Members' Research Service By / March 18, 2015

Religious fundamentalism and radicalisation: a documentary overview

Recent Islamist terrorist attacks have placed counterterrorism policies in the focus of public attention and have moved governments to review…

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Recent Islamist terrorist attacks have placed counterterrorism policies in the focus of public attention and have moved governments to review their deradicalisation activity. This Keysource collects literature on Islamic fundamentalism and Islamist radicalisation, defining the phenomena, and explaining how and where radicalisation occurs. It goes on to present theories on why radicalisation is happening in Europe at this time, finishing with a review of recent Member State activity against radicalisation. Accompanying the Keysource is a Briefing discussing the topic.

The 2015 Briefing on Foreign Fighters, which was based on the 2015 Keysource Foreign fighters and European responses may also be of interest. There is also a 2013 Keysource on Young Jihadists.

What is radicalisation, what is fundamentalism?

European Commission

Radicalisation processes leading to acts of terrorism / Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation, May 2008, page 7.
“Violent radicalisation is to be understood as socialisation to extremism which manifests itself in terrorism.”

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council concerning terrorist recruitment: addressing the factors contributing to violent radicalisation, COM/2005/0313, 21.9.2005.
“‘Violent radicalisation’ is the phenomenon of people embracing opinions, views and ideas which could lead to acts of terrorism as defined in Article 1 of the Framework Decision on Combating Terrorism.”


Preventing Terrorism and countering violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism: A community-policing approach, 2014, page 15:
“The dynamic process whereby an individual comes to accept terrorist violence as a possible, perhaps even legitimate, course of action. This may eventually, but not necessarily, lead this person to advocate, act in support of, or engage in terrorism.”

Academic definitions
Religious fundamentalism and radicalisation: a documentary overview
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Islamist radicalisation in Europe: an occupational change process / Daniella Pisoiu, London: Routledge, 2012. 203p.
Chapter 1 offers a range of definitions for the terms ‘radicalisation’, ‘extremism’ and ‘fundamentalism’.

Prisons and Terrorism: Radicalisation and De-radicalisation in 15 Countries / Peter R. Neumann, ICSR 68p.
“The process (or processes) whereby individuals or groups come to approve of and (ultimately) participate in the use of violence for political aims.”, p.12.

Radicalization in Western Europe: integration, public discourse, and loss of identity among Muslim communities / Carolin Goerzig & Khaled Al-Hashimi, London: Routledge, 2015. 174p.”
“The process of progressively adopting more radical beliefs and ideas of Islam”, p.31.

Radicalism in Islam: resurgence and ramifications / Nirode Mohanty, Lanham: University Press of America, 2012. 564p.
“Radical Islamists… want to establish Islamic society by violence, and by killing all those who are against their cause.”, p.6.
“Islamic fundamentalists believe that Muslims must return to the ways of the Prophet and… the Holy Quran… Radical Islamism is a political manifestation of Islamic fundamentalism and is associated with… Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan. But it has taken a violent course and a path of intolerance in some places.” p.10.

Religious fundamentalism and hostility against out-groups: a comparison of Muslims and Christians in Western Europe / Ruud Koopmans, in Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41:1, 33-57, 2014.
The author offers a definition of fundamentalism on page 34:
“The belief that there is one set of religious teachings that clearly contains the fundamental, basic, intrinsic, essential, inerrant truth about humanity and deity; that this essential truth is fundamentally opposed by the forces of evil which must be vigorously fought; that this truth must be followed today according to the fundamental, unchangeable practices of the past; and that those who believe and follow these fundamental teachings have a special relationship with the deity.”

Violent and non-violent extremism: two sides of the same coin? / Alex P. Schmid, May 2014. ICCT research paper
Chapter 6 distinguishes between extremism, radicalism, fundamentalism, Salafism, Islamism, jihadism and terrorism.

Why conventional wisdom on radicalization fails: the persistence of a failed discourse / Jonathan Githens-Mazer and Robert Lambert, in International Affairs, Vol. 86, July 2010.
Discusses the problematic nature of pinpointing how radicalisation occurs.

