What do we mean by extremism and radicalism?

Dictionary definitions can help us understand the meanings of certain terms at a base level and we can then begin to explore how these terms are used more broadly in relation to violent extremism. Some terms have particular connotations for different people, or are perceived differently in different contexts, and distortions might appear as a result of different agendas. This examination of terminology is crucial in preparing for successful engagement with young people. The Chambers Dictionary defines an extremist as, ‘someone who has extreme opinions, especially in politics’, and states that when the word is used as an adjective it means ‘relating to, or favouring, extreme measures’. A ‘radical’ is someone who favours far-reaching social and political reform. It is when violence is involved that these definitions begin to shift in their emphasis – and it is worth recognising that on their own, radical opinions or ideas are not considered problematic. No definition for radicalisation has been universally adopted and it has been described in numerous ways by various organisations – some denote it with reference purely to Islamic terrorism, while others look at it more broadly. The CPRLV in Canada frames radicalisation in terms of the use of violence to achieve change, defining it as ‘A process whereby people adopt an extremist belief system – including the intent to use, encourage or facilitate violence – in order to promote an ideology, a political project or a cause as a means of social transformation.

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