Keynote from WFM-IGP Chair of the Executive Committee at the Universal Peace Federation event organized with the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy on how can commonwealth nations prevent violent radicalization on May 29, 2018






How can Commonwealth Nations Prevent Radicalisation?

UPF: 29 May 2018

Some of you may have seen a documentary last night about a young man with a father who was a first generation Pakistani who worked so hard in Derby that he created a string of kebab restaurants and was well respected. His good fortune enabled his son to go to public school for a short term and when he won a place from his school to go to university in London the family were immensely proud.  The programme was called Cult of the Suicide Bomber and that young man was one of the four suicide bombers who killed 52 people and injured over 700 more on the streets of London in 2005. What turned a respectable young man into a suicide bomber?  So many of those who commit atrocities in the name of Allah believe that they are doing God’s will and that they will be rewarded in the after-life. They turn out to be British citizens who have taken an oath to this country and who surprise their neighbours and often their closest families who have a very different memory of them.

They have been radicalised, some might say brainwashed, into undertaking these acts. Can that be stopped? Can they be identified at an early stage and prevented from going on to commit such acts? Can that degree of intrusion and possibly especial monitoring of certain types of personality as a necessary part of that identification be done in a relatively free society without risk of causing suffering, shame and ostracism to those who are innocent alongside the guilty? It is the same dilemma which confronts us when we place language deeply offensive to some parts of society against freedom of speech, held so dear in the USA that it is the subject of The First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

What is radicalisation? What can the Commonwealth do about it? Faced with violent extremism the Commonwealth Secretariat hosted a panel discussion of experts on 2 December 2015 which examined the role of formal and informal education and drew from the perspectives of health workers and other experts. The Commonwealth Secretariat Health & Education Unit seeks to stimulate a productive dialogue which can be built on to support member countries in countering violent extremism and radicalisation through multi-sector approaches based on the Secretariat’s Civil Paths to Peace model. This model played a central role in talks at CHOGM 2015, in which the Ministers’ Communique condemned violent extremism, acknowledging the serious threat this presents globally and encouraging the implementation of this report’s recommendations. The role of education was also specifically highlighted as having the ability to address the conditions conducive to grievances and alienation which can contribute to radicalisation.

The dictionary definition of radicalisation is the action or process of causing someone to adopt radical positions on political or social issues. There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with that. We have experienced radical thinkers and debaters in our politics and daily lives since the beginning of time. The extremism, however, which turns strongly held opinions into a deleterious impact on parts or all of the population is when the holder of those views sees fit to visit violence and killing on others. This is when the perpetrator has gone beyond the promulgation of views, however offensive (yet articulated in a society which tolerates a high level of freedom of speech), into a dark realm of killing those who do not share those views. It is perhaps one of the greatest sadnesses and what, for many, makes such actions so incomprehensible is that when they are done in the name of a particular religion, however perverted an interpretation that may be, the perpetrators are careless that many adherents of the same religion are themselves indiscriminate victims.

The Commonwealth asserts that governments must go beyond traditional approaches to security, to cultivate ‘respect and understanding’ between people. The Secretariat adds value to this agenda by providing a comprehensive policy approach to address this complex and challenging issue. A multi-sector policy approach engages all different sectors to cooperate and work collaboratively towards a combined effort to counter radicalisation and violent extremism.

This approach engages the Commonwealth’s ability to act as a forum for dialogue and consensus-building across borders, to foster and strengthen inclusive initiatives and cultivate mutual understanding. This is critically important to tackling the underlying mechanisms influencing violent extremism and moving away from the compartmentalising of individuals at risk and engaged in radicalisation.

In 2017 the Commonwealth produced a paper entitled Supporting Families in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE). It makes the obvious point that when someone becomes radicalised and behaves in an ‘extreme’ way, this does not only affect the person, but also their family, friends, wider social circle and society. Families, youngsters and children are confronted with recruitment by terrorist/Violent Extremist groups. Today’s reality is one in which radicalisation is not uncommon as a phenomenon. For vulnerable individuals and their social environment, current prevention challenges are detecting those who are at risk of radicalisation, being able to get into contact with them and support them and their families in a change of direction and supporting both the individual and their family during the disengagement process. Why families? Families are at the core of any individual’s resilience. Family members should be seen as partners. The objective should be to engage, build trust and form relationships over a longer period of time. There should be a systematic approach to the family (including understanding the family dynamics and wider social environment and community). Transparency towards the family is crucial to maintain a relationship. Although police involvement is necessary at times, the coordination and cooperation between them and family is of important. The paper sets out eight practical steps: identifying a (potential) case of radicalisation within a family, discussing a course of action in a multi-agency setting, getting in contact with the family, making an assessment of risks and needs, lessons & approaches to working with children, keeping track of progress and communication, preparing to disengage from the family and building and developing family support capacity.

In 2015 CHOGM determined to set up a dedicated Commonwealth Countering Violent Extremism Unit requiring strong action and co-operation. The role of education in combating alienation and grievance was acknowledged. A multi-sector approach is required. Mutual respect and understanding is required. Whereas in the old order of nations each country learned of its history from its own proponents (and, of course, history is very much who writes it), in the  new multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world with so many now living outside their country of origin through extensive migration those histories come together. They are now juxtaposed in the ethnic diversity of modern Britain. We should remember that the history of the East India Company written from a British perspective for children in the UK in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is portrayed very differently from that of those who were directly affected – the Bengalis and others in their own land which had been invaded. Yet the children of both traditions now sit next to each other in our schools. Their own story must now be told alongside that of the colonialism of Britain. Those histories must somehow be reconciled in a non-confrontational way, seeking the disinterested truth wherever possible.

With so many shares values, institutions, language and other attributes the Commonwealth is in an ideal position to take forward the struggle against violent extremism. I am delighted that they have taken such a lead over the last few years.

At a session organised by UPF on Local Government and the Prevention of Radicalisation on 28 June last year in the House of Lords I developed a theme that we need to bring localism to bear rather than top-down Government schemes which seem to indicate that one size fits all. It is local people, starting with families but also in clubs and gyms and other social venues who can notice a change in personality, who can see someone becoming introverted or obsessed with a particular narrative or dogma and, hopefully, investigate that within the context of the individual’s life. It is then that there needs to be a proper dialogue about what may be causing alienation. Islam clearly has a major role to play in local imams accentuating the peaceful nature of the religion and the abhorrence of violence as well as the haram nature of taking a life, including one’s own. To kill one is tantamount to killing all.

The road to the eradication of violent extremism is long and tortuous. It requires perseverance and experimentation of what works and what does not. Ultimately, however, perhaps while acknowledging that there will always be deeply disturbed people who, for a variety of reasons, wish harm to their fellow travellers it is building a greater sense of community and taking care for others that will help to extinguish it.

We need a co-ordinated approach on YouTube, video and transnational digital media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. National governments as well as international governance has a role to play but, ultimately, it is our own local society, school, community and our families which will play the greater part.

Keith Best



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