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fist02 Why do some people become violent extremists?

What has emerged from research is that there is no one factor or one profile that makes a young person vulnerable to becoming involved in extremism or adopting an extremist ideology, it is rather a combination of different influences and experiences. The list below is drawn from a number of different sources and is by no means comprehensive.

  • The need for answers to questions of identity, faith and belonging
  • Seeking adventure and excitement
  • The need to enhance self esteem or promote ‘street cred’
  • Identification with a charismatic individual or becoming involved in a group which offers identity, a social network and support
  • A perception of social isolation, poverty and lack of opportunity
  • Un- or underemployment
  • A sense of grievance (e.g. against foreign policy, or after experiences of racism and discrimination)
  • The need for mental/intellectual rigour is seen to be fulfilled
  • Fascination with rite of passage, fighting for a cause, rebellion
  • The ‘attractive’ nature of the imagery of the freedom fighter or the ‘cult’ of the martyr
  • A personal crisis, especially where this involves significant tensions in a family which produces a sense of isolation from the traditional certainties of family life
  • The need for protection
  • The need for family or father substitute

Many of these factors are shared between those who have become involved in faith associated violent extremism, and those associated with racist or far right groups.

More information can be found in Learning to be safe together from the Department of Children, School and Families. A toolkit to help schools contribute to the prevention of violent extremism.


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