The past few weeks and months have shown a persistent “Surge” or “Spike” (pick your favorite term) in discussions related to ‘homegrown extremism’ and al Qa’ida radicalization. Via Twitter, I stumbled on a new report from the UK Home Office authored by Dr. Noemie Bouhana and Professor Per-Olof H. Wikstrom.
Their report, entitled “al Qa’ida-influenced radicalisation: A rapid evidence assessment guided by Situational Action Theory“, evaluates all of the available research in a professional and rigorous manner providing evidence to support their conclusions – a concept largely lost on the counterterrorism community. Their framework evaluates the al Qa’ida Influenced Radicalization (AQIR) process by examining the vulnerability of recruits, the exposure of recruits to radicalizing agents and settings, and the settings in which radicalizing settings emerge.
I enjoyed Bouhana and Wikstrom’s analysis and found two quotes particularly interesting. The first quote is their summary on radicalization research to date where they state:
“If this REA (study) has one overarching conclusion, it is that the evidence-base on the causes of AQIR is scientifically weak. Empirical research is still exploratory rather than explanatory. The problem is compounded by the absence of frameworks linking the levels of explanation (individual, ecological, systemic) by way of explicit mechanisms. Without knowledge of mechanisms, there is no basis from which to design interventions. (p.viii)”
I could not agree more. Even more interesting is this insight from their study where they discuss how recruits are exposed to al Qa’ida messaging.
“Membership of a social network containing one or more radicalized member, or containing a member connected in some way to one or more radicalizing settings, is one of the main factors linked to exposure to radicalizing influence. That the Internet does not appear to play a significant role in AQIR might be surprising, given that it is the social networking medium par excellence. However, the fact that the technology presents obstacles to the formation of intimate bonds could explain the counter-intuitive finding. Personal attachments to radicalizing agents, be they peers, recruiters, or moral authority figures, play a prominent role in AQIR. (p.x)”
Again, I concur with these findings and have argued at some length in the past that the best recruiter of a foreign fighter is a former foreign fighter – not the Internet. In conclusion, another good resource for those studying al Qa’ida recruitment and radicalization.