The path into terrorism in the name of Islam is often described as a process of radicalisation. But to be radical is not necessarily to be violent. Violent radicals are clearly enemies of liberal democracies, but non-violent radicals might sometimes be powerful allies. This pamphlet is a summary of two years of research examining the difference between violent and non-violent radicals in Europe and Canada. It represents a step towards a more nuanced understanding of the behaviour of radicalised individuals, the appeal of the al-Qaeda narrative, and the role of governments and communities in responding.
The Edge of Violence suggests that government policy must distinguish clearly between radicalisation that leads to violence and radicalisation that does not: ways must be found to ensure young people can be radical and dissenting without violent consequences. The pamphlet argues that the best way to fight radical ideas is with a liberal attitude to dissent, as silencing radical views can create a taboo effect that inadvertently makes such ideas more appealing.
The threat of violent radicalisation can never be ‘solved’ or completely neutralised, it can only be managed. The process of radicalisation to violence still eludes complete understanding: any response will entail controversial decisions and unintended consequences. Therefore, governments must focus on the things they can realistically change, while the lead role in prevention must be played by society: individuals, groups, organisations and communities.