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Extremism is defined by the Government as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”. 

There is limited participant research that looks at the causes of extremism, how individuals are radicalised, or the ways in which it might be prevented. Therefore little detail is known about the early processes and pathways to radicalisation. However the research base does show that there is no typical extremist or single process of radicalisation. 

Factors Relevant to Islamic Extremism
Academic research has identified five factors that may be associated with those who come to hold extremist Islamic views:

  • Uncertainty around identity
  • Ideological factors
  • Personal circumstances
  • Grievances about foreign policy or media representation
  • Age and gender factors

The UK Government response
The UK Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, called Contest, includes measures to identify those who are vulnerable to becoming involved in extremist activity. This strand, called Prevent, was first developed in 2003. It prioritised community engagement as the most effective way to counteract extremist action. The Prevent strategy was revised in 2011. It now covers most types of extremism, not just Islamic extremism, but it does not directly apply to Northern Ireland-related terrorism, which is the responsibility of the devolved administration in Northern Ireland. Under Prevent, there is a statutory duty on all public sector workers to identify individuals whoe might be at risk of radicalisation. 

The Government’s Counter-Extremism strategy was published in October 2015 and the Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill will follow this year. It will cover all types of extremism as well as targeting non-violent extremism, but will not directly apply to Northern Ireland-related terrorism. The Bill will introduce a new civil order regime to restrict extremist activity (after consultation) and powers to intervene in unregulated education settings. 


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Dr Katherine Brown, Birmingham University
  • Professor Lynn Davies, Birmingham University
  • Department for Communities and Local Government
  • Department for Education
  • Dr Matthew Francis, Lancaster University
  • Dr Paul Gill, University College London
  • Professor Robert Gleave, Exeter University
  • Home Office
  • Dr Saffron Karlsen, Bristol University
  • Professor Vivien Lowndes, Nottingham University
  • Dr Lawrence McNamara, Bingham Centre
  • Cat Pettinger, University College London
  • Professor Paul Thomas, Huddersfield University
  • Hazel Wardrop, Equality and Human Rights Commission

Image: Flickr/youngshanahanCC-BY

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