What makes a young person vulnerable to extremism?

What has emerged from research is that there is no one factor 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.

  • To provide answers to questions of identity, faith and belonging
  • For adventure and excitement
  • To enhance self esteem or promote ‘street cred’
  • As a result of identifying with a charismatic individual or becoming involved in a group which offers identity, a social network and support
  • As a result of social isolation, poverty and lack of opportunity
  • Un- or underemployment
  • Fuelled by a sense of grievance (e.g. against foreign policy, or after experiences of racism and discrimination)
  • Fulfils the need for mental/intellectual rigour
  • Rite of passage, fighting for a cause, rebellion
  • The ‘attractive’ nature of the imagery of the freedom fighter or the ‘cult’ of the martyr
  • As a result of 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
  • As a family or father substitute

Many of these factors are shared between those who have become involved in ISIS associated violent extremism, and those associated with racist or far right groups. More information can be found in the Learning together to be safe toolkit – details of how to access this is included in the Further Resources section of this resource site.


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What is extremism?

When reflecting on the issue of violent extremism, there exists a confusing array of terms – extremism, radicalisation, terrorist, fundamentalism.  The “war on terror” has become an established part of our politician’s rhetoric and our tabloid newspapers confuse matters further by freely applying such labels to anyone from the irate protestor to the religious adherent, right through to the roadside bomber.

However this situation is not as new a phenomenon as it might seem.  Consider the following movements…
Feminism, animal liberationists, anti-abortionists, Suffragettes

Irish Republican Army, Hezbollah, Tamil Tigers, Hamas

…and individuals…
Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Jerry Adams

This is a small sample of those who have been defined at one time or another as everything from freedom fighters to terrorists, depending on who is doing the labelling, where they stand and what point in history we are in.

What becomes apparent is that this is an area of great complexity, but also one where some clarification on what some of the key terms broadly mean, might be useful.  The following is sourced from Lynn Davies Educating against Extremism (details of which are included in the Further Resources section) and whilst not conclusive, it briefly offers some of the different perspectives on the terms – extremism, radicalisation, terrorism and fundamentalism.


Extremism and radicalisation

Extremism is a huge concern globally with its links to terrorism and religious fundamentalism, which present a danger to societies globally.  Human history has been full of extremism leading to persecution, violence and death – whether through the Crusades or the holocaust – it begs the question is extremism really that new?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu defines extremism as “when you do not allow for a different point of view; when you hold your own views as being quite exclusive; when you don’t allow for the possibility of difference”
When extremism starts to have a political end – for example to force governments to the table of negotiation or to some changes in their policies – it starts to become synonymous with radicalisation.

According to the Dutch Intelligence Service, radicalism comprises three aspects:
“The active pursuit of and/or support for fundamental changes in society that may endanger the continued existence of the democratic order, which may involve the use of undemocratic methods that may harm the functioning of the democratic order”



Terrorism is often applied as a pejorative term – usually it applies to enemies or opponents or to those with whom one disagrees.  The two definitions below are from the UK Government and the US state department respectively:

“The use or threat, for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause, of action which involves serious violence against any person or property”

“Pre-meditated or politically motivated violence perpetuated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience”

However the term terrorist has also come to be applied to those fighting to get rid of a perceived occupation or to achieve independence.

“Terrorism is designed to create power where there is none or to consolidate power where there is little.  Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorists seek to obtain the leverage, influence and power they otherwise lack to effect political change on either a local or international scale”



While often associated with extremism, it is important to establish that fundamentalism is not the same.  The term fundamentalism originated in the specific theological context of the early twentieth century Protestant America.

“Put at its broadest, it may be described as a ‘religious way of being’ that manifests itself as a strategy by which beleaguered believers attempt to preserve their distinctive identity as a people or group in the face of modernity and secularisation.” (Ruthven quoted in his book Fundamentalism: the Search for Meaning)

It is important to note that in simple terms not all fundamentalists are, or go on to become, extremists or terrorists.


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What else is out there?

Tapestry is a part of a whole portfolio of resources, activities and initiatives that are being funded across the region for schools and youth settings to tackle the issue of preventing violent extremism.  Detailed below are some that may be of interest.


The Prevent for schools website contains a variety of resources which can be used to help educate and safeguard pupils in your school. The aim of ‘Prevent’ is to stop people becoming or supporting terrorists and to do this by challenging ideologies, protecting vulnerable individuals and supporting institutions, such as schools. It is part of the National Counter Terrorism Strategy known as CONTEST.



An interactive workshop aimed at young people 14 years +. The workshop allows young people the opportunity to explore stereotypes, behaviours and grievances in a facilitated session. This is run by West Midlands Police CTU Prevent officers.


Open Your Eyes

The Open Your Eyes campaign was launched by Birmingham and Bradford-based anti-extremism charity Upstanding Neighbourhoods

They have worked with young people, activists, bloggers and filmmakers to raise our voices against ISIS. Hear from people telling their personal stories of how ISIS has affected their lives.

Website – Open Your Eyes


Since 911

SINCE 9/11 is a UK educational charity which was set up on the tenth anniversary of September 11th 2001 to ensure that the legacy of 9/11 is one that builds hope from tragedy.

Their FREE Education Programme created by the world acclaimed UCL’s Institute of Education for all UK secondary schools focuses on teaching the events, causes and consequences of 9/11 in an attempt to create a better, peaceful and harmonious future.

Website – Since 911



KIKIT supports the health and social care needs of people from hard to reach and marginalised communities, including Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic communities (BAME). We work predominantly with the BAME communities but our doors are open to everyone who needs help, whatever their colour or creed.

