Social Determinants of Health, Violent Radicalization, and Terrorism: A Public Health Perspective.Health Equity. 2017; 1(1):87-95.HE
Background: Terrorism-related deaths are at an all-time high as there were 32,685 and 29,376 terrorism-related deaths in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Terrorism is defined as the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Terrorism is detrimental for mental health, premature mortality, and economic losses and undermines the central tenets of public health to improve the health and well-being of populations. Despite the impact terrorism has on avoidable morbidity and mortality, population health research largely overlooks social determinants of terrorism and risk factors that contribute to terrorist activities. Methods: Drawing from what is known about commonly studied social determinants of health topics, including the relationships between structural and interpersonal discrimination, social cohesion, and gang violence and health, we present a public health framework, rooted in the social determinants of health, for identifying potential factors influencing terrorism and violent radicalization. Results: Social determinants of health provide unique insight into how interpersonal and structural factors can influence risk for violent radicalization and terrorist activity. Each of the topics we review provides an entry point for existing public health and behavioral science knowledge to be used in preventing and understanding violent radicalization and terrorism. For example, anti-Muslim sentiment has promoted discrimination against Muslims, while also serving to marginalize and stigmatize Muslim communities. These conditions limit the social resources, like social cohesion, that Muslims have access to and make political violence more appealing to some. Conclusions: Public health can contribute much to the ongoing debate around terrorism. The field must take a more prevention-focused approach to the problem of terrorism. Failure to do so only perpetuates approaches that have not been successful.