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  • June 26, 2024

    Fighting extremism and radicalization in Manitoba

    Terrorism and radicalization evoke images of destruction both at home and abroad, events seared into the minds of victims, bystanders, and observers alike. Yet, for many, these concepts are vague, denoting villainous foreigners plotting for destruction. Representations of an existential threat to the functioning of democracy and to freedom wherever it exists. However, such a narrative fails to account for the great numbers of so-called ‘homegrown terrorists,’ individuals and organizations that plot and execute terrorist actions at home, radicalized as they are both by the conditions of their lives and from the social networks of which they are apart. This post will provide a cursory overview of the field of radicalization in the context of Canada and Manitoba, seeking to inform a greater understanding of the dynamics in play and directing readers toward further resources they can access.

    Even in ‘Friendly’ Manitoba, dark tendrils of radical beliefs have made their way into the minds of individuals, propelling youth to abscond to fight in foreign wars and others to distribute hate-filled flyers encouraging the defence of ethno-nationalist ideology. But the term radical is misleading at best, placing figures such as Mahatma Gandhi alongside others like Osama bin Laden—the term must be expanded. This takes us to the phrase “radicalization leading to violence,” which is defined by the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRLV) as “a process whereby people adopt extremist belief systems–including the willingness to use, encourage or facilitate violence–with the aim of promoting an ideology, political project or cause as a means of social transformation.” It is willful or encouraged violence that separates non-violent from violent radicalization.

    How does an individual come to support violent means to implement ideological goals? The process is “a nonlinear, non-predetermined path, shaped by multiple factors,” according to the CPRLV—a specific and deeply personal journey. There are several vulnerability factors associated with violent radicalization, including socioeconomic, political, and psychological conditions. One continuity in the process is the ideological dichotomization of the world, pitting ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ or ‘good’ versus ‘bad’. Nuance is gradually removed from the equation, particularly those relating to societal or political concerns.

    Likewise, there is a diverse range of protective factors associated with violent radicalization: stable relationships with non-violent social networks and positive role models, familial stability and guidance, and critical skills that build mental resilience against indoctrination or propagandization, are some examples of these. Supporting these protective factors takes a host of independent actors—essentially, it embodies the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” Thus, organizations must be created, promoted, and shared, highlighting both the dangers and the fallacies involved in violent radicalization while promoting the protective factors preventing such radicalization.

    One local endeavour is the Extremism and Radicalization in Manitoba (ERiM) project, a local initiative started by Dr. Kawser Ahmed, Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Winnipeg and Executive Director of the Conflict and Resilience Research Institute Canada. In 2023, ERiM finalized and published a workbook intended to educate Manitobans about the threat posed by increasing polarization and marginalization, both of which are major factors in the radicalization to violence process. This workbook is focused on radicalization in youth and is intended for distribution among educators, parents, coaches, and mentors. It explores many of the concerns relating to radicalization, such as how it can be spotted. Or how it is possible to work against the radicalization process. You can find the workbook here.

    To summarize, extremism is the endpoint in the radicalization to violence process. This is a gradual and deeply personal endeavour, a journey in which an individual’s beliefs are challenged and replaced by ones that begin to accept and even promote violence to achieve political, social, or economic change. Properly identifying and intervening in this process requires social connections outside of extremist circles, and these connections need to challenge these new and destructive ideas. These healthy connections are the first barrier to violent radicalization and require a whole-of-society approach to promote, protect, and preserve—an approach that must be undertaken at all levels, and by all members of society.

    Research/Written by: Kyle Chemerika

    editor@marl.mb.ca

     

    Featured picture: Mikael Blomkvist

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