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A family affair? Exploratory insights into the role of family members of those who joined jihadist groups

Since 2012, thousands of individuals have traveled from Western countries to join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. While much has been written about these individuals, only sparse attention has been paid to the social environment of these jihadist travelers and, more specific, the role of family members in their radicalization, joining and returning from jihadist groups.

Daan Weggemans, Marieke Liem & Marieke van der Zwan
01 June 2021
Security Journal 'A family affair? Exploratory insights into the role of family members of those who joined jihadist groups'

In order to gain greater insight into the roles of the families of foreign fighters, we conducted a literature analysis and interviews with both relatives of individuals who left the Netherlands to join a jihadist group, or who had plans to do so, and dozens of professionals who had relevant knowledge and expertise. Our findings contradict the assumption that families automatically play a strong role that is either restraining or encouraging. Rather, the results indicate that the influence of family members is often rather limited and can best be understood as latent and passive. We also found that radicalized individuals themselves regularly try to recruit their family members to the cause. These insights can be an important starting point for further policy development. It highlights that the prevention of radicalization and the fostering of reintegration is a collective effort— rather than an individual responsibility of families. We also conclude that, with the coming of age of the jihadist phenomenon in the West, it is possible that in the future we will witness more cases of families who have directly encouraged a jihadist radicalization process or a journey to a jihadist combat zone in the future. While it is still very uncertain how this will develop in the next decades, more research seems warranted on the intergenerational transfer of extremist ideals and behavior within families living in Western societies.

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