Radicalization is not a synonym for conversion



Recent events serve as a cruel reminder that no country is safe from acts of terrorism. The Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, the shootings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and the murder of one soldier in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu by Martin Couture-Rouleau have drawn attention to the issue of young people converting to Islam or becoming radicalized. Many people confuse "conversion" with "radicalization", a generalization that is easy but misleading, according to Université de Montréal anthropologist and director of the Centre d'études ethniques des universités montréalaises (CEETUM) Deirdre Meintel. Despite the extremely religious discourse of radicalized individuals, their motives are primarily political, explains the researcher.

Despite the extremely religious discourse of radicalized individuals, their motives are primarily political, explains the researcher.

Their radicalization is a challenge to the established order; a revolt against a society in which they have trouble integrating. And it is not only immigrants who experience difficulty with social integration: some young people born here feel isolated and may develop a deep resentment towards their community. Radical groups target these types of feelings in their recruitment activities. Conversely, religious conversion is a spiritual rather than a political process.

A deep search for meaning can lead to reflection that eventually results in religious conversion. While religious converts do not necessarily succumb to violent radicalization, they frequently become extremely orthodox. For example, women who convert to Islam often wear the veil and recent Catholics are more observant than people born Catholic. CEETUM's research is crucial to understanding these issues. Only by identifying the types of individuals who are more at risk of becoming radicalized and the conditions under which this happens can radicalization be prevented.