Groups like al-Qaeda must be "de-glamorised" and shown as "incompetent, narcissistic and irreligious", a report by a UK think tank suggests.
The two-year international study of Islamic radicals said terrorism could be defeated by making it boring.
Demos interviewed 200 people - experts, young Muslims and 58 violent radicals.
It found violent radicals had a poor understanding of Islam, compared with non-violent radical followers, and had more in common with football hooligans.
The study found the "cool factor" was the biggest draw to al-Qaeda and that terrorism could be defeated by demystifying and deglamourising jihad.
According to the researchers, violent radical Muslims were unlikely to have been brought up in a religious family, were less likely to have studied at university and to be employed and were more like members of a gang.
The study said the trick to fighting violent extremists was to show al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists could be incompetent and irreligious.
Satire could be used to undermine any "cool" image and governments should channel radical Muslims' rebellious tendencies into activities like overseas volunteering.
The report explored the roots of violent radicalism and the formation of terrorist cells in the UK, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and France.
Jamie Bartlett, co-author of the report said: "Young people are drawn to radical causes, and to rebellion against authority.
"For most radical young Muslims this takes the forms of protest, argument and learning - but for a minority, al-Qaeda might seem a 'cool' gang to join, even though the truth is that its members are ignorant and incompetent.
"This does not make it any less serious or dangerous. Terrorist activity amounts, all too often, to teenage kicks that kill.
"The trick for Western governments is to welcome non-violent forms of radicalism - indeed to provide opportunities for young Muslims to engage in exciting, 'radical' activities such as overseas volunteering - while maintaining a zero-tolerance attitude to violence and terrorism."