Radicalization is a social and psychological process involving an ever stronger commitment to an extremist political or religious ideology. In other words, to radicalize is to adopt political or religious beliefs that are not shared by the majority of people. But how does radicalization occur?
There are three psychological forces whose combination can explain radicalization. They form the three N's of radicalization. The first of these forces is related to the necessities, to the lacks that give rise to the motivation to act in order to obtain something. The second force is narrative, the ideology that promotes beliefs defining the world and establishing how to behave. The last force is the social network, or in other words, the people around us.
Three cases of radicalization
Maria has an unconditional love for animals and can not stand cruelty to them. She is interested in the actions of different animal rights groups, but notes that these actions have only a small impact on society. One day, she feels the desire to engage in political action and falls in love with the leader of her group.
His thinking gradually becomes polarized and eventually everything becomes allowed to protect the lives of animals. Along with the rest of the group, Maria sabotages the government as well as the industrial facilities that she says have violated animal rights.
From a young age, Vincent is interested in philosophy and socio-political issues. One day, his friends tell him about an international movement of social protest that militates in the main cities of the world. He joins this movement with some friends. Vincent and his comrades were finally arrested after stoning police officers who were trying to contain the wave of protesters demanding social justice.
On a solitary January morning, Abu crossed the Turkish border into the Islamic State. He had the feeling of being a man who had nothing to lose. Freshly divorced from his wife and battling a severe addiction to alcohol and cigarettes, he was not very fit and definitely not fit to fight either, but the prospect of a writer's post for the Islamic state within the caliphate could allow him to wash his "slate immoral" and become a good Muslim.
The radicalization of necessities
For radicalization to take place, a necessity must appear. This need has been identified as important research ; people want to make a difference, to be important, to be someone. Thus, when there is an opportunity to gain importance, or when it is lost and threatened, then wakes the search for meaning. However, importance can be gained in many non-violent ways.
In our previously presented examples, Maria has lost importance by feeling helpless in the face of animal abuse. Vincent tries not to lose his importance and when his friends join the movement, he joins him too. For its part, Abu seeks to gain importance through the conditions offered by the Islamic State.
The radicalization of the narrative
In order to make violent choices in the search for importance, it is necessary that the narrative or the ideology of the person allow violence. Of all the options that subjects envisage to gain importance, violence must be the first and, moreover, be legitimate for one's beliefs. If ideology does not allow violence, other means will be used and radicalization will not take place.
To return to our examples, Maria radicalizes her thinking after joining the group, going so far as to accept that violence is the only way to defend animals. The movement Vincent joins supports and advocates the use of illegal acts in favor of social justice, which he ends up accepting. For Abu, the ideology of the Islamic State allows violence in order to establish an Islamist caliphate.
Finally, something that the three characters in our examples share is that they are not alone; for you to be important, others must make you feel important. The group is the one who, in a way, gives importance to people. Therefore, the last ingredient for radicalization to happen is the social network. In most cases, people become radicalized with others.
Maria fell in love with a radicalized man, Vincent radicalized with his friends and Abu joined a terrorist organization. Each of them has radicalized in a different way, but all have something in common: they sought to be important, they welcomed the narrative that justified the violence and counted on a group that accompanied them in this radicalization.