Main Image Credit Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo - Documentation memorial with 200 life-size illuminated silhouettes commemorating the attack on 26 September 1980 at the Oktoberfest
This project presents the findings of a literature review aimed at understanding the existing evidence base for the role of ‘permissive environments’ in the spread of violent extremism.
The focus of the review was on understanding the extent to which non-violent, extremist movements or actors influence those who attempt or commit terrorist acts. This included looking at whether the literature suggests permissive environments exist, and, if so, whether there are defining characteristics by which to identify them or particular methods by which they might exert this influence towards violence.
The literature review looks at evidence from both far-right and Islamist extremist permissive environments and seeks to identify what key research exists in this space and what gaps there are which still need to be addressed.
This project analyses and compares the role of far-right and Islamist ‘permissive environments’ in the spread of violent extremism, be they groups, milieus or other areas where extremist (but not necessarily violent) ideas are articulated. The reviewed literature does agree that permissive environments can be influential in the radicalisation process of some individuals. However, the literature was very careful to consistently emphasise that this would not impact all individuals in the same way all the time.
The key factors which can drive individuals to move from non-violence to violence can include group social dynamics, charismatic group leaders, familial or peer groups, or individual influencers – some of which do show some differences across ideologies. Non-violent extremist actors can facilitate permissive environments – for example, by providing a social group and then influencing an individual’s ideological perspective with more extreme viewpoints or by consolidating their sense of grievance. Conversely, it was also noted in the literature that group settings can act as protective environments from violent extremism. Ultimately, however, as with any research of radicalisation pathways, it is nearly impossible to measure how much one element, such as a permissive environment, influenced an individual’s journey over another.