Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Research Report

‘All Radicalisation is Local’: The genesis and drawbacks of an elusive concept

Rik Coolsaet
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2016
Published by: Egmont Institute
Pages: 48
  • Cite this Item

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 5-6)
    Rik Coolsaet

    Let’s call him ‘Tom’. ‘Tom’ is a US Special Forces Officer. He was part of an important American delegation that entered the premises of the European Commission on 16 June 2010 for the very first EU-US high-level encounter on radicalisation. In the course of the two-day discussions, ‘Tom’ paraphrased a famous line from the legendary Democrat speaker of the US House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill – ‘all politics is local’ – as ‘all radicalisation is local.’

    By then, the concept of ‘radicalisation’ was widely in use in Europe – although not yet in the United States. But in relation to...

  2. (pp. 7-15)

    The 9/11 attacks made terrorism once more a leading threat to the West. Initially, this was essentially considered an external threat. The West was a target for al- Qaeda and other jihadist groups, as well as a ‘place for recruitment and logistical support for Jihad in Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya’, according to Europol, the Europe-wide police office.⁴ Its international nature made it stand apart from the other forms of terrorism in the EU, dubbed ‘domestic’, such as separatist, extremeleft, and animal rights and eco terrorism. The first official EU declaration on terrorism after the 9/11 attacks clearly testified to the...

  3. (pp. 17-20)

    In December 2004, the European heads of state and government decided to elaborate a strategy and action plan to address radicalisation and recruitment to terrorism. It had now become a consensus view within the EU that in the long run the Union’s response to terrorism had to address the ‘root causes of terrorism’, as the Council decision stated. It called on the Council to establish a long-term strategy and action plan on both radicalisation and recruitment by June 2005.18

    Alongside the ongoing work that had started within the Commission after the March train bombings, the EU Council secretariat initiated a...

  4. (pp. 21-26)

    Commission officials who had been energetically advancing the need for upstream prevention nevertheless realised that not much was known about what happened in the black box labelled ‘radicalisation’. They also acknowledged that the relationship between radicalisation and terrorism was poorly understood. Why, how and when individuals became involved in terrorism had indeed never been thoroughly studied in the past.

    At its beginnings in the early 1970s, terrorism researchers have been debating the contextual causes of terrorism. According to Martha Crenshaw’s landmark article in 1981, context is of the essence in understanding terrorism. Context not only accounted for the instigating circumstances...

  5. (pp. 27-32)

    It would require a huge leap of faith to imagine that if the report had been made public it would have made any difference. Radicalisation proved irresistible as a concept. Because of its apparent simplicity, but also its inherent ambiguity, it got embroiled in the concerns over immigration and integration that had developed since the 1980s, and with the unease over Islam and Muslims boosted by the 9/11 attacks. The concept was all the more tantalising because of the pre-existing popular idiom of ‘radical Islam’31 and the ubiquity of the ‘clash of civilisations’ paradigm since 9/11.

    University of Exeter scholar...

  6. (pp. 33-36)

    In 2009, young Americans of Somali descent living in Minneapolis went on a suicide mission in Somalia. They were soon followed by a group of American Muslims from Virginia who travelled to Pakistan supposedly to join the Taliban. This came as a shock to many in the American counterterrorism community and the public at large.

    Until that point, home-grown Islamist terrorism was considered a quintessentially European phenomenon, borne out of a failed integration policy and the large-scale discrimination Muslims were said to face in Europe. American Muslims, so it was long assumed, were well-integrated and often lived in affluent suburbs...

  7. (pp. 37-43)

    Radicalisation is now firmly entrenched in the heart of European counterterrorism, as is CVE in both America’s international and domestic counterterrorism efforts. The latter concept has even become a global brand name for many countries’ efforts to combat terrorism.

    In a strange reversal of roles, some European governments have now adopted the stance of the George W. Bush administration and refuse to consider root causes. After the November 2015 Paris attacks, the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls insisted that there could be no search for explanations for the atrocities because ‘explaining is already condoning somehow’.59 The Obama administration in turn...

  8. (pp. 45-48)

    At the point when they embraced the concept of radicalisation, European Commission officials evidently acknowledged it was just an oversimplification of an extremely complex process that defied easy, one-size-fits-all countermeasures. They were convinced, however, as were the early advocates of the concept, that without tackling the root causes of the 9/11 and the Madrid terrorist attacks, the social fabric of Europe would come under increasing strain. It was considered urgent to focus upon upstream prevention in order to drain the breeding grounds for disenchantment and grievances.

    More than a decade later, the jury is still out as to the added...