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Beat terrorism - make it boring, says Demos

‘Cool’ jihad is as significant a draw to terrorism as radical preachers, anger at Western foreign policy or social isolation, according to a report published by Demos recently.

Terrorism will be defeated by demystifying and deglamourising jihad - beating terrorism by making it boring.

The Edge of Violence reports on two year-long international study of the characteristics of both violent and non-violent Islamic radicals. The report finds that young Muslims interested in violence have more in common with other subversive groups, such as gangs and football hooligans, than with peaceful radicalised Muslims.

Based on detailed character studies, one-on-one interviews with a total of 200 radicals, young Muslims and experts, the report explored the roots of violent radicalism and the formation of terrorist cells in the UK, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and France. The clear message from the research is that government and security services must clearly distinguish between violent and non-violent radicalisation.

The Edge of Violence finds, for example, that compared to non-violent radicals, violent radicals:


  • Had a poor understanding of Islam
  • Were unlikely to have been brought up in religious households
  • Were less likely to take part in standard political protests, such as marching against the Iraq War
  • Were less likely to have studied at university, and if they did, were more likely to have studied applied degrees
  • Were less likely to have been employed
  • Were unique in a loathing of Western society and culture


The report questions some of the ‘root-causes’ of terrorism, because both violent and non-violent radicals had experienced social exclusion, had a distrust of government, a hatred for foreign policy, and many had an identity crisis of sorts.  What is more, non-violent radicals did not see Islam as an entirely pacifistic religion at all – but rather one which follows ‘just war’ principles, in which terrorism in the West has no part.

“Young people are drawn to radical causes, and to rebellion against authority”, Jamie Bartlett, co-author of the report said “For most radical young Muslims this takes the forms of protest, argument and learning – but for a minority, Al Qaeda might seem a ‘cool’ gang to join, even though the truth is that its members are ignorant and incompetent.

“This does not make it any less serious or dangerous. Terrorist activity amounts, all too often, to teenage kicks that kill. The trick for Western governments is to welcome non-violent forms of radicalism – indeed to provide opportunities for young Muslims to engage in exciting, ‘radical’ activities such as overseas volunteering – while maintaining a zero-tolerance attitude to violence and terrorism.”

Recommendations from the report for government and communities include:

Focus on deglamourising al-Qaeda’s romantic appeal and ‘cool’ status amongst disaffected young people.  The message should be that al-Qaeda inspired terrorists are incompetent, narcissistic and irreligious.

Use satire as a weapon to undermine homegrown terror plots and expose the ignorance of the perpetrators. Recent films such as Four Lions  should be seen as critical weapons against terrorism.

NGOs should offer exciting, credible alternatives to Jihad in the form of a US Peace Corps-style programme for young Muslims.  Opportunities to volunteer abroad can channel energy and promote concern for others and an appreciation of Western values.

Translate, distribute and discuss radical texts by writers such as Ibn Taymiyya, Sayyid Qutb, Muhammed Ibn Wahhab and Abdullah Azzam to remove the intrigue and mystique surrounding such books.

Drop ‘Islam is peace’ as a message.  It does not work.  Instead, young Muslims should be versed in the arguments around Jihad as ‘just war’, in which terrorism has no part.

Hold open, local level debates about jihad, terrorism and radicalisation so that potentially violent young people are exposed to a range of arguments about holy war.

Learn from successful counter-gang techniques.  Radicalised groups function in a similar way to gang culture and prevention police officers can learn from gang intervention programmes.

Build ‘tactical partnerships’ with non-violent radicals.  Security agencies and radicals should work together to identify and deter individuals who are on the edge of violence.  Such people will often respond better to a well-respected scholar making a religious case against violence, than to a police officer making a legal case.

Work with non-religious local leaders.  Religious leaders and government agencies should look to community activists, sports coaches and teachers with local street credibility.  Former jihadists should help to de-radicalise others at risk.

It is possible for Muslims to read radical texts, be strongly and vocally opposed to Western foreign policy, believe in Sharia law, hope for the restoration of the Caliphate and even support the principle of Afghan and Iraqi Muslims fighting allied troops while being extremely vocal in denouncing al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism in Western countries.

In response to the CLG Committee report on ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’, The Edge of Violence agrees that the Government’s Prevent strategy has suffered from ‘mission drift’.   To be effective, broader social policy objectives such as community cohesion and social mobility must not be included within a security and counter terrorism context and should not be applied solely to one ethnic or religious group.  Failure to take this on board will lead to alienation and mistrust of the authorities amongst targeted communities, making it harder to security services to gather information and intervene. The report argues that the Government’s Prevent strategy should be narrowed to focus solely on interventions with individuals exhibiting a clear shift to violence.

 The edge of violence; a radical approach to extremism



Notes to editors

The Edge of Violence is the culmination of 24 months of research in Canada, the UK, Denmark, France and the Netherlands.  Research included 58 in-depth profiles of ‘homegrown’ terrorists, drawn from seven cells.  Seventy young Muslims were interviewed in Canada as well as 75 local and national experts.

The report compares and contrasts violent and non-violent radicalisation across a range of personal and social characteristics, attitudes to religion, society and violence.

This project differs from existing terrorism research in that terrorists are compared to a control group of non-terrorists which allowed the researchers to gain a deeper understanding of the broader network of people, ideas and relationships in which they sit.

Due to an ongoing terrorism trial, which involved individuals who were subjects of the research, we are not able to publish the report in full at the present time. The complete and more detailed version of the research will be available as soon as circumstances permit.

The Edge of Violence by Jamie Bartlett and Jonathan Birdwell is available to download for free at www.demos.co.uk

Jamie Bartlett is head of the Violence and Extremism programme and Jonathan Birdwell is a researcher at Demos.

Arrests for al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism in 2007/08 included 231 in the UK, 78 in France, four in the Netherlands and three in Denmark.

Media Inquiries

The authors are available for comment and analysis.  To request an interview please contact:

Beatrice Karol Burks, Press Officer


020 7367 6325

079 2947 4938

Peter Harrington, Head of Communications


020 7367 6338

079 3966 4133

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