Sunday, June 26 2016

HA committee report on 'Roots of Violent Radicalisation'

There’s considerable coverage today (Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Daily Mail and BBC) of the report published by the Home Affairs select committee on ‘The Roots of Violent Radicalisation’. The committee is chaired by MP Keith Vaz. 

The report itself contains some interesting points of recommendation and a re-centring of the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy away from manufactured threats of radicalization to focus on areas where a threat of radicalization actually exists.

The report covers a number of areas and stipulates recommendations as follows:

“We suspect that violent radicalisation is declining within the Muslim community. There may be growing support for nonviolent extremism, fed by feelings of alienation, and while this may not lead to a specific terrorist threat or be a staging post for violent extremism, it is nevertheless a major challenge for society in general and for the police in particular. There also appears to be a growth in more extreme and violent forms of far-right ideology. Indeed it is clear that individuals from many different backgrounds are vulnerable, with no typical profile or pathway to radicalisation.”

On disenfranchisement and political alienation as a causal variable to radicalization the report notes:

“One of the few clear conclusions we were able to draw about the drivers of radicalisation is that a sense of grievance is key to the process. Addressing perceptions of Islamophobia and demonstrating that the British state is not antithetical to Islam, should constitute a main focus of the part of the Prevent Strategy which is designed to counter the ideology feeding violent radicalisation.

“The Government notes in the Prevent Strategy that individuals "who distrust Parliament" are at particular risk of violent radicalisation. This appeared to be borne out in our inquiry, both in terms of Islamist and extreme far-right- radicalisation...Clearly there is much to be done by Parliamentarians and by the political parties to ensure that there is a nonviolent outlet for individuals throughout society, but we also consider that there is an insufficient focus within Prevent on building trust in democratic institutions at all levels. “

On the role of universities, the report states:

“As with the scale and drivers of radicalisation, it proved difficult for us to gain a clear understanding of where violent radicalisation takes place. In terms of the four sectors we explored—universities, prisons, religious institutions and the internet—we conclude that religious institutions are not a major cause for concern but that the internet does play a role in violent radicalisation, although a level of face-to-face interaction is also usually required. The role of prisons and universities was less obvious. Much of the uncertainty relates to the fact that a number of convicted terrorists have attended prisons and universities, but there is seldom concrete evidence to confirm that this is where they were radicalised.”

The report notes, significantly, “Given this, we are concerned that too much focus in the Prevent Strategy is placed on public institutions such as universities, and that it may be more accurate, and less inflammatory, to describe them as places where radicalisation "may best be identified". We consider that the emphasis on the role of universities by government departments is now disproportionate.”

This rightly contradicts the report published by the Henry Jackson Society which suggested that radicalization in universities was rampant and in need of urgent attention. The HJS report claimed, “The Government must finally tackle the serious problem of radicalization on university campuses with utmost urgency. The situation that has been allowed to develop is unsustainable.”

The select committee report does however, recommend better guidance to universities to help them subject purveyors of extremist ideas to more robust counter-views:

“We accept that some universities may have been complacent about their role, and, while we agree in principle that universities are ideal places to confront extremist ideology, we are not convinced that extremists on campus are always subject to equal and robust challenge. We recommend that the Government issue clearer guidance to universities about their expected role in Prevent, following consultation with university and student representative bodies.”

The Home Affairs select committee report touches upon criminal gangs and the causal link to radicalization noting:

“One further issue that came to our attention was that there may be a particular risk of radicalisation linked to membership of some criminal gangs, of which there is no mention in the Prevent Strategy.”

The report goes on to focus on the threat from extreme far-right terrorism, stating:

“...we received persuasive evidence about the potential threat from extreme far-right terrorism. The ease of travel and communications between countries in Europe and the growth of far-right organisations, which appear to have good communications with like-minded groups within Europe, suggest that the current lack of firm evidence should not be a reason for neglecting this area of risk. The Prevent Strategy should outline more clearly the actions to be taken to tackle far right radicalisation as well as explicitly acknowledge the potential interplay between different forms of violent extremism, and the potential for measures directed at far-right extremism to have a consequential effect on Islamist extremism, and vice versa.”

Notable among the many recommendations included in the report ranging from better guidelines on funding for community groups to mechanisms to enable Internet Service Providers to block extremist material online, perhaps none is as important as this paragraph, which is emboldened for emphasis in the report:

“Despite the Government's efforts to remedy this perception, there is a lingering suspicion about the Prevent Strategy amongst Muslim communities, many of whom continue to believe that it is essentially a tool for intelligence-gathering or spying. This might be mitigated if these communities felt more ownership of the strategy: the Government should be even more open and transparent about whom it engages with in the UK's varied Muslim communities and should seek to engage more widely. Only through engagement will the Government be able to get communities on their side and really prevent radicalisation. It would also be assisted by adopting a more pro-active approach to combating negative publicity, particularly in respect of the Channel programme. We saw plenty of evidence during our enquiry both of engagement and of considerable expertise within the Muslim community. This needs to be acknowledged and respected by the authorities in order to strengthen the foundations of the partnership approach, which is proving effective in many places. Finally, we believe there is a strong case for re-naming the Prevent Strategy to reflect a positive approach to collaboration with the Muslim communities of the UK, for example the Engage Strategy. “

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