Australia’s ‘Step Together’ hotline failure

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the New South Wales (Australia) initiative to help those vulnerable to being radicalised towards terrorist narrative or action ‘Step Together’ hotline, launched in June 2017 at a cost of AUS$ 3.9 million has been ineffective and seen as a failure. Attracting only 5 calls since its inception questions are being asked as its effectiveness. I will be discussing this on RT (formerly Russia Today) at 7pm BST this evening https://www.rt.com/on-air/

British soldiers suspected of being members of banned far right group

national action logo1national action at Liverpool

 

It has been reported that four British Army solders have been arrested for allegedly plotting a terror attack and being members of a proscribed far right group, National Action. In December 2016 National Action became the first far right group to be proscribed among western states. By being proscribed, National Action is now a terrorist group in the UK.

Over the last few years there has been a rise in far right activity, not just in the UK but globally. In the US we have witnessed the rise in far right group activity leading to violent clashes such as that seen recently in Charlottesville where a car was driven into a crowd killing one person and injuring nineteen others. Whether this has been in response to Islamist groups’ activity is questionable. Far right groups have been active in western states over many years, it might just be that in the current climate where many have concerns of recent actions carried out by Islamist  groups that pose threats to personal safety in day-to-day activities far right groups feel more comfortable in being more able to express their ideology. Added to this we have seen a rise in the popularity of nationalist political parties. This was seen in the 2016 Dutch elections with Geert Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom who secured a significant rise in votes and seats in the Dutch Parliament and Marine le Pen, the leader of the National Front party in France who ran second to Macron in the 2016 French presidential elections. It could be argued that the popularity of the likes of Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, who was one of the most strident in encouraging the UK electorate to vote leave in the 2016 EU referendum  with his message related to immigration and the slogan ‘We want our country back’ . It could be argued these political events along with Donald Trump winning the US 2015 presidential election with his xenophobic messages in the ‘Make American Great Again’ slogan have created a  safer environment where far right groups feel able to be more open and vocal in their message.

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The threat and danger to life far right groups pose should not be underestimated. Recent examples in the UK include  Zak Davies who was radicalised online and a member of National Action was convicted of attempt murder in June 2015 when he tried to behead his victim, a Sikh, who Davies thought was a Muslim. In November 2016 Thomas Mair who was also radicalised to the far right narrative was convicted  of murder after killing a UK Member of Parliament, Jo Cox in June 2016. In June 2017 Darren Osbourne is allegedly suspected of being influenced by far right ideology when he allegedly drove a vehicle into worshippers who were leaving Finsbury Park Mosque in London, injuring eleven people.

As Islamist terror activity has been prominent both in actual attacks and in the media, it is understandable that other forms of extremism seem to have either been ignored or not recognised by many people. This is why working to help achieve the aims of the Prevent strategy is important. It is better to help people at a pre-criminal stage who are attracted by an extremist narrative and as such are being drawn towards terrorism. It is not perfect, but it is the best we have got. All forms of extremism, even non-violent extremism that glories violence are dangerous and must be differentiated from activism. For a more detailed analysis of this issue see my article in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism ‘Prevent Strategies: The Problems Associated in Defining Extremism: The Case of the United Kingdom’.

UK Prevent Strategy

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In addition to the terrorist attacks in Spain last week, Europe has seen a number of similar attacks in the last 12 months ranging from Nice in July 2016, Berlin at Christmas 2016, four attacks in the UK, one in Stockholm, Sweden and in Finland last week. Apart from the bombing of the Manchester Arena in May 2017, all of these attacks had a similar method, that of driving vehicles into crowds and using sharply bladed instruments to stab victims.
Islamic State (Daesh) have claimed responsibility for all of these attacks, although it is questionable whether these attacks were carried out from direct orders from the group. It appears that Islamic State have learnt the lessons Al Qaeda faced when they were losing their strongholds in the likes of Afghanistan. Although Islamic State are losing control of the territory they have held since 2013 in Syria/Iraq, have lost the territory it held in Libya in 2016 and some of their cells have been seriously degraded, their narrative lives on. It is a narrative with a powerful ideology that is influencing individuals to carry out attacks. In addition to this, as with other states, Europe is also facing the prospect of some of their citizens who went to join IS in their self-proclaimed caliphate as foreign fighters are returning to their home state experienced in small arms fire and explosives. The question is how this narrative can be defeated.
The answer is it will be extremely difficult. In the UK the extreme far right group, National Action, was proscribed (that is classed as a terrorist group) and they follow the national socialist narrative from 1920’s Germany. Combatting a narrative is not a hopeless task and this is where the Prevent programme can help.
In essence Prevent is part of the UK’s CONTEST anti-terrorism policy. Its main aim is to help disenchanted and disaffected individuals who are vulnerable to being drawn to the extremist narrative that then influences them to carry out terrorist attacks. It is a pre-criminal stage where a number of agencies assist an individual showing them they do have a place in society and are valued. Where needed they are giving training, help with housing and they are supported with a mentor.
Prevent has many criticisms and in its original format Prevent was flawed as it only focused on violent extreme Islamism. As a result it alienated many Muslims who were seen as the suspect community and groups like Islamic State took advantage of this in their propaganda against western states. In 2011 the UK changed the approach of Prevent to include all forms of extremism and I found in my role with Merseyside Police’s Prevent team and with the current regional project I am involved with in the northwest of England (1002 nights), many individuals have been helped through Prevent. I agree with the UK’s Home Secretary, Amber Rudd that safeguarding people from becoming radicalised, either by the extreme right wing or Islamist extremists should not be a controversial aim and that Prevent has made a significant impact in preventing people being drawn into terrorism. It is to be welcomed that following the 2017 terrorist incidents in the UK the number of referrals to Prevent has doubled leading to Simon Cole, who leads Prevent in the National Police Chief’s Council, to say it was “encouraging” more people were contacting police about potential radicalisation adding:
‘But if we are to successfully stop vulnerable people from being drawn into violent extremism, then family members, friends and community leaders must trust us sooner with their concerns. Not only will that possibly stop another lethal terrorist attack from taking place, but it will also potentially prevent vulnerable people from being drawn into criminal activity from which there is no coming back.’
Prevent is not perfect, but no effective alternative has been suggested and Prevent is the best we have in the UK to help those being drawn towards terrorism. For a more comprehensive coverage, see my articles on Prevent in The New Jurist and Studies in Conflict & Terrorism.