Five Misconceptions of Non-Violent Extremism in Terrorism Studies

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One of the primary debates raging in the field of terrorism studies at this present time is the extent to which ideological extremism leads to radicalization to violent or non-violent actions.

Among the most influential models (or pathways) explaining the shift from non-violent to violent extremism feature Moghadam’s “staircase” to terrorism, McCauley and Moskalenko’s “pyramid” to terrorism, and Baran’s “conveyor belt” to terrorism. All these models see non-violent extremism as the beginning of a path leading to violence.

However, this is not always the case: there are many who become radicalized and engage in extremism (opposing the system) and yet “do not become foreign fighters, engage in terrorism, or even reach the frontline.” The assumption that all extremists will become terrorists might prevent scholars from studying the challenge facing national governments put forth by those groups whose pressure is not exercised through violence but through the power of ideas.

In this article, we provide an overview of the five key misconceptions that have been holding back the scholarly and public debate on non-violent extremism as well as solutions to these.

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