For more than a decade, ‘radicalization’ has been a keyword in our understanding
of terrorism. From the outset, radicalization was conceived of as an intellectual
process through which an individual would increasingly come under a spell of
extremist ideas. This ideological understanding of radicalization still prevails. In
a 2015 speech on extremism, British Prime Minister David Cameron, for instance,
claimed that the ‘root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself ’.
But the way we understand radicalization has specific consequences for the
way we manage and fight the scourge of terrorism. Considering recent events,
including the November 2015 Paris attacks, the present article sets out to reassess
the above-mentioned intellectualist understanding of radicalization and come up
with new suggestions as to how radicalization may be understood today. Initially,
the article suggests that ideology is not necessarily a precondition for violence, but
that a prior experience with violence is more often a precondition for engaging
an extremist ideology. Such experience with violence can be both domestic and
international, obtained in Europe or Syria and other conflict zones. In the second
part of the article it is argued that although radicalization is often conceived of as
an individual process, pathways towards terrorism are inherently social and political.
Finally, the article argues that by stressing the importance of ideology and
ideological processes, concepts of radicalization have abstracted away from another
factor that is pivotal for understanding pathways towards terrorist violence: the
skills and capacities of the body.
Radicalization revisited: violence, politics and the skills of the body
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