How Does Radicalization Happen?

To find all the installments of this series on refugees and radicalization, visit these links. Who is at risk of radicalization? What causes radicalization? How does radicalization happen? How can we prevent radicalization? So far in this series we've talked about who is at risk of radicalization and what causes it, and we've seen that, due to the upheaval of their lives, Muslim refugees are uniquely susceptible to radicalization. Today we are going to discuss the question how does radicalization happen? How do organizations like Daesh target individuals for radicalization, what methods do they use, and why are they so effective?

[bctt tweet="The recruitment methods used by Daesh and why they're so effective:" username="refugee_review"]


In our last two posts we found that certain individuals are uniquely at risk of radicalization: those in their teens and early twenties, men, those living in relative poverty, those with a negative view of government and a lack of community, and those who have experienced racism or discrimination of some sort. We then dedicated an entire post to the idea of belongingness, and how not feeling a sense of belonging is the single most important risk factor for radicalization. Daesh and other terrorist organizations understand these factors that make individuals susceptible to radicalization and so they target them for recruitment. Daesh focuses their recruitment efforts and strategies primarily on young men and women between 15 and 20 years old.


Daesh knows that their target audience will not be enticed or impressed by old fashioned forms of recruitment like badly designed pamphlets or blurry videos. Their targets live in an age of technology and increasingly flashy media, so in 2014 they created Al Hayt Media Center in order to dedicate significant resources to professional media propaganda. Here's what they do.

[bctt tweet="Terrorist organizations like Daesh have a creepy ability to get into the heads of young people and #refugee children. " username="refugee_review"]

Visual Media

Daesh makes high quality short films, commercials, and interviews, many of them in English, to spread their ideology and to encourage young people to give their lives to their cause. The cinematography is impressive, and the urgency of the message even more so. The narratives presented in these videos prey upon teenagers' desire to belong, to be important, and to have purpose. Some have even compared the tone of these videos to recruitment videos made by the US Army. Hundreds of European young people, and thousands from Turkey have been lured in with these videos.

Print Media

Daesh also publishes online magazines in several languages, including English. They tell of the exploits and successes of Daesh fighters and they can explain their ideology and theology in a way that a short video cannot. Those whose interest in Daesh is piqued through the other methods of recruitment might read these publications as they are drawn deeper into the process of radicalization.

Social Media

Daesh employs professional social media strategists to pump propaganda into FaceBook and Twitter. These are the online hangouts for arguably all teenagers and a perfect platform for recruitment. Daesh will have current fighters begin conversations with the curious, goading them with questions and uncertainties about their future and drawing out their angst and need to belong. Just as a big company tries to sell their product by demonstrating how it meets a pressing need or solves a major problem, Daesh claims to provide meaning, purpose, and eternal rewards to teenagers who feel as if no one understands them.


Finally, for those who cannot be convinced through visual, print, and social media, Daesh turns to outright deception. They will trick individuals who want to provide humanitarian aid in places like Syria and Iraq or those who want to fight the injustice of Assad's regime, by offering to help them get to where they need to go. But once they arrive they will be trapped. The men will be forced to fight, and the women forced to be prostitutes or to marry jihadists.

How does radicalization happen to refugees?

Once again, let's draw out the connection between the above information and the risk of refugee radicalization. Muslim refugees inherently form part of the larger group vulnerable to radicalization, as we saw earlier.  The children of refugees, whether they were born before or after their parents were resettled, are especially susceptible to radicalization when they reach their teenage years. Unlike their parents, who most often have a distinct memory of the horrors they escaped and a deep gratefulness to the country and government that resettled them, refugee children will struggle to appreciate the gravity of their previous situation and how fortunate they are.

Having perhaps never been to their home country (or unable to remember it), they will not feel any special attachment to it. However, because of factors like discrimination or lack of community, they may not feel ownership of their new country either. If Daesh can get their propaganda in front of that young refugee teenager as they are struggling with these feelings of isolation and lack of belonging, it is very likely that they will soak it right up. This is the distinct danger of refugee radicalization - not that every refugee has the potential to be radicalized, but that the inherent nature of a refugee's environment makes the children of refugees especially vulnerable.

[bctt tweet="If ISIS can get their propaganda in front of #refugee teenagers struggling with feelings of isolation, it is likely they will soak it right up." username="refugee_review"]

Join the discussion! Share your answers to these questions in the comments section:

What do you think of Daesh's recruitment strategies?

Have you ever encountered any of their material on social media?

How do you think we can most effectively counteract terrorism recruitment on a media level?

In the final installment of this series, we will discuss solutions to this risk of refugee radicalization. What can we do to mitigate those risks, and how can we step in as a filter between the propaganda of Daesh and the vulnerability of young refugees? We will seek to answer the ultimate question: how can we provide young refugees with a sense of belonging in ways that do not lead to radicalization? If you don't want to miss out on the last post of the series, just type your email in the subscription box down below the comments section and it will show up in your inbox!