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Address socio-economic factors that breed extremism

I agree with editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang that more effective strategies are needed in order to truly contain or neutralise the threat of radical terrorism ("Fighting terror: What being united and cohesive means"; July 24).

Recent attacks in France and Germany attest to how the nature of the threat has evolved. Acts of terror are now increasingly being perpetrated by self-radicalised lone-wolf attackers.

An analysis of these individuals' backgrounds hints that the roots of home-grown terrorism are at least partially socio-economic in nature.

Many hotbeds of radicalism in Europe are disproportionately impoverished and underdeveloped. Individuals living in these conditions tend to feel let down by Western-style governance and economic systems.

This is compounded by the crisis of identity they may face. Racial discrimination can and will deepen the sense of rejection and isolation from mainstream society. As a result, many are drawn to extremist beliefs as a perceived source of strength, identity, community and meaning in their lives. Even the well-educated are not spared.

It is no coincidence that throughout history, so-called "angry young men" have formed many major political movements.

In managing the threat of terrorism, we must, therefore, be mindful of how economic disparity can alienate. We should also seek to eliminate sources of inter-ethnic tension and conflict.

Of course, these things are much easier said than done.

Nevertheless, concrete steps - social safety nets, integration through grassroots engagement and community events, and blocking or refuting radical propaganda - can provide a solid foundation for a "united and cohesive" society.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 21, 2016, with the headline 'Address socio-economic factors that breed extremism'. Print Edition | Subscribe