Juxtaposing violent extremism and critical radicalism in Europe: the role of reflexive awareness in pursuit of religious purity and cultural essence

Published on 3 November 2023 in Politics, Religion & Ideology

Employing an approach that focuses on three goals of ideology-making (i.e. resolving grievances, seeking status, socialization), this study explores the reflexive boundaries between (1) 68 individual representations of violent ‘Jihadi’ and ‘right-wing’ extremism in Europe, and (2) 130 young adult European citizens who pursue religious purity or cultural essence. Having identified the latter as a pool of ‘critical radicalism’ in the current political context, the study juxtaposes violent and non-violent radicalizations by challenging two interrelated assumptions. The first is the sameness assumption: those who use a similar repertoire are unified by their similarity. The second is the continuum assumption: radicalism will eventually lead to violence, given that ‘radicalization’ discursively implies a shift towards promoting or carrying out violent behaviour. Drawing on comparisons between interview and media narratives, I argue that violent extremism and critical radicalism part ways while developing reflective methods to evaluate grievances, reclaim agency in response to status losses, and align social bonds with the ideology. The conceptual divergence indicates several fault lines between ideological simplicity and completeness and relates to individuals’ self-awareness in (re)making the ideology rather than a given ideology. This concluding remark has implications for the value of reflexive awareness in democracies.

The article is available under a Gold Open Access license.