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Homegrown Islamist Radicalization in Canada: Process Insights from an Attitudinal Survey

  • David B. Skillicorn (a1), Christian Leuprecht (a2) and Conrad Winn (a3)

Abstract. Theories of radicalization make implicit predictions about variation among attitudes in the communities from which radicals are drawn. This article subjects some popular theories to empirical testing. The precise process by which individuals come to sympathize with, provide material support for or actually engage in political violence is fully comprehensible only by longitudinal analysis, but much existing work tries to reconstruct the process by looking only at one part of its outcomes: those who have become radicalized. The result is a large number of theories and mechanisms, with little compelling empirical support. A cross-sectional snapshot of an at-risk community cannot definitively support a particular theory of radicalization, but it can rule out those whose predictions about attitudes are at variance with the empirical observations. We designed a survey instrument to measure attitudes to issues widely believed to be relevant to radicalization and deployed it among Muslim communities in Ottawa. The results are remarkably inconsistent with patterns of variation in attitudes predicted by popular theories of radicalization. Instead, they show variation of attitudes along three independent dimensions: social/economic/political satisfaction/dissatisfaction, moral/religious satisfacton/dissatisfaction, and a dimension that appears to be associated with radicalization. This suggests that governments may have less policy leverage to mitigate radicalization than generally supposed.

Résumé. Les théories de la radicalisation font des prévisions implicites quant à la variation parmi les attitudes au sein des communautés dont les radicaux sont issus. Cet article soumet quelques unes des théories populaires à une vérification empirique. Le processus précis par lequel des individus sympathisent avec, appuient ou s'engagent dans la violence politique ne peut être complètement saisi que par une analyse longitudinale, bien qu'une bonne partie de la recherche à date essaie de reconstruire le processus en regardant seulement une partie de ces résultats : ceux qui sont devenus radicalisés. En conséquence, un grand nombre de théories et de mécanismes sont soutenus par peu de preuve empirique. Un aperçu transversal d'une communauté à risque ne peut pas confirmer une théorie particulière de radicalisation, mais il peut éliminer celles dont les prévisions ne se conforment pas aux observations empiriques. Nous avons conçu un instrument de sondage pour mesurer des attitudes envers des enjeux qui sont largement perçus comme se rapportant à la radicalisation et nous l'avons administré au sein de communautés musulmanes à Ottawa. Le désaccord entre les résultats et les variations des attitudes postulées par les théories de la radicalisation est remarquable. Les résultats manifestent davantage une variation des attitudes autour de trois dimensions indépendantes : l'in/satisfaction sociale/économique/politique, l'in/satisfaction morale/religieuse ainsi qu'une dimension qui semble être liée à la radicalisation. Il s'ensuit que les politiques publiques risquent d'être moins utiles aux gouvernements pour atténuer la radicalisation que ce qui est généralement supposé.

Corresponding author
David B. Skillicorn, School of Computing, Queen's University, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6,
Christian Leuprecht, Department of Political Science and Economics, Royal Military College of Canada, PO Box 17,000, Station Forces, Kingston, ON K7K 7B4,
Conrad Winn, Department of Political Science, Carleton University, B640 Loeb Building, 1125 Colonel By Dr., Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6,
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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
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