This web article presents NIJ-supported research that points to the value of targeting multiple social conditions as a strategy for reducing radicalization.
Against a backdrop of sustained disadvantage, recent research shows Somali refugee communities in the United States, as well as Canada, live with an elevated exposure to discrimination, social isolation, and other conditions that can put young people at greater risk of gang affiliation or even violent extremism. Abiding concern within those communities over gang influences on their youth may draw parental concern away from the separate risk of radicalization and inadvertently heighten the appeal of extremism. Also raising the risk of radicalization, as a gang alternative, is the perception among some Somalis in both countries who are involved with gangs that switching to extremism can offer an escape from gang life, as well as a way to prove themselves. Thus, the presence of gangs in those communities may itself contribute to the risk of radicalization. Those insights on factors informing extremism are key conclusions of a scientific study, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, on gang affiliation and radicalization to violent extremism in select Somali communities in the United States and Canada.
The research described in this article was funded by NIJ grant 2014-ZA-BX-0001, awarded to the Children's Hospital Corporation. This article is based on the grantee report “Gang Affiliation and Radicalization to Violent Extremism Within Somali-American Communities,” by Principal Investigator B. Heidi Ellis, Ph.D., Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Co-Investigators, Scott Decker, Arizona State University; Alisa Miller, Boston Children’s Hospital: Jessica Stern, Boston University; Ineke Marshall, Northeastern University; Alisa Lincoln, Northeastern University; and Saida Abdi, Boston Children’s Hospital.