How and where does radicalisation occur?

The December 2014 IMES report by Martijn de Koning et al, Eilanden in een zee van ongeloof, tracks Belgian, Dutch and German Islamist networks, Sharia4Belgium, Sharia4Holland, Millatu Ibrahim, Die Wahre Religion and the Pierre Vogel network.


Jihadi terrorism and the radicalisation challenge in Europe / Rik Coolsaet (ed), Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008, 195p.
The murder of Theo van Gogh is linked in chapter 11 of Coolsaet’s book with self-radicalisation by way of radical literature found on the internet. The Dutch Hofstad Group was not linked to any of the larger radical Muslim organisations.

Islamist radicalisation in Europe and the Middle East: reassessing the causes of terrorism / George Joffé (ed), London: I.B. Tauris, 2013, 354p.
In chapter 4, Ryan argues that the internet’s influence on the growth of radical groups is a double-edged sword. Whilst bringing people of common cause together who would not otherwise find each other, it also leads to a diffusion and complication of message.

New terrorism and new media / Gabriel Weimann, Wilson Center, 2014, 17p.
“Social networking allows terrorists to reach out to their target audiences and virtually ‘knock on their doors’ – in contrast to older models of websites in which terrorists had to wait for visitors to come to them.”, p.3

Terrorism, communication and new media: explaining radicalization in the digital age / Cristina Archetti, Perspectives on Terrorism, 1/2015

School and university

In their autobiographies, Maajid Nawaz and Ed Husain, co-founders of the Quilliam Foundation, describe in detail the process of their own radicalisation and that which they propagated through school and university Islamic Societies, whilst members of extremist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir in East London. Husain also roots his initial drift into radical Islam in an East London mosque. The role of imams from abroad is underscored. Addressing the issue of radicalisation in schools, Education Ministers from across the EU met in Paris on 17.03.2015, issuing in a declaration on promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education.

Radical: my journey from Islamist extremism to a democratic awakening / Maajid Nawaz, 2013, 402p.

The Islamist: why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left / Ed Husain, London: Penguin, 2007. 288p.

Europe’s angry Muslims: The revolt of the second generation / Robert S. Leiken, Oxford University Press, 2012.
The Obin Commission and the issue of the veil in school “fed the rise of Muslim radicalism, which has now become the dominant creed of the young in the French ghettos.” p.30.


Preventing and countering youth radicalisation in the EU / Bigo, Guittet and Ragazzi, a study for the European Parliament, p.13
“There are genuine instances in which religious institutions are used as cover for political extremism and violence. Nonetheless, a closer look at the many individuals arrested… shows that few recruitments were undertaken in those locations.”

Recruitment and radicalization of school-aged youth by international terrorist groups / Homeland Security Institute, Virginia, USA, 2009. See chapter on the Netherlands p.49-61


Prisons and terrorism: radicalisation and de-radicalisation in 15 countries / Peter R. Neumann, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) 68p.
“Terrorists do not see themselves as criminals… many regard their time in prison as an opportunity to continue the ‘struggle’, develop their movement’s strategy or ideology… mobilising supporters… Many Al Qaeda affiliated prisoners… see it as their duty to propagate their faith and political ideology (dawa). They realise that prison constitutes a potentially fruitful place for conversion and radicalisation.” p.14-16.

Prison Islam in the age of sacred terror / Mark S. Hamm, in British Journal of Criminology 2009, 49, 667-685.
Hamm balances the argument that prisoners have become incubators for Islamic terrorism against the role of Islam in rehabilitating prisoners.

Why is this happening, why now, why here?

Pisiou (above, chapter 2) analyses the role of European nations’ foreign policies in the shaping of extremist thought. European involvement in faraway conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq can legitimise the Islamists’ struggle in their own minds, in the context of Islam as a global community. Husain (above) also cites the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims as a radicalising influence. The author goes on to discuss the role of social grievances, such as lack of opportunity, discrimination, economic and social marginalisation. A 2013 EPRS Keysource also looked at the aspect of youth in radicalisation.

