Tackling the roots of radicalisation

Sunday 26/03/2017

In the past few days, lone terrorists have spread fear and uncertainty in Western European cities.
In London, 52-year-old British-born Khalid Masood managed to drive his hired car onto the pavement of Westminster Bridge, killing three people and leaving about 40 injured. He then fatally stabbed an unarmed policeman at the entrance to the British parliament before being shot dead.
The week before, there was an incident at Orly, the French capital’s second-busiest airport. Ziyed Ben Belgacem, a 39-year-old Frenchman, attacked a woman soldier. He was shot dead but the incident caused panic and temporary closure of the airport.
A dark thread runs through such incidents, one that has sadly been evident over and over in European cities in the past few years. The thread that links them all is unchecked radicalisa­tion.
Some of the lone terrorists are second- or even third-genera­tion immigrants. But terrorists’ ethnic origins do not explain how and why they became who they are. After all, many of them were born and bred in the countries they later go on to attack. It goes without saying but let it be said: Terrorists are out of sync with Muslim and Arab communities in Europe.
If anything, the London and Orly attackers were petty crimi­nals and probably acquired a dubious purpose in life from the agents of radicalisation that spurred them to act.
It’s well known that many terrorists spend time in prison and are exposed to the jihadist narrative there. A 2016 study by former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s foundation found that 65% of its 100-strong sample of jihadist leaders had been in jail. There, feelings of marginalisation could be turned into a weapon. It is a delicate task to deactivate these ticking human time bombs. But it can be done. The careful selection of prison preachers could be essential.
Of course, radicalisation also occurs on the internet and satellite television. And then, there are firebrand preachers in Europe’s mosques. What is heard there is all too often miscon­strued as free speech even though it is naked incitement.
Exposure to radical narratives, disseminated in all of these different ways, can have a powerful effect on the worldview of new converts to Islam. In fact, it is recent converts, rather than those who have had the benefit of more traditional religious instruction, who become more radical.
Much of the radicalisation in Europe has occurred under the auspices of various Islamist and Salafist groups. The Muslim Brotherhood is a major one of them. Former British prime minister David Cameron described the Brotherhood’s activities as “contrary to our values”. He said they had been “contrary to our national interests and our national security”. He based his position on a review undertaken by former British envoy to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins. But for whatever reason, the review never went anywhere.
There is an urgent need to shed more light on the process of radicalisation and its consequences. Such an exercise is impera­tive if we are to beat terrorism. Rhetoric is not enough.