Alternative Narratives for Preventing the Radicalization of Muslim Youth


  • Dr. Afzal Upal Dr. M Afzal Upal is a cognitive scientist of religion with expertise in the Islamic social and religious movements. He has published more than 60 articles on cognitive science of religion, new religious movements, and cognition and culture. He was chair of the First International Workshop on Cognition and Culture, the 14th Annual Conference of the North American Association for Computational, Social, and Organizational Sciences and the AAAI-06 Workshop on Cognitive Modeling and Agent-based Social Simulation. Email:


Radicalization, Deradicalization, Islamism, Foreign Fighter, Prevention


The international jihadist movement has declared war. They have declared war on anybody who does not think and act exactly as they wish they would think and act. We may not like this and wish it would go away, but it’s not going to go away, and the reality is we are going to have to confront it. (Prime Minister Steven Harper, 8 Jan 2015)

 With an increasing number of Western Muslims falling prey to violent extremist ideologies and joining Jihadi organizations such as Al-Qaida and the ISIS, Western policy makers have been concerned with preventing radicalization of Muslim youth. This has resulted in a number of government sponsored efforts (e.g., MyJihad, Sabahi, and Maghrebia (Briggs and Feve 2013)) to counter extremist propaganda by arguing that extremist violent tactics used by Jihadist organizations are not congruent with Islamic tenets of kindness and just war. Despite the expenditure of significant resources since 2001, these efforts have had limited success. This article argues that in order to succeed we need to better understand Muslim core social identity beliefs (i.e., their perception of what it means to be a good Muslim) and how these beliefs are connected to Muslims perceptions of Westerners. A better understanding of the interdependent nature and dynamics of these beliefs will allow us to design counter radicalization strategies that have a better chance of success.


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