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Title chapter: Humanizing Violent Extremism: Journalistic Reflections on In-depth Personalized Narratives of Western jihadists
Author: Anna Grøndahl Larsen
Keywords: Human Interest, Journalism, Personalized Narratives, Radicalization, Violent Extremism
Abstract: The issue of young Westerners travelling to Syria to join the Salafi-jihadist group the Islamic State (IS) has, in recent years, been high on the public agenda in a number of European countries, including Norway. The phenomena of so-called foreign fighters have generated renewed interest in radicalization and why young people growing up in Western, democratic countries come to engage in political and religious violence. One journalistic approach to these questions has been in-depth feature stories, zooming in on specific individuals’ lives prior to joining groups like IS, and describing their “path to extremism”. Drawing on theoretical perspectives on human-interest framing and individuals in journalism, the present chapter explores this particular way of narrating radicalization and violent extremism. Based on 26 in-depth interviews with Norwegian journalists and a close reading of a selection of in-depth human-interest stories about Norwegians who have joined IS, the chapter explores journalistic reflections on and representational implications of personalized narratives of violent extremism. The interviewed journalists underline that giving extremism a face and a story is crucial to make the audience identify, expand understandings and broaden the range of perspectives within public discourses on violent extremism. This includes humanizing the topic and depicting extremists as regular, complex human beings rather than as purely dangerous and threatening criminals. The chapter furthermore points to how personalized narratives of individual jihadists largely foreground a socialization approach to radicalization, and, in line with interviewees’ accounts, suggests that these narratives may add complexity to public discourses concerning radicalization and violent extremism.
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