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[Workshop] Measuring Radicalization

  • Starts: Mar 15, 2017
  • Ends: Mar 16, 2017
  • Location: Marseille, France
  • By: CMI, World Bank and GLD
  • Motivation and Context

    Since 2000, the number of terrorist attacks worldwide has increased dramatically, with a sharp acceleration starting in 2011. The attacks have also become increasingly concentrated. In 2014, 57 per cent of all attacks occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Syria (Global Terrorism Index 2015). These attacks have had devastating effects not just on the lives of the victims and their families, but on the rest of the country and the region, as investment and tourism decline and economies fall into a low-growth trap. When radicalized groups’ ideologies turn into violence and full-fledged civil wars, the humanitarian consequences are heavy and the developmental impact long-lasting. Bringing an end to civil wars and countering violent extremism are the highest priority for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.


    While much of the governments’ effort involves the security sector, the need for a better understanding of the drivers of radicalization is key to better-tailored policies in all sectors. Recent findings suggest that economic and social policies help preventing the spread of violent extremism (World Bank 2016). Development organizations have a key role to play in this field. They can support countries in making policies, and they also have a direct power to counter violent extremism through long-term targeted interventions in sectors such as education, employment, social protection, and more generally by fostering inclusion. This means that countering radicalization measures can be transversally implemented in most development operations in MENA.


    However, the limited data available now hampers the quality of the analysis, and the relevance of the results. Recent efforts to include violence-specific modules in surveys around the world can be replicated to address the issue of radicalization. This workshop aims to bring together experts form different fields and regions to address two important challenges: (i) refining our definition of radicalization, and (ii) addressing the current issues of measurement in the existent surveys.


    Scholars and policymakers have not produced a dominant and unified definition of Radicalization. There is some ambivalence regarding the link between violence and radicalization. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for example defines Radicalization as the act of “advocating, engaging in, preparing or otherwise supporting ideologically motivated or justified violence to further social, economic and political objectives” (USAID 2011), hence allowing radicalization to comprise both the expression of extreme views and the actual exercise of violence. For others, such as sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar, radicalization is “the process by which an individual or a group adopts a violent form of action, directly linked to an extremist ideology with a political, social or religious content dissenting against the established order on a political, social, or cultural side.” That is, radicalization entails or supports the use of violence.


    The relationship between radicalization and terrorism also requires consideration. Suicide attacks in recent history (e.g., Sri Lanka in the late 1980s) and the 9/11 attacks, have led many to closely associate radicalization with terrorism. The U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) equates radicalization with terrorism by defining the former as “the use of and facilitation of violence targeted on civilians as a means of rectifying grievances, real or perceived, which form the basis of increasingly strong exclusive group identities” (DFID 2013). Of course, the definition of terrorism is also contested, with differences in views regarding whether terrorism should be understood as violence committed by non-state actors, or the act of violence against unarmed civilians.[1]


    The drivers of radicalization also require further research, which is currently hampered by difficulties in establishing valid measurement tools. The extant literature emphasizes individual-level factors, often through studies of former terrorists or nationally representative surveys. These studies find that extremists are “want-mores” rather than “have-nots” (Lerner 1958, 368) and that extremism is linked to frustration, anger, and powerlessness (Krueger and Maleckova 2003; Horgan 2009). These findings hold in the MENA region where Bhatia and Ghanem (2016) show, using opinion polls for a sample of eight Arab countries, that unemployment among the educated leads to a greater probability to hold radical ideas.


    Yet, these approaches have serious limitations. Research based on interviews with a group of former terrorists or small surveys based on convenience samples of radicalized individuals suffers from selection bias and lacks a comparable group of non-radicalized subjects, prohibiting identification of possible drivers of radicalization. Studies based on opinion polls face the issue of measurement: the high non-response rate is indicative of the social desirability bias, while some questions used now are just too difficult to interpret accurately. For instance, the question “are you willing to die for your religion” has a high positive response in the MENA region, yet using it as a proxy for radicalization of propensity to use violence is hardly defensible. Much work remains to be done to develop adequate methods and measurements of radicalization.


    Objective and Scope

    The two-day workshop aims to bring together researchers, practitioners and policymakers to tackle the above-mentioned issues.


    The discussions and working groups will focus on the following:


    Introducing radicalization

    • Definition and link with development
    • Origins and causes
    • Portrait of the radicalized

    Measuring radicalization

    • Challenges
    • Examples of techniques

    Finding solutions

    • Measuring agreement with/support for “extremist” ideas
    • Measuring support for the use of violence/willingness to engage in it
    • Measuring support for groups that engage in violence – or are considered violent extremists



    Attendance of this workshop is upon invitation only.


    [1] For instance, the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) defines terrorism as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-State actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.” On the other hand, the U.S. State Department defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents. (As per 22 US Code § 2656f).” The European Union adopts a more general definition of “terrorist offences” as “acts committed with the aim of ‘seriously intimidating a population’, ‘unduly compelling a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act’, or ‘seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation’” focusing on targets (people and institutions), but also providing a list of types of actions and defining what a “terrorist group” is (see Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on combating terrorism).