About this publication

The publication you are currently reading is the final part of the Violent Extremism as an Emerging Threat for NATO Nations project requested by the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence Steering Committee. 

The aim of the project is to build awareness regarding this emerging threat, and to come to a common understanding about what drives the organizations that use extreme violence to defend their ideologies. Most importantly, our aim was to understand the roots of such violence—the seed of an idea flowers into an ideology, which leading proponents and followers further communicate to potential supporters. Although the existing literature extensively describes the problem, this report was greatly enriched by the seminars, working groups, and one-on-one academic discussions I had the privilege of participating in over the past year. 

As the project officer and author of this report I would like to personally thank the speakers who took part in the Riga StratCom Dialogue 2017. Dr Hassan Abbas spoke about religious extremism at the conference. Thanks to his personal experience as a former Chief of Police in Pakistan and as an academic, he was able to share valuable knowledge about how violent extremism might be tackled through proper communication. Those working on countering violent extremism (CVE) and/or preventing violent extremism (PVE) would benefit from continuing to expand their understanding of the reasons some people defect from these groups, so that those who have experience of both sides might be engaged in the ideological fight to counter hostile narratives. I especially want to thank Dr Anne Speckhard for her thoughts on engaging those who have been lured into violent Jihadi groups. She generously shared her extensive knowledge about people’s motivations and what drives them to radicalism. 

Communication is, of course, essential. However, countering every message produced by these violent groups is not always the right response. Sometimes offering alternative solutions can be a much more productive way of preventing people from committing violent acts. Long conversations with H.E. Maqsoud Kruse led me to realize that, under the proper circumstances, engaging with and asking questions of radicals, or of those on the brink of radicalisation, can lead us to a better understanding of the roots of their dissatisfaction. 

The world powers are currently engaged in a heated discussion about Jihadism and religiously inspired fanaticism, but we shouldn’t forget the other forms of violent extremism. Therefore, I am also grateful to Dr Kacper Rękawek, for his deep understanding of the problem of violent nationalistic movements. His knowledge of the conflict in Northern Ireland and the separatist movements in Lugansk and Donetsk have broadened my understanding about what might push people to become violent, religious fanaticism being only one of many reasons. 


Extremism has been with us for centuries. Historically, many ideological belief systems have been imposed through violence. Violence was used to spread the presumed will of God, to expand territory, and to satisfy the needs of one group or another. Early Muslim conquerors and Christian crusaders are both historical examples of groups that used violence to spread their ideologies and achieve their political objectives, and there are many others. 

Nowadays, democratic countries guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and religious liberty. People living in democratic countries have the right to disagree with each other and with their government. From the perspective of other political systems, the right to express disagreement, so important for liberal democracies, may seem to contradict the principles of effective government. For liberal democracies only one thing is strictly prohibited—violent behaviour or the use of terror to achieve one’s ideological objectives. For more conservative governments having such a distant boundary for what is permissible, looks foolhardy and seems to invite the questioning of authority. However, this rule applies not only to actions, but also to words. Therefore, radical ideologies supported by fundamental religious or secular beliefs that advocate the use of violence to transform their circumstances can and should be addressed at the root— the ideas that drive violent words and deeds. 

Even the most radical ideology starts from a set of ideas about which people communicate. Although violent extremism may be approached from many angles, without properly understanding the ideology behind the actions, any plans we make and actions we take will most likely fail to achieve the desired effect. An ideology without followers is of no consequence—people are pivotal assets whose psychographic analysis becomes an integral part of the overall strategy for the success of any ideology. Emotions such as fear, frustration, anger, anxiety, and rejection, but also love, compassion, and empathy drive people’s behaviour; our thoughts and emotions are inevitably at the core of our vulnerabilities and can be manipulated to achieve ideological goals. Sometimes such manipulation results in hate speech against non-believers, but in other cases an ideology pushes people toward violent solutions to their problems. Violence may be used to achieve certain psychological efforts, to change political decisions, to obtain publicity and media coverage, and eventually lead to policy change.