An example of the Proactive Integrated Support Model (PRISM) intervention.  Studies in Conflict & Terrorism , 1-21. 

Ellis, B. H., Miller, A. B., Sideridis, G., Frounfelker, R. L., Miconi, D., Abdi, S., ... & Rousseau, C. (2020). Risk and Protective Factors Associated With Support of Violent Radicalization: Variations by Geographic Location.  International Journal of Public Health 66 , 20. 

King, M. & Taylor, D. M. (2011). The Radicalization of Homegrown Jihadists: A Review of Theoretical Models and Social Psychological Evidence. Terrorism & Political Violence, 23(4), 602-618 

McCauley, C. (2020). The ABC model: Commentary from the Perspective of the Two Pyramids Model of Radicalization.  Terrorism and Political Violence , 1-9. 

Pettinger, T. (2017). De-radicalization and counter-radicalization: Valuable tools combating violent extremism, or harmful methods of subjugation?.  Journal for Deradicalization , (12), 1-59. 

Simi, P., & Windisch, S. (2020). Why radicalization fails: Barriers to mass casualty terrorism.  Terrorism and political violence 32 (4), 831-850. 

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