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Radicalisation and Restorative Justice

Terrorism has presented a thread like no other. In fact, the word has become synonymous with destruction and death. In the UK, this thread became more real a year ago, when Khalid Masood drove his car with the intent to significantly harm members of the public. This day marked the first terrorist attack in London after 12 years. The world’s instant reaction was fear that was later channelled into anger and other range of emotions.

As a psychology graduate, an RJ4All Associate and above all ... a young person ... I cannot stop thinking what made Khalid do such a violent act, and who was Khalid as a person. I also wonder who are all those terrorists who are committing inhumane acts of violence. What separates them from us? Does anything separate them from us ... or maybe I can shift the question to when they see a crowd of people just before they attack what do they think of them and/or what do they feel? What makes us human - what makes us terrorists

I believe that the very essence of being human is the ability to feel and show compassion and empathy towards others. More specifically being able to understand the other person’s perspective at least from a cognitive point of view, if not emotional. Therefore, if Khalid or Salman (Manchester bomber) were able to feel what those people were feeling seconds before they die or after the attack would they have continue with it? Are terrorist unable to feel empathy for other human beings? Consequently, the people who commit terrorist acts are hated to the point where they are not considered human anymore. However, what really constitutes a terrorist? According to the populist view, terrorists are driven by extremist beliefs. Most of the time, these beliefs have a religious or political origin. Further, the influence of the media evokes fear among people and has led them to adopt views that are taking a punitive and unforgiving approach identifying them as nothing less than monsters that are contaminating society.

Thinking critically about radicalisation

Instead of digesting what the media are blasting at us, I believe it is time to think critically and re-consider our views not just on terrorists, but also society as a whole and the possibility of terrorism as a product of society.

A “terrorist” could be no one else by your child, your friend, your neighbour ... yourself. Therefore, the question is when and what was the turning point that has led that person to radicalisation and whether this person can be restored. Are terrorist unable to feel empathy towards other people? Have their faulty cognitive, distorted beliefs blocked their empathetic process?

Studies have shown that people tend to be less empathetic towards people who are not part of their group (Molenberghs,2004). Therefore, in their mind, they could have detached themselves and not considered the victims as people. Moreover, their strong beliefs have blocked their empathetic process. In addition, this could also be explained from a faulty theory of mind perspective. Can restorative justice be applied in terrorists and radicalised individuals or at least ... to individuals who are risk of being radicalised?

Although many people would most probably disagree, however, if through restorative justice empathy can be enhanced, we can possibly avoid further radicalisation and help restore the fault done not just to victims but to their families and provide closure. Restorative justice can also help people like Khalid understand the harmed done. Therefore, when given a space for dialogue, the person who has committed all these inhumane acts can revert back to his humanity. All humans have basic needs that are necessary for our survival. Maslow (1943) introduced the pyramid of the hierarchy of needs; he proposed that self-actualisation, sense of belonging and self-esteem are essential in order to lead a successful life. However, we currently live in a society where it creates barriers to those needs.

Us young people and the RJ4All Institute's efforts

Young people are desperately trying to find a community a place where we feel we belong. In a country of identity crisis, we are looking for a place where it gives us a sense of purpose and empowers us ... not puts us away. In the case of young extremists, I believe these needs are satisfied within a cycle of other extremists. By being in the cycle it does not just give a sense of belonging but a sense of identity, purpose and power. Therefore, given all these objectives can by enhancing empathy tackle radicalisation in young people and if so how can this be achieved?

In fact, here at the RJ4All Institute we are working on a project to collect evidence on the use of restorative justice with radicalised individuals as well as those who are at risk of radicalisation.

This inspired Dr. Theo Gavrielides to speak about restorative justice and radicalisation at the 2nd Biennial International conference on Restorative Justice. This international event was held in Tehran on 5-6 May by Tarbiat Modares University and was titled“Restorative Justice as a Bridge between Silk Road Civilizations”. Dr Theo Gavrielides pesenting his recent work on using restorative justice, positive psychology and the Good Lives model for the prevention of radicalisation and exclusion. His presentation titled "Restorative Justice & Radicalisation: From theory to practice" aimed to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western civilisations. The paper identifies the forces that create a perception of insecurity and a reality of control, while proposing an alternative vision that is bottom-up, user-led and founded upon the values of restorative justice.

Dr Gavrielides is not alone in believing that positive approaches can help reduce the possibilities of being radicalised. Fedders et al (2015) have found that by increasing self-esteem and empathy in young people it avoids their involvement in violent radicalisation. In conclusion terrorism and radicalisation of young people is a thread posed to society by society and reveals greater problems within it. To tackle radicalisation, we first need to understand the people that are joining these groups without attaching any labels to them such as terrorists, monsters etc.


Anna Vasileiou is an RJ4All Associate and a forensic psychology and a criminology postgraduate.

To find out more how to join the RJ4All Associate scheme follow this link. References: Feddes, A.R., Mann, L. and Doosje, B., 2015. Increasing self‐esteem and empathy to prevent violent radicalization: a longitudinal quantitative evaluation of a resilience training focused on adolescents with a dual identity. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45(7), pp.400-411. Maslow, A.H., 1943. A theory of human motivation. Psychological review, 50(4), p.370. Roth-Hanania, R., Davidov, M. and Zahn-Waxler, C., 2011. Empathy development from 8 to 16 months: Early signs of concern for others. Infant Behavior and Development, 34(3), pp.447-458. Ward, T., & Brown, M. 2004. The good lives model and conceptual issues in offender rehabilitation. Psychology, Crime and Law, 10, 243–257

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