Authors: B. Heidi Ellis, Ph.D., Colleen Bixby, Alisa Miller, and George Sideridis, Ph.D.
The objective of this study was to examine pathways to behavioral outcomes towards and away from violent radicalization among Somali immigrants in the United States and Canada.
The researchers sought to determine why some resettled Somali immigrants are open to violent extremism, gangs, crime, or resilient outcomes such as civic engagement.
Understanding these factors provides critical information to local and state government agencies as they respond to the potential threat of domestic radicalization.
Participants for the study were recruited from four communities in North America. The participants were Somali youth between the ages of 18 and 30 born outside North America but who have resided in the United States and Canada for at least one year.
The study found that participants fell into five groups:
2. civically engaged,
3. civically unengaged,
4. radical beliefs/civically unengaged, and
5. radical beliefs/civically engaged.
Overall, the majority of participants were placed into behavioral categories that were neither engaged in violence nor open to violent extremism. The largest proportion of participants was in the group that was civically engaged; the second largest group was not civically engaged and did not support or engage in the use of violence. Participants of the remaining three groups expressed greater openness to violent extremism, but differed in important ways based on personal and societal obstacles. Somali youth’s experience and perceive interactions with police were also studied.
The research shows that there was no single pathway to openness to violent extremism, and neither was there a single type of individual most vulnerable to being open to violent extremism. Furthermore, the vast majority of Somali refugees neither participated in, nor expressed support for, the use of violence. This suggests that efforts to prevent violent extremism must consider various ways to reach diverse youth, recognizing that the drivers of radicalization for various youth may differ.
Community-oriented policing programs may improve trust and relations with Somali immigrants, as well as public health approaches to reduce Somali’s adverse experiences in resettlement, including discrimination and/or trauma exposure. Further research is needed to better understand who is in this group and the type of prevention efforts that could best reach them.