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Religion and radicalisation

Religion and radicalisation

Categories: Latest News

Thursday January 15 2015

There is some sensible commentary in the press that is deserving of a wider readership to counter-balance the hyperbole and bias promoted elsewhere in the press.

Associate Professor Anne Aly in a comment piece available on the Guardian’s Comment is Free draws on her research into terrorism to dismiss the idea that religion in general and Islam in particular, is the pre-eminent driver of radicalisation. She argues, “The fact is that the role of religion in radicalisation (and deradicalisation) is grossly overestimated. There is actually no empirical evidence to support the claim that religion (any religion) and ideology are the primary motivators of violent extremism. The revelation that wannabe foreign fighters prepared for battle by reading copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies, underscores this.

“Factors such as anger at injustice, moral superiority, a sense of identity and purpose, the promise of adventure, and becoming a hero have all been implicated in case studies of radicalisation.”

Her observations were echoed in the inquiry report of the Communities and Local Government select committee in 2010 which criticised the then Labour Government’s  approach to preventing violent extremism for its preoccupation with “the theological basis of radicalisation, when the evidence seems to indicate that politics, policy and socio-economics may be more important factors in the process. Consequently, we suggest that attempts to find solutions and engagement with preventative work should primarily address the political challenges.”

In a report published by the Home Affairs select committee into the Roots of Violent Radicalisation, a similar observation was made about the significant impact alienation and marginalisation had on radicalisation with the committee observing, akin to Aly’s argument, that that Government was failing to combat problems of individuals feeling disconnected or “who distrust Parliament”.

The Home Affairs select committee made another observation that is reinforced in Aly’s research and that relates to an individual’s previous involvement in violent sub-cultures. The report noted, “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.”

Aly’s argument that “Attempts to engage young people who are becoming involved in violent extremism through religious discussion have had little success” is particularly relevant given that the Prime Minister’s Extremism Taskforce report in 2013 defined ‘Islamist extremism’ as “an ideology” arising from a “distorted interpretation of Islam”.

Aly’s study recalibrates the over-emphasis on religion and the neglect of socio-political and personal factors when dealing with the drivers of radicalisation. With the new Counter-terrorism and Security Bill fast-tracking its way through parliament, her informed approach to tackling radicalisation is timely.

In a comment piece on a related subject, with the Charlie Hebdo murders bringing radicalisation and counter-terrorism policy to the fore, Tess Finch Lees in the Independent reflects on the concept of free speech in relation to majority-minority relations in an unequal society.

Lees observes “Mockery as a tool to hold a mirror up to the powerful, is legitimate and strengthens democracy. Wielded against the marginalized and disenfranchised minority however, it’s cruel, divisive and its proponents threaten the democratic principles they claim to uphold.”

Her remarks chime with the comments of former Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, who in a lecture at Theos in 2008, uttered similar sentiments explaining the BBC’s approach to covering religion. Thompson said, “What Christian identity feels like it is about to the broad population is a little bit different to people for whom their religion is also associated with an ethnic identity which has not been fully integrated.”

“There’s no reason why any religion should be immune from discussion, but I don’t want to say that all religions are the same. To be a minority I think puts a slightly different outlook on it.”

Lees goes on to argue, in similar vein to Aly, that socio-economic factors and cultural exclusion have a huge bearing on the potential radicalisation of individuals stating “If you have nothing, there’s nothing left to lose.”

Addressing the issue of the marginalisation of religious minorities, Sir Alan Duncan, former Minister for International Development, is mentioned in anarticle on Huffington Post for his speech at an event organised by British Muslim charity Islamic Relief.

Duncan spoke of British Muslims being ‘neglected’ by the political classes saying, I feel forced to admit that, politically, I think they receive less attention and enjoy less understanding than they deserve. We should make it clear, as we approach the general election, and indeed at all times, that our own Muslims matter.

“This election campaign is an opportunity to correct the neglect they feel, and which in my view is a neglect that is real. To some extent, all parties have either taken them for granted, patronised them, or paid insufficient attention of any sort. So let me say clearly to all UK citizens who are Muslim: You are not second class, you are not neglected, you are not unwanted.”


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