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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…


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.

Xavier Crettiez
Professor of political science at the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (Paris Saclay) and at Sciences Po Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he was deputy director for eight years. He is affiliated with the Centre de recherche sociologique sur le droit et les institutions pénales (CESDIP) (Center for Sociological Research on Law and Criminal Justice Institutions). He specializes in radical engagement and phenomena of political violence, and he is the author of a number of works on political violence, violent ethnonationalism, and radicalization. His publications include “Thinking about Radicalization: A Processual Sociology of the Variables of Violent Engagement,” Revue française de science politique 66, no. 5 (2016); with Bilel Ainine, “Soldats de Dieu”: Paroles de djihadistes incarcérés (L’Aube, 2017); with Nathalie Duclos, Violences politiques: Théories, formes, dynamiques (Armand Colin, 2021); with Isabelle Sommier and François Audigier (ed.), Violences politiques en France (Presses de Sciences Po, 2021). (Sciences Po Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 5 rue Pasteur, 78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye).
Romain Sèze
Policy officer at the Mission de lutte contre la radicalisation violente (MLRV) (Mission to Combat Violent Radicalization) within the French Department of Prisons (Ministry of Justice). He is also a researcher affiliated with the Groupe Sociétés, Religions et Laïcités (Societies, Religions, and Secularisms Research Group) (EPHE-CNRS, PSL) and the CESDIP. His research focuses on jihadist engagement and policies to combat violent militancy in Europe. His publications include Prévenir la violence djihadiste: Les paradoxes d’un modèle sécuritaire (Seuil, 2019); with Pierre-Alain Clément, “Still routes over roots? Les introuvables racines du djihadisme français,” Critique internationale 92, no. 3 (2021): 173–91 (MLRV – Direction de l’administration pénitentiaire, Ministère de la Justice, 13 place Vendôme, 75042 Paris cedex 01).
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