Grasping motivation essential to counter movement.

What motivates young people to become jihadists?

Olivier Roy, a professor at the European University Institute in Italy and analyst of Islamist terrorism, in a lecture attempted to lay out "a scientific perspective on the causes/circumstances" of people joining radical groups.

"Radicalisation is a youth revolt against society, articulated on an Islamic religious narrative of jihad," he says.

According to Roy, religion comes into play in radicalisation mostly because it offers the person a narrative of restructuring their life in line with the truth and the good - they can say their actions are for a higher purpose. In reality, though, their motivations are usually personal.


Roy has analysed individual stories of the path to radicalisation - saying that we must first understand radicalisation before we can hope to prevent or reverse it.

1. Radicalism is mostly a youth movement, and a rebellious one.

Most of those who have been radicalised are young, and their behaviour is often a kind of rebellion against their parents and relatives. It is articulated as a religious narrative of jihad, but is actually a revolt against society, Roy says. Radicalisation typically happens through networks of friends or peers, outside of the person's family or the Muslim community more broadly. Many European radicals have a history of delinquency or drug dealing, Roy says, but few have a history of political or religious militancy.

2. Few radicals in Europe come directly from the Middle East.

Most European radicals have a Muslim background, but few are themselves immigrants from the Middle East, says Roy. Most are second-generation Muslims, while others are converts. According to figures from Charles Kurzman at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 35 per cent of those charged for jihadist terrorist plots in the US since September 11 were converts to Islam.

3. Isis is a modern movement.

While Isis may seem like something out of a previous millennium, with its barbaric ideas of justice, attitudes towards women, and call to restore an ancient caliphate, their methods are modern. Isis has inspired what Roy calls "a virtual Ummah" -- a global and abstract idea created by the group's powerful media and propaganda apparatus. Some radicals in far-off places are part of this virtual society, but not a real one: They have radicalised themselves through the internet and follow agendas that don't have much connection with what's actually going on in Syria and Iraq.

4. Most radicals are motivated by the desire to be a hero, to do violence or get revenge.


Roy says that most of those who are radicalised are fascinated with the idea of becoming part of a "small brotherhood of superheroes who avenge the Muslim Ummah" [meaning community or nation]. Many are motivated by the promise of capturing headlines. Ordinary murders rarely receive that much coverage, but those that are branded "terrorism" tend to be reported prominently. "Radicals are neither happy nor funny people," Roy says.

5. Radicals typically have little connection with the Muslim community.

In fact, their radicalisation usually happens as a reaction against the Muslim community, imams and their parents. Radicals aren't considered any kind of vanguard or representative of a larger disgruntled community; instead, many have broken with their families, and consider the larger Muslim community to be traitors.

6. Which means it's mostly pointless to charge the Muslim community with deradicalising radicals.

The connections between radicals and the rest of the Muslim "community" is usually loose or nonexistent, says Roy. As a result, asking the Muslim community to help deradicalise these people doesn't make a lot of sense.

7. We should be careful about how we describe the connections between radicals and the larger Muslim community.


Roy's analysis suggests t the tendency to paint Muslims broadly as terrorists - besides being factually inaccurate - could encourage more radicalisation. Lumping all Muslims together as terrorists feeds into a story of persecution and revenge that motivates radicalisation in the first place.

8 What we need to do is to subvert Isis' standing among radicals and potential radicals.

Beyond increasing intelligence, Roy says we need to debunk the myth that radical terrorists are heroes and subvert the idea that Isis is successful and impervious to our attacks. What's more, we need to foster the idea that Islam is a normal part of society, not a dangerous or oppressed minority. "Instead of 'exceptionalising', we should 'normalise'," says Roy.