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What is radicalization leading to violence?

There is no universally accepted definition of radicalization leading to violence. However, the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRLV) defines it as follows:

a process whereby people adopt extremist belief systems—including the willingness to use, encourage or facilitate violence—with the aim of promoting an ideology, political project or cause as a means of social transformation.

At the heart of the process of radicalization leading to violence is a dynamic that involves individuals severing ties with those in their immediate environment (family, friends, colleagues, etc.), and progressing along a radical path that may eventually lead to violence.

In short, violent radicalization entails:

  • The adoption of an ideology that becomes a way of life and a framework for meaningful action for the individual;
  • Belief in the use of violent means to promote a cause;
  • The merging of ideology and violent action.

Are violent and non-violent radicalization the same thing?

It is important to distinguish between violent and non-violent radicalization. Sometimes people who are firmly entrenched in their own beliefs may adopt positions that, while radical, may not necessarily be opposed to democratic norms and values. Such radicalization would not be considered violent.

Moreover, nonviolent radicals may play an extremely positive role in their communities as well as in a larger political context. Most progress in democratic societies has been the result of some form of radicalization. Martin Luther King, Gandhi and even Nelson Mandela were all considered radicals in their day. When firmly established ways of thinking and doing things are contested via a radical critique of certain aspects of the social system, this may cause society to evolve in a positive direction.

Radical viewpoints become problematic when they legitimize, encourage or validate violence or forms of violent extremist behaviours—including terrorism and violent hate acts—in order to further a particular cause, ideology or worldview. Individuals who are undergoing a process of violent radicalization may encourage, assist in or carry out violence in the name of a specific belief system because they are categorically convinced their system of beliefs is absolute and exclusive.

Is violent radicalization a form of mental illness or cult-like mind control?

Violent radicalization should not be confused with mental illness, nor should the two been seen as mutualy exclusive. While mental illness may at times be a possible factor in some forms of radicalization, current research has thoroughly documented the psychological ‘normality’ of individuals on the path of radicalization. Similarly, it would be wrong to confuse “radicalization leading to violence” with cult-like mind control: while the two phenomena have numerous characteristics in common, radicalization does not automatically involve the development of a sort of “mental hold” over the individual that removes the latter’s ability to exercise free will.

  • 20 November 2019
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Meeting at the KEPKAA in Montreal

Thank you to the Comité international pour la Promotion du Créole et de l’Alphabétisation (KEPKAA) for hosting the CPRLV to discuss and exchange on the prevention of of hate-motivated incidents and on the prevention of radicalization leading to violence.
  • 20 November 2019
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CPRLV training offered in Edmonton

In collaboration with its partner, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the CPRLV was invited to offer its training sessions on the “What If I Was Wrong Educator’s Guide” in Edmoton, Alberta. We thank The Resiliency Project for hosting us. If would like to receive a CPRLV training session in your workplace or if you would like to receive additional information, […]
  • 19 November 2019
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Lunch-talk on youth working against radicalization

The CPRLV presented the result of a mission carried out in Belgium, as part of a study on youth working against radicalization. This mission included work meetings between the Bureau Internationale Jeunesse (BIJ), the MOVE Association and the Maison de jeunes dans les Marolles, visits to youth associations in Molenbeek, Mechelen and Marollen to learn […]