This module can be studied on a standalone basis or as part of the Certificate in Terrorism Studies
Why people turn to terrorism, how they become involved, and then eventually participate in terrorist activity is a complex area in the study of terrorism. By looking at the root-causes of terrorism and also if a ‘terrorist personality’ exists are key ways in which this area can be viewed and understood.
This module looks at the process of radicalising individuals and defines key concepts such as radicalisation, disengagement, and de-radicalisation, as well as Islamism, Jihadism, Salafism and Fundamentalism. Participants explore the ‘process nature’ of terrorism – both of becoming involved with or engaging in it (radicalisation) as well as ‘walking away’ from it or disengaging (de-radicalisation). The widely held notion that all terrorists are intrinsically evil, or lunatics, or psychopaths, is analysed and a discussion of the so-called root causes of terrorism highlights the fact that studying those root causes cannot fully explain why individuals join terrorist groups: the ‘triggering event’ most of those studies postulate remains elusive. Key concepts are explored: what exactly does ‘radicalisation’ mean, and what, then, is ‘de-radicalisation,’ especially from a counter-terrorism perspective: is this just abandoning violent behaviour while keeping one’s extremist views, or is it also about abandoning the extremist ideology itself?
On the basis of examples, participants will learn that not all such individuals always make conscious choices. Rather, a series of ‘small steps’ along a ‘slippery slope’ seems to be the norm for many of those who end up being terrorists. This is followed by a close look at the ‘other side of the coin’: how and why do terrorists disengage, why do they ‘walk away from terrorism’, and what finally leads some of them to de-radicalise? Participants will learn that disengagement and de-radicalisation are two different concepts: the former seems to be easier to accomplish than the latter, for reasons explained in the relevant lesson. To illustrate the arguments presented in this part, excerpts from interviews of former terrorists will be included.
Finally, implications of this ‘process character’ of terrorism for counter-terrorism are considered: with regard to radicalisation, are there any intervention points along the road towards terrorism where the process could be stopped or even reversed? With regard to disengagement and de-radicalisation, are there any incentives that could help hardened terrorists, or at least supporters, to think about ‘walking away’? Here, we examine existing disengagement / de-radicalisation programmes in various Western and non-Western countries targeted by terrorism.
The module includes:
Download the full Certificate in Terrorism Studies prospectus here
Root Causes of Terrorism and the Search for Triggering Events - A short and critical discussion of the so-called root causes of terrorism from a political science perspective opens this lesson by highlighting the fact that studying those root causes cannot fully explain why individuals join terrorist groups: the ‘triggering event’ most of those studies postulate remains elusive. Participants will learn why it is important to open this ‘black box’ called ‘triggering events’ – exactly what the study of radicalisation and de-radicalisation aims at.
Profiling Terrorists and the Search for a ‘Terrorist Personality’ - The second half of this first lesson will then take a look at attempts from psychology to explain terrorism. It offers a (short) journey into the history of psychopathology before turning to an evaluation of the German large-scale study of the 1970s on the first generation of the Red Army Faction (RAF), also known as Baader-Meinhof Gang. This ambitious project attempted to profile the individual members of the group in order to find common traits. Although the search for those common traits proved to be futile, profiling may have a utility in certain circumstances, which will be explored briefly. The main objective of the second half is to demonstrate from a psychological perspective, why studying radicalisation and de-radicalisation is important.
The module is designed to be studied over four weeks:
Week 1: Introduction to the concepts of radicalisation, de-radicalisation, and disengagement. Overview of attempts to identify ‘terrorist personalities’ by way of profiling, and of studies focussing on the root causes of terrorism.
Week 2: Gain a deeper knowledge of radicalisation by exploring how and why individuals end up being terrorists.Understand the process character of ‘becoming involved’ and ‘being involved’ on the basis of interviews with former terrorists.
Week 3: Explore how and why individual terrorists ‘walk away’ from it by ending involvement or ‘disengaging’. Gain an insight into the complex nature of ‘de-radicalisation’ – a process that involves a change in individual’s way of thinking about certain issues.
Week 4: On the basis of existing disengagement and de-radicalisation programmes, think critically about the implications of lessons learnt so far for counter-terrorism purposes in the present and in the foreseeable future.
Study modules individually or as part of the Certificate in Terrorism Studies.
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