Oasis Foundation: We are failing to address the root causes of youth radicalisation

The Oasis Foundation, a member of the Oasis group of charities, has today published a new report on youth redicalisation.

Religion and ideology are not typically the primary drivers of radicalisation, says a ground-breaking report released today.  It suggests that the UK needs a fundamental rethink on the growing youth radicalisation crisis and policies that reflect the complex and multi-layered drivers that lead to different forms of extremism.

Enough is Enough: Addressing the Root Causes of Radicalisation, a new report by the Oasis Foundation, suggests that most people deemed to have been radicalised into Islamist extremism only show a skin-deep commitment to the religion and its practices. 

Instead the report concludes that radicalisation – which exists in many other forms outside of Islamist extremism – including gang membership, gun and knife culture, political extremism and aggressive forms of racism – has its roots in a variety of common causes. It identifies five common drivers - ideology; identity; deprivation and economic marginalisation; mental health; community – and family – breakdown

Citing research from the UN and MI5, the report finds that even within Islamist radicalisation, a significant number of young extremists have only a superficial commitment to the practice of their faith, suggesting that other ‘push-factors’ to radicalisation are critically important and that current anti-radicalisation policies that focus almost entirely on Islamist ideology are likely to fail. 

  • A large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly
  • Many engage in behaviours such as drug taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes – practices forbidden by their religion
  • Often, those who become involved in violent extremism could be regarded as ‘religious novices’
  • A UN study of the processes of radicalisation within Africa discovered that 57% of respondents who had joined an extremist group voluntarily had ‘little or no understanding of religious texts’

The report also explores evidence that mainstream Islam provides an important bulwark to radicalisation and that religious education and increased religious literacy can help to make young people more resilient to extremism.

Ian Sansbury, Director of the Oasis Foundation and author of the report says, “This report makes tricky reading for anyone quick to blame religion for all the world’s problems.  Nor will it sit well with those who believe Islam is a religion that leads people into violence. 

“More fundamentally however, this research casts huge questions on the UK’s approach to tackling radicalisation which focuses on challenging an ‘evil ideology’.  While this may be part of the process, the report makes it clear that a number of broader and deeper circumstances need to addressed and that if we fail to do so, we will be abandoning many of our young people to a lifetime of danger.

The report explores five common drivers that leave young people highly vulnerable to radicalisation:

  • Ideology – Although the report is critical of an over-emphasis on ideology in public debate - and a general misunderstanding of what the term means – it recognises that ideology is clearly one of the drivers of Islamist radicalisation.  However, ideology is a complex concept and one that politicians should handle with far more care than is often the case.
  • Identity, Connection, Belonging and Purpose - Questions of ideology are intimately linked with matters of identity, connection, belonging and purpose. Academic consensus points to those interconnected factors as significant drivers of both Islamist and gang-based radicalisation.
  • Deprivation and Economic Marginalisation – A further driver for both Islamist and gang related radicalisation is that of deprivation and economic marginalisation. Where data on underlying deprivation is available, 82% of Islamism related offences between 1998 and 2015 were committed by individuals from the 30% most deprived areas in the UK.  Similarly, research has established the critical link between unemployment and the increased involvement of young people in gangs.
  • Mental health – Although further research is required it does appear that poor mental health can be a contributory factor to radicalisation, particularly among so-called ‘lone wolf’ terrorists. A recent police study of 500 cases dealt with by the Channel anti-radicalisation scheme found that 44% of the individuals involved were assessed as being likely to have vulnerabilities related to mental health or psychological difficulties, with a further 15% assessed as possibly having such vulnerabilities.  Similarly, gang members have significantly higher levels of mental illness than both men in the general population and non-gang affiliated violent men.  86% of gang members were identified as having antisocial personality disorder, 67% alcohol dependence, 59% anxiety disorder, 58% drug dependence, 34% suicide attempt, 25% psychosis and 20% depression.
  • Community and Family Breakdown - Academic evidence suggests community and family breakdown as drivers of both Islamist and gang-related radicalisation. Public Health England’s 2015 report, The Mental Health Needs of Gang-Affiliated Young People, points to the contribution of attachment insecurity and poor parental bonds to adverse outcomes including conduct problems and delinquency, violence and poor mental health. In the words of the report, those factors are ‘often cited as a driver of the ‘need to belong’ that attracts young people with troubled backgrounds to gangs’.

Steve Chalke, Founder of Oasis says, “Through our work with vulnerable people around the world, we knew we couldn’t hide from the issue of radicalisation or shirk the profound questions it causes any society to ask.  Today’s report casts significant light on both the challenges and more considered responses that lay ahead.  Fundamentally however, all of us involved with nurturing young people – parents, teachers, family members, religious groups and countless others – need to be united in our quest to convince each young person that their life matters.  If we don’t, someone else will.”

The new report can be downloaded at https://oasis.foundation/radicalisation