Website – KIKIT


Small Steps

Small Steps Consultants Ltd are an anti-racist community focused company set up to tackle racism and provide education and training. Their aim is to raise awareness and help educate people about the dangers of far right extremism.

Small Steps Consultants

WARN – Women Against Radicalisation Network

As a diverse group of women, WARN is not content to just sit back and let extremists take the hearts, minds and lives of women and children. Their mission is to address current issues head-on, through education, empowerment and engagement.

My Son The Jihadi

This powerful programme documents the daily struggle Sally Evans and her youngest son Micheal have faced since Sally’s eldest son Thomas travelled to Somalia to join terrorist group al-Shabaab

My Son The Jihadi



FAST is a UK based organisation providing support to vulnerable families and individuals whose lives have been affected by the trauma of losing loved ones to hateful ideologies and groups.


The Eddie Mair interview – Getting to know extremists

How do you stop people joining radical terrorist groups? The UK government offers an intensive one-to-one mentoring programme, called Channel, to challenge violent views. Anjum Khan is a Muslim and a therapist and sits in a room getting to know the people at the heart of the Channel programme.

Listen to the interview here



ACT NOW is a ‘table top’ activity that involves students stepping into the shoes of counter terrorist officers. It is designed to stimulate debate around the very sensitive subject of violent extremism and is aimed at young people at Key Stage 4 and above. The purpose of the exercise is to empower individuals to have the confidence to take on counter terrorism dilemmas and understand the importance of decisions made based upon the information they are given. It gives participants the opportunity to debate choices both independently and collaboratively based on perceived facts and weigh up the consequences which follow decision making as part of a group tackling a terrorist incident.

Click here for more information about ACT NOW


Tel: 0207 0848776


Police support

West Midlands Police have schools based officers/schools link officers and West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit have Security and Partnership Officers who work together to support schools with PVE and to help protect vulnerable young people.


Mosques and Madrassas

The following mosques and madrassas provide information on raising awareness of Islam:

The Central Mosque –
Green Lane Mosque –


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The Prevent strategy

The Government has a ‘Prevent’ strategy which is a part of its overall approach to countering terrorism. This strategy has the aim of:

Preventing people from becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism.

The strategy has five strands designed to address the factors that research suggests can cause people to become involved in terrorism and violent extremism.  These are:

  • Challenging the violent extremism ideology and supporting mainstream voices
  • Disrupting those who promote violent extremism and supporting institutions where they may be active
  • Supporting individuals who are being targeted and recruited to the cause of violent extremism
  • Increasing the resilience of communities to violent extremism.
  • Addressing grievances both genuine and perceived, that ideologies are exploiting.  These can stem from national and international issues – for example relating to foreign policy, or perceptions of distorted media representation; or be based on local perceptions of inequality or experiences of racism or community conflict
    A number of activities are taking place locally, nationally and internationally under all five strands in partnership with community organisations and schools.


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Further Resources

Learning to be safe together. Department of Children, School and Families
A toolkit to help schools contribute to the prevention of violent extremism

Caught in the Cross Fire. Alan Gibbons, Orion Books. 2003
Isbn: 978-1-84255-96-0
A novel suitable for teenage readers that explores the stories of those living in a town affected by racial tensions and the emergence of a far right party.

The Islamist. Ed Husain, Penguin. 2007
Isbn: 0141030437,9780141030432
The real life story of one young man’s journey towards extremism.

Educating Against Extremism. Lynn Davies, Trentham Books. 2008
Isbn: 978 1 85856 426 5
Looks at the processes that can lead individuals to extreme beliefs or the use of violence and suggests ways in which education can help

In the Name of God. Paula Jolin, Roaring Brook Press. 2007
Isbn: 159643211×9781596432116
The story of seventeen-year-old Nadia who becomes involved in a violent revolutionary movement aimed at supporting Muslim rule in Syria and opposing the Western politics and materialism that increasingly affect her family

Fundamentalism. Ideas of the Modern World Series. Alex Woolf. Hodder Wayland. 2003
Isbn: 0 7502 4366

Fundamentalism. Global Issues Series. Sean Connolly. Wayland. 2008.
Isbn: 978 0 7502 5432 8

The War on Terror. Timeline Series. David Downing. Arcturus Publishing Ltd. 2007
Isbn: 978 0 7496 7190 7


The official website for the Institute for Race Relations
Strategies and activities to help teachers address sensitive issues


Britz. Directed by Peter Kosminsky. Rated 15.
The story of two young British Muslims, a brother and sister both pulled in two radically different directions by their conflicting personal experiences in post 9/11 Britain

My Brother the Islamist. Directed by Robb Leech
Tree surgeon turned film-maker Robb Leech is desperate to know why his white middle-class step-brother Rich became radical Islamist Salahuddin, who now associates with jihadist fundamentalists, and believes Britain should be ruled by Sharia law. (synopsis text taken from IMDb website)

Yasmin. Directed by Kenneth Glenaan. Rated 15
The story of a young women caught in the middle of attempting to please her traditional Pakistani family and enjoying the freedoms of Western life. Set amongst a Muslim community in the North of England before and after the events of 9/11.

This is England. Directed by Shane Meadows. Rated 18
The story of Shaun growing up in 1980’s England and his experiences of skinhead ‘culture’ and his encounters with far right influences.

Watch Over Me. Miss
A series of DVD’s including scenarios and teaching materials designed to help young people to handle risk in a range of situations. These DVD’s are available free to schools by enquiring to


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