Who is at Risk of Radicalization?

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? In order to understand the possible correlation between refugees and radicalization it is necessary to understand who is at risk of radicalization. Radicalization is not inevitable. Many (I would argue most) Muslims will never undergo radicalization. In fact, I would go so far as to say that many Muslims cannot be radicalized, simply because their temperament, beliefs, and life experiences will not put them at risk of adopting extremism. Who then, are the individuals at risk of radicalization? What characteristics define them? How can a government determine when they might be opening their doors to a population vulnerable to extremism?

There is not one succinct profile of a Muslim at risk of radicalization. There are, however, certain factors that make a shift to extremism more likely. If multiple of these factors are combined in one individual, the risk will increase. Let's take a look at these factors.


Most individuals at risk of radicalization are in their teens and early twenties. Teenage rebellion is well understood as a common stage of adolescent development. For Muslim young people, that teenage rebellion may manifest itself as radicalization, given the presence of certain other factors.


Young men undergo radicalization at a higher rate than young women. This may be influenced by the traditional understanding of gender roles among many Muslims, but does not mean that women are never at risk of radicalization.


When radicalization occurs in Western countries, it is most often among those from lower income and socio-economic backgrounds. Recruiters from terrorist groups like Daesh focus on feelings of disenfranchisement and injustice and present an alternative way to address these social issues.

View of Government

According to a 2012 study done by the UK parliament, individuals who undergo radicalization often have a negative view of government. They experience a conflict between their cultural and religious identity and their British (or American, European, etc.) identity and therefore do not trust the government to understand their perspective or address their needs.


Those who have experienced racism or religious discrimination, whether blatant or subtle, are far more vulnerable to radicalization. Feeling powerless to change society's perception of them, they turn to more violent forms of retaliation. Policing, which combines a government entity with the possibility of racially biased treatment, is a particular point of friction for many individuals at risk of extremism.


A strong connection to a mosque or another form of community that offers a sense of belonging can be a powerful force against radicalization. However, if leaders or prominent members of that community have adopted and are espousing radical ideologies the process of radicalization will only be accelerated. This is what happened to one of the Paris attackers who was allegedly radicalized by an imam who visited his mosque in France.

Each of the above factors contributes to an individual's risk of radicalization, and yet, one size does not fit all. Some of those who adopt extremism are the last people one would expect based on these factors, so it is important to remember that these serve only as a guideline. Ultimately, everyone who joins a terrorist organization or adopts fundamental ideology has slightly different motivations and reasons for doing so.

So, how does all of this apply to refugees and their risk of radicalization? In the next installment of this series on refugees and radicalization I want to look at what I believe is the single biggest factor that puts Muslim individuals at risk of radicalization, but is particularly applicable to Muslim refugees.

More about radicalization.

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