COUNTER-RADICALIZATION: COMBATING TERRORISM AT THE CORE, A STUDY OF THE MOTIVATIONS AND INSPIRATIONAL LEADERS BEHIND RADICALIZATION TO VIOLENT EXTREMISM AND THE PROGRAMS DESIGNED TO COMBAT THEM
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Radicalization to violent extremism is a critical threat to both national and global security. This thesis examines three aspects of radicalization to violent Islamic extremism and the related counter-radicalization efforts. The first chapter examines what motivations prompt women to radicalize to violent extremism and analyzes the applicability of several leading theories on motivations to four Western female case studies. In this chapter, I hypothesized that the women would exhibit motivations related more to political and religious drivers due to the relatively conflict-free setting and neutral gender roles in the West; however, the results indicate trauma/secondary traumatization and the associated revenge are significant motivators, and uniquely female motivations to restore honor should not be disregarded as a possible motive. The second chapter explores the characteristics that make leaders influential and critical to the radicalization process through a case study analysis of Abdullah Azzam and Anwar al-Awlaki. I theorized that these leaders would demonstrate charisma, effective communication, and credibility despite being deceased, which the case study analysis confirmed with the exception of Azzam’s lack of cultural resonance. Using a case study comparison of three programs with different structures, the final chapter assesses whether a government connection has a negative impact on counter-radicalization programs, and if the type of government involved influences how the connection is perceived. I hypothesized that a government connection, particularly with a Western secular government, would negatively impact a program’s legitimacy. However, the case study results indicate that an apparent connection between the messengers and the government negatively impacts program legitimacy, not simply a government connection to the program as a whole. Also, the case study results reveal the type of government involved does have an impact when a connection is evident between the messengers and the government. Each of the chapters addresses policy implications related to counter-radicalization and specifically effective communication of a counter narrative.