Over the last fifteen years, many scientific articles have attempted to explain jihadist radicalization in France. One of the main difficulties encountered when trying to develop such explanations remains that of gaining access to the necessary sources. This article uses a very large set of documents—the assessment files of more than 350 “Islamist terrorists” placed under penitentiary evaluation (in so-called quartiers d’évaluation de la radicalisation, or radicalization assessment units, within the Department of Prisons)—with a view to conducting a prosopographic analysis of this population. More than a hundred assessment criteria are used, ranging from socio-biographical data concerning age, nationality, domicile, education and income levels, and family background, to procedural data regarding romantic relationships, modalities of violent socialization, religious affiliation and intensity, perceptions of victimhood, etc., to ultimately sketch out seven paradigmatic types of jihadist individuals.
Research carried out on jihadist radicalization over the last twenty years has set up oppositions that closely resemble those that have arisen in academic writings on extreme violence, whether it be the intellectual dispute over the interpretation of Nazi genocidal logics or the more recent one on Rwanda. Studies on political violence reflect oppositions between academic disciplines (historians and anthropologists versus sociologists and political scientists), epistemological debates (culturalist analyses versus processual ones), and favored angles of observation (macro-, meso-, or micro-sociological). Yet, many of them suffer from limited access to sources of data, which has an impact on the perspectives selected.
Those who emphasize the importance of ideology and the weight of historical imaginaries in understanding the logics of the “passage to the act” often favor theories inspired by culturalism. They suggest that it was ordinary Germans’ eliminationist antisemitism or the media discourses rejecting the Tutsi that gave rise to violent cruelty. This type of discourse on the textual influence of the Salafist and jihadist corpus on terrorist acts can be found in the writings of Bernard Rougier and Gilles Kepel, according to whom third-generation Muslim networks (such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists) contribute toward the Islamization of an increasing proportion of French working-class neighborhoods with high immigrant populations, which are receptive to the ideologues of jihad, who take aim at Europe’s “sof…
- Social and living conditions
- The processes of engagement
- Cognitive frameworks and jihadist socialization
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