Everyone in the United Kingdom has the right to express their beliefs and interests openly. As a democratic society, the UK protects the rights of all law-abiding people, including those who belong to minority political, religious and ethnic groups. However, it becomes a concern if a person begins to advocate or use violence to achieve a political, religious or ideological goal.

What is radicalisation?

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. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas.

Extremism goes beyond terrorism and includes people who target the vulnerable – including the young – by seeking to sow division between communities on the basis of race, faith or denomination; justify discrimination towards women and girls; persuade others that minorities are inferior; or argue against the primacy of democracy and the rule of law in our society. Extremism is defined in the Counter Extremism Strategy 2015 as the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.

Radicalisation or extremism is where someone holds views that are intolerant of people who are of a different ethnicity, culture, religion, gender or sexual identity. Extremists may try to force their views on others and, in some cases, may believe that these views can justify the use of violence in order to achieve certain aims.

Examples of violent extremist causes that have used violence to achieve their ends include white extremists from the far-right or Islamist fundamentalists and animal rights activists. These usually attract people to their cause through a persuasive, sometimes violent narrative. The narratives often provide people with answers democracy doesn’t give to the various grievances they may have either towards their school, family, missed opportunities in life or other. They then justify violence or criminal actions with the need to impose radical changes or avenge any suffering they themselves or others may have been subjected to.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can be radicalised, but factors such as being easily influenced and impressionable make children and young people particularly vulnerable.

Other factors which may make people more vulnerable include:

    • Substance and alcohol misuse
    • Peer pressure
    • Influence from older people or via the Internet
    • Bullying
    • Crime and anti-social behaviour
    • Domestic violence
    • Family tensions
    • Race/hate crime
    • Lack of self-esteem or identity
    • Grievances (personal or political)
    • Migration

Children who are at risk of radicalisation may have low self-esteem or be victims of bullying or discrimination. They may feel:

  • isolated and lonely or wanting to belong
  • unhappy about themselves and what others might think of them
  • embarrassed or judged about their culture, gender, religion or race
  • stressed or depressed
  • fed up of being bullied or treated badly by other people or by society
  • angry at other people or the government
  • confused about what they are doing
  • pressured to stand up for other people who are being oppressed

Radicalisation process

There is no single distinct pathway of radicalisation towards violent extremism as the process is unique to each individual. However, there are some common elements in the experiences of most people who have become radicalised in the UK, regardless of their beliefs or motivations. Radicalisation happens when a person’s thinking and behaviour become significantly different from how most members of their society and community view social issues and participate politically.

Radicalisation doesn’t happen overnight. It is a gradual process, so people who are affected may not realise what’s happening. People may be radicalised in many different ways, and over different time frames from as little as a few days or hours, or it may take several years.

People can ‘self-radicalise’, by reading or listening to extremist literature or speakers. More commonly, people can be radicalised by family members or friends, through direct contact with extremist groups, or through the internet. Extremist messages or membership of an extremist group can offer a sense of purpose, community and identity which may be appealing, especially if someone is experiencing challenges in their life.

Teenagers can be at greater risk because they are more independent, exploring new things and pushing boundaries as they grow and discover more about their identity, faith and sense of belonging.

Extremist groups often target young people via the internet and social media.

The process may involve:

  • being groomed online or in person
  • exploitation, including sexual exploitation
  • psychological manipulation
  • exposure to violent material and other inappropriate information
  • the risk of physical harm or death through extremist acts

What are the signs?

It can be hard to know when extreme views become something dangerous, and the signs of radicalisation aren’t always obvious.

There is no specific profile for a person likely to become involved in extremism or a single indicator of when a person might move to adopt violence in support of extremist ideas.

Radicalisation can be difficult to spot, but signs that could indicate a child is being radicalised include:

  • a change in behaviour
  • changing their circle of friends
  • isolating themselves from family and friends
  • talking as if from a scripted speech
  • unwillingness or inability to discuss their views
  • a sudden disrespectful attitude towards others
  • increased levels of anger
  • increased secretiveness, especially around internet use
  • accessing extremist material online
  • using extremist or hate terms to exclude others or incite violence
  • writing or creating artwork promoting violent extremist messages

However, these signs don’t necessarily mean a child is being radicalised – sometimes it may be normal teenage behaviour or a sign that something else is wrong.

What can I do?

We all have a role in ensuring that our communities remain safe.

You can make a difference by sharing any concerns you may have about individuals or groups you meet at work, socially or in any other context.

Strong evidence shows that an intervention can stop someone becoming a terrorist or supporting violent extremism.

If you believe someone is at risk of radicalisation you can help them get support and prevent them becoming involved in terrorism and potentially violent activities by raising your concerns via Prevent@cambs.pnn.police.uk or telephone 01480 422596

If you see it, suspect it – report it!

The government has developed a process called ‘Prevent’ to help people who have been identified as being potentially vulnerable to radicalisation or extremism. Channel is part of this process, and is means of providing practical support to people at risk of being drawn towards terrorism or violent extremism. Partners include local authorities, healthcare providers, the police and members of the community, who work together to support individuals vulnerable to radicalisation and provide tailored safeguarding measures to support their needs. A range of options are available including mentoring, welfare support and access to key services.

Early detection and referral is important, offering the best chance of stopping people from being drawn into terrorism.

It is important to note that extremism itself is not illegal and that those referred to Prevent will not be automatically criminalised.

If you suspect that someone is about to put themselves in danger by travelling to join a terrorist organisation, or appears involved in plans to commit a criminal offence, please inform the police immediately by calling 999.