Definitions and focus

Terms such as radicalization, extremism, violent extremism and terrorism are notoriously slippery. Different definitions are used alongside each other, and may be used interchangeably. Differences in terminology can result in confusion. With regard to the VERA-2R, the following definitions are used:

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  • Countering violent extremism (CVE) is generally held to mean preventative measures which seek to address drivers or root causes of violent extremism. It was adopted by US policymakers in 2005. Discussion exists on the evidence, possibility and priority of disengagement c.q. change of behaviour or de-radicalization c.q. change of beliefs (Silke, 2011; Schmid, 2013).


  • Extremism is a culturally relative term than has been described as subjective, emotionally laden and pejorative (Hoffman, 1998; Laqueur, 1997; 2003). Extremist beliefs are dependent on perspective. The views which are considered to be extreme within one cultural context or at one given time may not be considered to be extreme in another cultural context or at another time. Norms and values are intricately bound up in the definition of extremism. Extremism can be defined as “the holding of extreme political or religious views” (Oxford Dictionary). In the United Kingdom, extremism has been defined as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”. Non-violent extremism is differentiated from violent extremism (United Kingdom Counter-Extremism Strategy Cm 9148, 2015). In some definitions, the use of extremism may include both violent and non-violent action while other definitions differentiate between violent and non-violent extremism.


  • Jihadist terrorism is the term Europol and the Dutch NCTV use for Islamist based terrorism. Europol states that the former used term Islamist terrorism has the possibility of wrongfully associating the Islam religion with the crimes committed by a relatively small group of fanatics (Europol, 2017).


  • Left-wing terrorist groups seek to replace the entire political, social and economic system of a state by introducing a communist or socialist structure and a classless society. Their ideology is often Marxist-Leninist (Europol, 2017).


  • Nationalistic and separatist terrorist groups are motivated by nationalism, ethnicity and/or religion. Separatist groups seek to carve out a state for themselves from a larger country, or annex a territory from one country to that of another (Europol, 2017).


  • Radicalism is defined by the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands (AIVD) and National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) as: ‘The active pursuit of and/or support for fundamental changes in society that may endanger the continued existence of the democratic order (aim), which may involve the use of undemocratic methods (means) that may harm the functioning of the democratic order (effect).’ It can also be described in two elements reflecting thought/attitude and action/behaviour: (1) Advocating sweeping political change, based on a conviction that the status quo is unacceptable while at the same time a fundamentally different alternative appears to be available to the radical; (2) The means advocated to bring about the system-transforming radical solution for government and society can be non-violent and democratic through persuasion and reform or violent and non-democratic through coercion and revolution (Schmid, 2013)

  • Radicalization is defined by the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands (AIVD) and National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) as: ‘The active pursuit of and/or support for fundamental changes in society that may endanger the continued existence of the democratic order (aim), which may involve the use of undemocratic methods (means) that may harm the functioning of the democratic order (effect).’ Radicalization is generally used to describe the process of adopting an extremist belief system that may result in the acceptance, legitimation and/or use of violence (Moghaddam, 2005; Precht, 2007; Silber & Bhatt, 2007)

  • Right-wing terrorism seeks to change the entire political, social and economic system on an extremist right-wing model. A core concept in right-wing extremism is supremacism, or the idea that a certain group of people sharing a common element (nation, race, culture, etc.) is superior to all other people (Europol, 2017).

  • Risk is defined as the chance that something will go wrong or as the likelihood of danger, harm or loss or other adverse or negative occurrence. Risk is often contextual (Roberts and Horgan, 2008; Douglas et al 2013). The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s defines risk as “potential for an adverse outcome assessed as a function of threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences associated with an incident, event, or occurrence”.

  • Risk assessment refers to the measurement of the expected value of an undesirable outcome. On an individual level, it refers to any process involving the systematic gathering and interpretation of information pertaining to an individual to predict the likelihood that the individual will engage in the behaviour of concern in the future (Herrington & Roberts, 2012).

  • Risk assessment of violence requires consideration of the type, seriousness, nature and other characteristics of violence. Risk assessment of violence has generally two purposes. The first purpose is to evaluate an individual to determine the individual risk of future violence. The second purpose is to develop suitable interventions for reducing the risk (Pressman et al, 2016).


  • Single-issue extremist groups aim to change a specific policy or practice, as opposed to replacing the whole political, social, and economic system in a society. The groups within this category are usually concerned with animal rights, environmental protection, anti-abortion campaigns, etc. (Europol, 2017).

  • Structured Professional Judgement (SPJ) is an approach for the risk assessment of violence that combines empirical knowledge and professional judgement. The assessment is based on the identification of risk factors or risk indicators with an instrument using an evidence base and a pre-established rating system. The professional ultimately weighs the risk of violence (Pressman et al, 2016).


  • Terrorism has many definitions related to different and evolving national approaches to terrorism (Schmid, 2013). The label ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ is regarded by countries as referring to unlawful violence but is also used to legitimize power or violence applied by these countries themselves. The EU defines terrorist offences as ‘acts committed with the aim of seriously intimidating a population, unduly compelling a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act’, or ‘seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation’. The Dutch NCTV defines terrorism ‘as threatening, making preparations for or perpetrating, for ideological reasons, acts of serious violence directed at people or other acts intended to cause property damage that could spark social disruption, for the purpose of bringing about social change, creating a climate of fear among the general public, or influencing political decision-making’. And the FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (FBI, 2001).


  • Violence can be defined as ‘actual, attempted, or threatened harm to a person or persons’ (Douglas et al, 2013). The VERA-2R defines violence as a physical act causing injury, or harm or killing or the threat of such action that is unlawful (Pressman et al, 2016). The Oxford Dictionary defines violence more broadly as “behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage or kill someone or something”. This definition, often used by law enforcement, is relevant to violent extremist actions which may be intended to cause damage to persons or property or both due to ideological motivation.

  • Violent extremism is defined by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as “advocating, engaging in, preparing, or otherwise supporting ideologically motivated or justified violence to further social, economic or political objectives” (USAID, 2011). Violent extremists have been described as striving to create a homogeneous society based on rigid, dogmatic ideological tenets and to make society conformist by suppressing all opposition and subjugating minorities. Violent extremists show a propensity for: (1) force and violence over persuasion; (2) uniformity over diversity; (3) collective goals over individual freedoms; (4) giving orders over seeking dialogue (Schmid, 2013).