Counter terrorism policy in Western Europe is increasinly about preventing violent extremism before it arises, by lessening the appeal of groups like al-Qaeda.
But we are still a long way from understanding what that appeal is. Most work written on the subject attributes the rise of violent extremism to broad sructural factors such as foriegn policy, societal discrimination, and a lack of local leadership.
While important, this tends to ignore another vital aspect: that for some young people, al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda inspired groups are glamourous and exciting. The appeal of such movements needs to be placed within a far deeper sociological and psychological understanding of why violent action of any type can be an attractive means of action.
I propose three other explanations which help to understand the appeal of violent extremism, which are often overlooked:
- it offers a sense of adventure
- it gives a sense of personal agency
- it wins street credibility
This has important implications for the way authorities pursue counter radicalisation policy.
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