Religion, radicalization, and the causes of terrorism

Tom Mills, David Miller

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter


What causes terrorism and how can it be prevented? This is one of the great political questions of our time and over the last decade and a half, considerable resources have been allocated not only to state counter-terrorism programmes, but also to research which might shed some light on this question and inform counter-terrorism policies and practices. Terrorism experts have explored a host of possible causes. Low levels of education, economic and financial crisis, globalisation, inequality, occupation, political repression, poverty, psychopathy and state failure; these are just some of the factors examined in the literature, which tends to emphasise the multiplicity of causes and the complexity of the issue. But whilst terrorism experts seem collectively unable to reach any firm conclusions as to the most significant causes of their object of study, the policy agenda, to which they largely orientate themselves, has focused increasingly on Muslims; and, with the usual disclaimers, the experts have followed. ISLAM AND TERRORISM Though political elites rarely refer to Islam per se as a principle cause of terrorism – a claim which though not uncommon is largely restricted to fringe movements – it is nevertheless widely assumed in policy circles that some extreme version of Islam has been a major driving force behind contemporary terrorism. Islamism, Political Islam, Wahhabism and Salafism are a few of the usual suspects appearing in policy pronouncements and the terrorism studies literature, along with more vague references to Islamic extremism, fundamentalism, radicalism and so on. So whilst Islam is routinely lauded as a religion of peace, and ordinary or moderate Muslims are usually invoked in distinction to the terrorists, radicals and extremists, contemporary political violence is still overwhelmingly seen as basically a Muslim problem, and it is largely Muslims who are targeted by counter-terrorism policies and practices. This may seems defensible, even sensible at a surface level. After all, evidence can be produced that suggests that Muslim groups are responsible for the majority of contemporary global non-state political violence. Consider, for example, the figures in the 2014 Global Terrorism Index, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge companion to religion and terrorism
EditorsJames R. Lewis
Place of PublicationNew York (US)
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)978-1-107-14014-1, 978-1-316-50562-5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017

Publication series

NameCambridge Companions to Religion
PublisherCambridhe University Press


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