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Open Access Debate

A public health approach to understanding and preventing violent radicalization

Kamaldeep S Bhui1*, Madelyn H Hicks2, Myrna Lashley3 and Edgar Jones4

Author affiliations

1 Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK

2 Health Service and Population Research, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK

3 Culture & Mental Health Unit, Lady Davis Institute, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

4 King's Centre for Military Health Studies at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Medicine 2012, 10:16  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-16

Published: 14 February 2012



Very recent acts of terrorism in the UK were perpetrated by 'homegrown', well educated young people, rather than by foreign Islamist groups; consequently, a process of violent radicalization was proposed to explain how ordinary people were recruited and persuaded to sacrifice their lives.


Counterterrorism approaches grounded in the criminal justice system have not prevented violent radicalization. Indeed there is some evidence that these approaches may have encouraged membership of radical groups by not recognizing Muslim communities as allies, citizens, victims of terrorism, and victims of discrimination, but only as suspect communities who were then further alienated. Informed by public health research and practice, a new approach is proposed to target populations vulnerable to recruitment, rather than rely only on research of well known terrorist groups and individual perpetrators of terrorist acts.


This paper proposes public health research and practice to guard against violent radicalization.