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Safety in Belonging

June 27, 2018

We tend to imagine people who are radicalized as Others, backward and brainwashed, immune to reason and consumed by hate. But I prefer to see them another way. In the older, scientific sense of the word, radicals are particles that become disconnected. They cast about, unstable by nature, damaging the world around them.

In recent months, that analogy has played out to devastating scale in Afghan voting centresIndonesian churches, and on Canadian streets. As we take stock of the damage, it is difficult for most of us to imagine what motivates violent extremism, or why people join extremist groups to begin with.

Sabrina Sassi, a researcher on violent extremism at Université Laval, has spent her career studying these very questions. In her analysis, terrorist cells metastasize by making outcasts feel like they belong. Although you can’t draw a straight line between marginalization and radicalization, by the same token, the people who are most susceptible to radicalization are those who’ve become disconnected from the communities around them.

That is one of the conclusions reached by a 2016 United Nations Development Programme report, which includes among other vectors of radicalization “the absence of inclusion and tolerance within the social and political environment of a particular community.” In a vicious cycle, inclusion and tolerance become even harder to practice under the threat of violent extremism.

Read more on Medium.