The rise of terror attacks across the globe has undoubtedly caused much concern and controversy in contemporary international relations. There has been genuine apprehension over the growing numbers of youths joining terror groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Al-Nusra Front, and Boko Haram amongst others. The keyword used by the media, security scholars, think tanks, and other stakeholders to explain the massive movement by the youth to join the terror groups is radicalization. According to a report by Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2009, Radicalization is a process in which individuals, majorly young people, are initiated to a belief system and ideological thinking that openly encourages extreme stances and opinions on certain issues.
In line with this definition, radicalization does not always lead to violence, but in some cases the radicals use violence as a means to achieving their end objective which is change in the social, economic, or political status quo. This means that radicalization does not always denote negativity as it could refer to genuine groups of people struggling to effect change through legitimate causes in their community. However, in the context of terrorism, where violence is the key means to achieving the end goals, radicalization refers to a process in which people come to prop up violent extremism and terrorism, and in some cases even end up joining terrorist groups. Major terror groups such as ISIS and Al-Shabaab have been known to use various radicalization strategies to hunt for new members to join their terror forces.
Reasons for Radicalization
In an attempt to thwart terrorism, various researches and hence many theories have been fronted to explain why some individuals become radicalized to a point where they are willing to kill others. Psycho-analytic and cognitive theories center on individual motivations. Socio-economic conditions such as poor living conditions which robs one of the basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, and education; may drive someone to lengths where they view violent means as the only way out to liberate themselves from the vicious cycle of poverty.
The majority of youth getting radicalized and ultimately joining forces with Al-Shabaab from Kenya are mainly from the Coastal and North Eastern regions; regions that have long been marginalized hence, a higher number of people living in absolute poverty. The multiplier side effects of poverty such as idleness, low self-esteem have also contributed heftily in making the youth susceptible to radicalization pressures. All these proximate push factors are usually driven by other underlying causes such as poor governance, unequal resource distribution, and ethnic or religious discrimination amongst others.
The other reason why youth become predisposed to radicalization is the search for identity. In this global village, it is easy for young people to easily get mixed up in virtual peer pressures emanating from social media. Besides, there are diverse groups across the world that require a tolerance for peace and unity to reign. In most cases, however, some groups of people are excluded and discriminated against for their inherent looks, beliefs, or status. The rejection or lack of belonging is what pushes some people amongst minority groups to adventurous searches that may bring them to other extremists that are eager to attract a following at any cost even if the accommodation of diversity has to be faked.
The radicalization process is also expedited by the extrapolation of religious beliefs from a moderate to an extreme level. Terrorism has widely been linked to the Islamic religion, but the reality is that there are strong linkages between terrorism and Christianity as well. For instance in the Central African Republic where the Anti-Balaka rebel group is committing untold atrocities against Muslims and in India where the National Liberation Front of Tripula, a rebel group, is accused of coordinating terror activities.
In Kenya, the youth joining terror groups or conducting lone-wolf attacks are mostly affiliated to mosques led by radical imams. The radical religious leaders create an absolutist environment that smothers critical thinking, questioning, and rebellion. It also serves to boost one’s need for belonging as it adds a moral authority to the framing of us versus them as a competition between Muslims and other religions. In fact, it is alleged that some preachers hoodwink the youth that the international military anti-terror attacks against militant Islamists in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere across the globe are part of a well planned global campaign against Islam. Returnees from Al-Shabaab have also confessed being swayed by the lies from their mentors that Islam indeed approves violence against non-Muslims and that dying fighting for Islam makes one a martyr.
According to psychoanalytic theory, some individual motivations such as hatred and search for vengeance triggered by past or perceived injustices are key drivers for radicalization. In Kenya, the youth from coastal region point accusing fingers at the local politicians for their tribulations. Their difficulty in accessing land which is a huge wealth generation resource in Kenya as it is an agricultural country has meant that many youths do not have a source of livelihood and are compelled to migrate to urban areas in search of casual jobs to eke a living. The Wagalla massacre in the North-Eastern region and constant inhuman treatment in the hands of Kenyan police have pushed a number of youth from this region to join Al-Shabaab. The situation has been compounded by the extrajudicial killings of suspected terrorists and collective punishment against certain communities even in urban areas. This has served to propagate polarization, entrenching the “us” against “them” a mindset amongst the young people and thrusting hatred and violent vengeance further.
In summary, radicalization is not a reflex process; its occurrence is triggered by a number of push and pull factors. Some of the factors are psychological and are driven by emotions within an individual, but some are external and are influenced by immediate environment of the individual. Radicalization process is not steady, nor predetermined. Though some of the steps are unique for every recruit, the process keeps on changing depending on the counter terrorism strategies.