A very brief piece for the BBC as part of a group of pieces they commissioned about radicalisation and what to do about it in the wake of last week’s incident in Woolwich. It was longer, but got shrunk, and I owe colleagues at RUSI a debt for helping keep it focused.
Radicalisation is defined in the government’s Prevent strategy as “the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism”.
It is a social process but also a deeply personal experience. The pathway by which one person is radicalised can have a completely different effect on someone else. This makes it very difficult to devise a one-size-fits-all answer to the problem. Instead, a menu of tools is necessary to address different causes.
Countering influences online and offline is harder than it might sound. Simply shutting down websites and arresting individuals do not necessarily eliminate the problem.
On the contrary, such moves can drive people underground, making them potentially more appealing and attractive, or they will simply adapt to be on the right side of any ban.
This is not just a law enforcement issue. As a society we need to counter the all-encompassing narrative that states that the West is at war with Islam. This is a message that should be repeatedly rejected at every level: politician, community worker, citizen.
Coupled with this, our societies should engage in practices that highlight how open and free we are, and hold power to account when mistakes are made.
The sad truth, however, is that certain decisions that are made will be interpreted by extremists as something that supports their worldview. Very little will be ultimately possible to persuade them otherwise.
The answer is to recognise and acknowledge where we make mistakes and realise that society will always have its discontents.