A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

In training the next generation of scholars and practitioners, START offers its students a chance to publish their work on this blog.

START sparking interest in social science research


START sparking interest in social science research

Friday, December 20, 2013
Author: 

Maya Hardimon, Individual Radicalization Intern, Spring 2013

 

My internship is with the Individual Radicalization project. We work on developing a database of homegrown radicals in North America who follow far right, far left, or jihadist ideologies. Most of the time, I work on adding individuals into that database, looking up information about their lives online and deciding whether or not they meet our criteria. We also look into general radicalization trends, so my work involves looking into other radicalization research, either searching for information online or going to lectures in Washington, D.C. By adding to the field of radicalization research and providing a comprehensive database of extremists radicalized in North America, this project will help others in the field analyze trajectories of radicalization, learning more about the process by which people become extremists.

I have really enjoyed this research because I love the inherent complexity of social science research. Our jobs involve categorizing people so that we can analyze them as a group, but trying to sort people who have complex lives, often without having all the information we think we need, inevitably leads to complications. While some might find this frustrating, I think this challenge of social science research is what makes it exciting, especially when disagreements over how to categorize something leads to really interesting and productive conversations about the topic at hand.

A great thing about working for START has been the encouragement that the staff gives the interns about pursuing our own interests. Although I have not found the time to pursue individual research yet, working for START has given me a lot of ideas that I am really excited about exploring further. In particular, I am hoping to get a chance to study the relationship between the media and terrorism. I find how the media portrays terrorist events and categories of violent extremism differently  to be fascinating, and at some point I hope to look into whether that difference in coverage significantly impacts radicalization trends. For example, many reports I have read about radicalization talk about the importance of making clear that the “War on Terror” is not a war on Islam; however, the media focuses mainly on Islamic extremism when right-wing extremism has also been growing considerably in recent years. This makes me wonder if there is an inherent bias that could be contributing to Islamic extremism by making Muslims feel isolated and threatened. This could create a vicious cycle where people who face discrimination turn to violence because they do not see other options, and the people who discriminated against them in turn feel validated in their views. However, this is only one possible narrative out of many, so it seems like we need more empirical work in this field. I hope at some point to be able to contribute to this process and continue the work of others to determine how to handle the problems of radicalization around the world.

 

In furtherance of its educational and professional development mission, START invites its students to write about their research experiences with the Consortium. 

This blog represents the opinions of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of START or any office or agency of the United States Government.