Radicalisation and jihadist violence: understanding the ideology that can lead to terrorism

26 November 2015


On 26 November 2015, the European Foundation for Democracy hosted a closed-door briefing in response to the Paris attacks of 13 November. The speakers examined the role that ideology plays in creating fertile ground for recruitment to violence and terrorism. The event had more than 30 diplomats and officials in attendance.

One of the speakers, a researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and expert on Islamic studies, highlighted that many citizens in Belgium, Spain and France assume that mosques, in general, are breeding grounds for violent radicalisation and that there is a link between being an ultra-conservative Muslim and becoming violent. He stressed that this theory is refuted by field studies, which have shown that there is no correlation between these two elements.

Another speaker, a French researcher on Islamism and a former member of several Islamist groups in France and Morocco, stressed that religious texts have been exploited and appropriated by Wahhabis and other groups and extremists who exclude other voices, often for violent purposes. This is “takfir”, he explained, the belief that if somebody, even an observant Muslim, does not conform to a radical interpretation of Islam, he is declared an apostate. Regrettably, this problem is not addressed in the West, he said, because in public policy discourse there is no difference between Islam and Islamism. He explained that if you criticise the latter, you are therefore automatically labelled an Islamophobe.