The street-jihadi spectrum: Marginality, radicalization, and resistance to extremism

Published date01 March 2024
AuthorSveinung Sandberg,Sébastien Tutenges,Jonathan Ilan
Date01 March 2024
Subject MatterArticles
The street-jihadi spectrum:
Marginality, radicalization,
and resistance to extremism
Sveinung Sandberg
University of Oslo, Norway
Sébastien Tutenges
Lund University, Sweden
Jonathan Ilan
City University of London, UK
For over a decade, jihadi terrorism in Europe, and the recruitment of Europeans to f‌ight for ISIS in
Syria, have increasingly involved marginalized youths from a social context of street culture, illegal
drug use and crime. Existing theoretical models of the crime-terrorism nexus and radicalization
arguably do not suff‌iciently explain the f‌luid and dynamic ways by which the street cultural
come to be politico-religiously violent. This paper provides a novel retheorization, the street-jihadi
spectrum, which is better placed to explain a wide range of behaviours, from the merely stylistic to
the spectacularly violent. On the street culture end it includes subcultural play with provocative
jihadi symbols and on the jihadi end the terrorism of gangster-jihadists. We emphasize that the
spectrum, consisting of a multitude of conf‌luences of street and jihadi cultures, also includes resist-
ance to jihadism.
Crime-terror, extremism, ISIS, jihadism, radicalization, street culture
Corresponding author:
Sveinung Sandberg, Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, University of Oslo, PO Box 6706,
St. Olavs plass 5, 0130 Oslo, Norway.
European Journal of Criminology
2024, Vol. 21(2) 210230
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/14773708231182520
Many jihadi terrorist attacks have been perpetrated by impoverished individuals, with
negative experiences of immigration combined with prior experiences of conventional
criminality and drug use. This experience of marginality and what has been called
street culturehas been found in a signif‌icant number of foreign f‌ighters in Syria and
jihadi recruiters (Basra et al., 2016; Ilan and Sandberg, 2019). Studies of terrorism
show that feelings of marginalization and maltreatment are a root cause of extremism
in Europe (Hafez and Mullins, 2015), whilst negative interactions with police and secur-
ity services can be counterproductive and reinforce the will to sedition (see e.g. Verkaik,
2016). Socio-economic marginalization (Anderson, 1999; Wilson, 1987), drug use
(Bourgois, 2003), social stigmatization (Bucerius, 2014) and sometimes police brutality
(Goffman, 2015) are similarly push-factors for street culture.
Arguably, some young men are f‌irst drawn towards street culture, and/or violent jihad-
ism, in a search for the recognition and status that they feel they cannot achieve in main-
stream socio-economic life. At the same time, political and religious extremism present
opportunities for experiencing excitement, meaning, enjoyment and group aff‌iliation
(Cottee and Hayward, 2011; Hemmingsen, 2010; Sunde et al., 2021). Basra and collea-
gues (2016: 3) describe how criminal and jihadi recruitment today both draw from the
same pool of people, creating (often unintended) synergies and overlaps that have con-
sequences for how individuals radicalize and operate(see also Bakker, 2011; Basra
and Neumann, 2016; Lakhani, 2020; Rostami et al., 2020). These empirical trends
merit greater sociological and criminological understanding and theoretical development.
Whilst advances have been made in adding specif‌icity and rigor into the concept of the
crime-terror nexus (see e.g. Basra and Neumann, 2016), and the many similarities and
differences across criminal, deviant, gangs and extremist groups (Decker and Pyrooz,
2011, 2015), it remains necessary to better articulate the nuances of a street-jihadi
nexus or the ways in which contemporary urban marginality and jihadi terror intersect.
The reasons for doing so are many-fold: it allows for researchers, security services and
others to better pierce through the noise of radical (seeming) talk and symbols to better
distinguish murderous intent from coolperformance; it allows for a better understand-
ing of contemporary urban marginality as a driver of terrorist violence (in the rare occa-
sion where it manifests as such); it encourages the development of more organic and
meaningful forms of deradicalization; and importantly it would better ref‌lect empirical
reality on the streets of contemporary societies.
In this theoretical paper, we introduce and develop what we describe as the street-
jihadi spectrum. First, we propose and explicate the theoretical concept, ref‌lecting on
the different ways in which street and jihadi subcultures might intersect. Second, we
explore intersections of street criminal and politico-religiously motivations, noting
both push and pull factors (i.e. socio-economic drivers and affective, subcultural seduc-
tions). Third, we set out the ways in which street radicalization can occur in these empir-
ically rare instances. Finally, we ref‌lect on how Islam in street culture usually acts as a
desistance promoting force (i.e. promoting the abandonment of conventionalcriminal-
ity) and reveal the less emphasized resistance to extremism that may emerge in criminal
environments. Cumulatively we argue that the street-jihadi spectrum represents a
Sandberg et al. 211

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