Husain (above) highlights the compliance of the West in the growth of radical Islam. He posits on page 87 that Huzb ut-Tahrir was “legal in Britain, but illegal in the Arab world. It would not disappear until the British state wanted it to disappear.” Current events surrounding the Muslim Brotherhood echo this sentiment, when comparing British and Egyptian outlooks.

‘Democracy is hypocrisy’ – European Muslims, democratic malaise and Islamist extremism / Usama Hasan and Charlie Cooper, 2014 Quilliam Foundation.

Resistance from activist daʿwa networks in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany / Martijn de Koning, Incke Roex, Carmen Becker and Pim Aarns, December 2014
Summarising the study, Eilanden in een zee van ongeloof (397p.), which looks at movements such as Sharia4Belgium and Sharia4Holland. Sharia4Belgium was a small but vocal network which dissolved itself in 2012, most of its members going abroad as foreign fighters.

The new frontiers of Jihad: radical Islam in Europe / Alison Pargeter, London: I.B. Tauris, 2008. 244p.
Pages 14-15 explain that many Arab veterans of the Afghan war came from countries which refused to take them back after their time in Afghanistan, leading many to find refuge in Europe, forming a basis of radical Islam in those European countries. In particular, Pargeter investigates Algerian rooted radicalism in France; who may have been responsible for the Madrid bombings; the background to the London bomb attacks; and the phenomenon of conversions to radical Islam.

Islamic political radicalism: a European perspective / Tahir Abbas (Ed), Edinburgh University Press, 2007. 306p.
In the introduction, Abbas traces the main strands influencing the spread of radical Islam in Europe today. Chapter 3 highlights the element of identity amongst young Muslims. Growing up in a country not of their parents births, in which Muslim traditions are in the minority, with opportunities limited, living conditions deprived compared with those of most of society may lead to a search for identity. The book offers a range of articles on Muslim communities in Great Britain.

Member State activity to counter radicalisation

Education Ministers met in Paris on 17.03.2015, issuing a Declaration on promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education.

In Belgium, twelve measures were announced on 16.1.2015 to counter radicalisation and terrorism. These supplement the 2013 programme de prévention et radicalisation violente. De Koning et al reported stakeholders declining to work with the authorities in the manner foreseen (p.53). Belgium is also leading the SSCAT (Syria Strategic Communications Advisory Team), by which Member States aim to spread counter-narratives to hinder radicalisation.

On 27 January 2015, Denmark set aside an additional 60 million kroner for its anti-radicalisation activites, such as its ‘Back on Track‘ deradicalisation programme, building on its 2009 action plan.

France began taking down pro-terrorist websites in March 2015, according to Le Monde, having begun an online campaign against jihadism. The Plan de lutte contre la radicalisation violente dates from April 2014.

Austria‘s criminal code changed in 2012, criminalising incitement to terrorist acts, endorsing terrorist acts, and also instruction in how to commit terrorist acts. Germany moved towards tightening up terrorist financing law in February 2012, having already mooted the withdrawal of an ID card to supplement withdrawal of passports. The Länder, such as Berlin, Hamburg and Bavaria, offer advice. The intelligence service cancelled its “HATIF” programme addressed at deradicalising Islamists in September 2014 due to lack of success. However, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees still offers a Beratungsstelle Radikalisierung.

The Netherlands Government presented its comprehensive action programme to combat jihadism to Parliament in August 2014. Previous policies can be found in the NCTV toolbox.

Spain’s new Plan Estratégico Nacional de Lucha Contra la Radicalización Violenta, was launched in January 2015, placing delegations in municipalities and strategic zones to welcome people who might spread radical ideas. It also aims at combatting radicalisation in Spanish prisons. Some elements are still outstanding. The plan is notable for addressing Islamist radicalisation for the first time.

Sweden published its Action Plan to safeguard democracy against violence-promoting extremism in December 2011. The UK began its Prevent strategy in 2011. It has spawned local projects.

Lorenzo Vidino looked at the state of counter-radicalisation policies in his 2013 article, European strategies against jihadist radicalisation, available in English, French and German.

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