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Tahir Abbas promoted to full professor of Radicalization Studies: ‘I consider myself blessed to have this opportunity’

Tahir Abbas was named full professor of radicalization studies by the Executive Board. This chair, according to Abbas, is an excellent opportunity for ISGA to broaden its current focus on terrorism and political violence. Abbas was interviewed about his ambitions, writing as a form of relaxation, and how this decade represents his greatest opportunity.

Tahir Abbas |Photo: Arash Nikkhah

Abbas’ primary goal is to amalgamate his previous work on extremism, violence, and social conflict under the banner of radicalization. Abbas: ‘We already have a chair on terrorism and counterterrorism that focuses on the pressing issues of dealing with extremism and political violence that are right in front of us, but we don’t really have a focus on some of the broader social, political, and historical appreciations of extremism and political violence. My research has inextricably linked sociology, Islamic studies, critical terrorism studies, and political science. This chair allows me to confidently bring it all together under one banner.’

‘Historically, I’ve operated at the margins of departments of sociology, Islamic studies, or even criminology, but this chair is perfect because the Institute of Security and Global Affairs traverses different subjects and concepts.’

There aren’t enough hours in the day

Abbas is engaged in a number of research projects at the same time. He also hopes to complete his seventh solo-authored book this year, supervises two PhD students, and has at least three or four articles under review at any given time, and this is just a partial list of his activities. Is there any time for him to unwind in his life? Abbas smiles. ‘Before the pandemic, I used to go to the gym three times a week and to the yoga studio twice a week. I also ran twice a week, and while I can practise yoga at home and run in The Hague’s beautiful mini-forests, I’ve missed the gym. I recently re-started playing chess. A couple of months ago, I moved into a new apartment, and the walls are currently very plain, but my plan is to dust off my drawing pencils and paintbrushes and begin creating some intriguing art to hang on them.’

Abbas considers writing to be a form of relaxation. ‘It helps me to contain my ideas in part, but it also serves as a form of release, especially when I’m discussing extremely difficult and complex topics like politics, extremism, and violence. I’ve also had some poetry published, albeit under a pseudonym. It’s cathartic for me to get it all out on paper and into the world.’

Intensive fieldwork in a single year

As the scientific coordinator of the Horizon 2020 Drive project, Abbas is putting in a lot of time and effort. ‘We are a group of 21 people from five countries, and we still have two years of fieldwork, analysis, and reporting ahead of us, followed by several years of publications and research output. We intend to conduct a large number of interviews, focus groups, and field observations this year. This is a difficult task, but we are determined to complete it, and the consortium's outstanding research team is eager to provide Europe with possibly the most sophisticated and extensive data set on the nature of participation in extremist milieus.’

Abbas and his team have had a difficult time as a result of the pandemic. ‘It’s fascinating, but it’s also incredibly challenging due to the constraints imposed by Covid. In reality, we’d only met twice in the previous 12 months. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get together again sooner rather than later.’


All of the work that needs to be done should keep Abbas busy throughout the 2020s, he believes. ‘I’m in my early 50s and consider this decade to be my best yet,’ he smiles broadly. ‘But seriously, I consider myself blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity, and I am grateful to Leiden University for granting me this status and believing in my ability to pursue my vision of research and teaching. In terms of what I expect from my institute colleagues and the university as a whole, I believe I expect more of the same.’

Continue to innovate and expand

Perhaps this needs to be explained. ‘I am a firm believer in the importance of internationalisation for the future of universities. I believe we’re on the right track as long as we keep innovating and nurturing, as well as recruiting and supporting the brightest minds. Leiden University, in my opinion, is uniquely qualified to play an important role in this endeavour. I am honoured to be a part of this journey.'

Text: Margriet van der Zee

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