Dr. Elisa Orofino, a Post-Doc Associate Lecturer in Police and Counter-Terrorism at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and a Research Fellow at the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER)
For a long time, extremism has been monopolized by Islamist groups, but that view is rapidly changing with the advent of far-right and eco-radical extremist groups. Different groups — with diverse ideologies — are emerging and posing a serious threat to the establishment.
While violent extremists have long been discussed and studied by researchers, non-violent extremists have often been overlooked. Mostly relegated to the footnotes of academic literature, non-violent extremists constitute a cohort that is actively engaged in ideologically challenging the state. In the West, they operate freely due to their rejection of violence. Nevertheless, their role as a possible ‘conveyor belt to terrorism’  has sparked widespread calls to ban them in Western countries.
The Conveyor Belt Theory
The hypothesis suggests that non-violent extremist hate rhetoric against the state might trigger some individuals to commit violence. This is the case with Hizb ut-Tahrir (The Liberation Party) — an international, pan-Islamic political organization that advocates for the establishment of a caliphate (an Islamic state). HT calls on its members to separate from Westerners as they are kuffar (infidels) who live an immoral life contrary to the group’s radical view of Islam’s tenets.  While the group rejects violence, it openly opposes democracy as a haram (forbidden) concept in Islam. This conviction springs from the HT belief that political authority should belong solely to God — not men. For that reason, members are forbidden to participate in political acts such as voting or running for elections. This aversion towards Western political, economic and social policies stems from the HT belief that any system not based on shari’a (Islamic law) is illegitimate. 
The rigidity of HT’s ideology, coupled with their significant international following, has led many experts to believe that HT could act as a ‘conveyor belt to terrorism’.  This was, in fact, true in the case of Omar Bakri — a prominent member of HT in the late 1990s — who decided to create his own terror group, Al-Muhajiroun. Bakri was a follower of HT, but later decided that its rejection of violence was not effective to achieve a complete transformation of society and the restoration of the caliphate.
Another example of the Conveyor Belt Theory is Brenton Tarrant, a young Australian man who killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019. Before committing the massacre, Tarrant donated 2,200 Euros to the non-violent French far-right extremist group Generation Identity. While not officially affiliated with this group, Tarrant had fully espoused its ideology and decided to implement his own methodology to fight the threats highlighted by GI, such as the ‘Great Replacement’. The Great Replacement is a white nationalist far-right conspiracy theory which believes that the white autochthonous population will soon be replaced by non-European people — especially Muslim populations from Africa and the Middle East — through mass migration, demographic growth and a drop in the European birth rate. Like HT, GI works as a fitting example of a non-violent, extreme group which is still legal in many countries of the world. Again, although it is a non-violent group, GI can still lead people to embrace violent methods.
These two examples of non-violent groups working as conveyor belts to terrorism highlight the complex liminality between violence and non-violence within the wide universe of extremism. These groups use the master frame of human rights (such as freedom of speech and association) to justify their activities and disseminate their anti-government ideology especially in the West. They also are in a very unique position in that while they are not violent, they still can be dangerous — but not too dangerous to be outright banned.
The Importance of Frames
To understand the dynamics of non-violent extreme groups, it is useful to view them as social movements (SMs). SMs are networks of interactions between a plurality of individuals, groups and/or organizations, engaged in political or cultural conflict, on the basis of a shared identity’.  As all non-violent extremist groups, SMs engage in a continuous ideological conflict with the government or specific groups in society such as Jews, Muslims, etc. They try to recruit more resources — both human and material — by disseminating specific frames. Frames are schemata of interpretation that enable individuals ‘to locate, perceive, identify and label occurrences within their life space and the world at large’.  These groups make sure that specific frames are endorsed by the members and become the main regulating force in their life.
Once espoused by the members, frames strongly impact their vision of the world, their priorities and their idea of right and wrong. Frames are essential for the leadership of the movement as they serve vital purposes, such as recruiting new members, mobilizing adherents and strengthening their loyalty.  Frames are also employed to identify problems, who or what is to blame and to suggest a viable solution.
Given that conflict with authorities is an essential feature of SMs, frames are what clearly differentiate SMs from the formal establishment — defining their essence as alternative models to national and international authorities.   Moreover, frames shape social categories — such as religion, gender, and ethnicity — setting the boundaries between the in-group and out-group and defining the imaginary borders inside of which the individual lives his/her life. Once endorsed by the individual, precise frames and social categories rigidly dictate his/her behavior, preferences and solidarity.
The framing process, the related collective action frames and social categories define the core elements of the individual’s so-called social identity within the movement.  Social identity derives from the person’s knowledge that they belong to a certain group of which they attach an emotional value and significance.  
Fostering a Social Identity
Through a continuous process of framing, SMs define the core elements of social identity as the rock upon which the movement exists, expands and functions. Each movement builds its social identity on two sets of values: terminal and instrumental. As suggested by the name, terminal values indicate the ultimate goals a group wants to achieve, while instrumental values deal with modes of behavior members should adopt to achieve their desired goals. 
In the case of HT, the terminal goal is to implement Islam holistically as a din (way of life) through the establishment of a caliphate. To do so, instrumental values come into play where group members are encouraged to adopt certain behaviors vital to the final aim. Examples of such behaviors adopted by HT members are: separating from the kuffar, not participating in political life and pushing their ideas on other people in order to recruit more members.  
The Importance of Interaction
Since there is no written doctrine, senior members continuously interact with new members in order to pass on to them the group’s norms, beliefs, assumptions and way of thinking.  The new members are heavily influenced by senior members and quickly internalize constitutive values which become part of their worldview and affects their interpretation of reality.
An example of this interaction — in the case of HT — takes places within halaqaat (study circles) that members have to attend once a week. Study groups are typically tailored towards specific levels of membership— senior, junior or students. The mushrif (instructor) is in charge of indoctrinating the members on core concepts as laid out by the central leadership. 
These interactions lead to strong bonds between the individual and the group. Unlike cults where members have a strong bond with the leader, the bond in these groups is not related to a single person, but to the soul of the organization itself. Members are more likely to leave a group if they are more connected to the leader rather than the group. This is because if they invest themselves into one person, there is a greater chance that person could either disappoint them, leave the group or die. Whereas, if a person invests his or herself in the tenets of the group, he or she has developed a strong social identity that is not related to a person but to the group itself.
As discussed above, through a continuous process of framing, members end up internalizing the group’s vision of the world, associated behaviors and see themselves as an ‘extension of the collective whole’.  Their life is strongly connected to their membership to the group. Leaving the group for members who have a strong social identity means to kill a part of themselves, bury it and start all over again. Groups like HT give people a purpose for living and guidelines on how to live a ‘good life which pleases God’. Renouncing the group is too overwhelming for some individuals who have spent many years cultivating their social identity. For this reason, most members of such groups remain loyal their whole life.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.
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