Recent atrocities in Paris and Copenhagen and the sight of young Muslims travelling abroad to join jihadist groups have led to a renewed emphasis by Western governments on the need for greater security and to tackle what they see as the problem of ‘radicalisation’ – the process by which young Muslims are supposedly ‘groomed’ and get drawn into jihadist circles.
As part of the “Prevent” strategy, set up following the 7/7 London bombings, the UK government has recently passed the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. This aims to disrupt the ability of people to travel abroad to engage in terrorist activity and increase state surveillance. It also places a duty on public bodies – including local authorities and education sector – to “prevent people being drawn into terrorism”, and targets those deemed “vulnerable” to extremism – defined as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”.
While some rightly question the civil liberties implications of such measures, as well as their practicality, a more important question is what motivates such actions in the first place? Is ‘radicalisation’ the best way to understand why a significant minority of often bright, young Muslims has developed such a powerful sense of hostility towards the societies in which they were born that they’re willing to commit terrorist acts and join Islamist groups? Or does it detract from examining a more fundamental crisis of confidence and meaning within Western societies themselves – of a failure to uphold any values worth defending? So do simplistic narratives about ‘radicalisation’ miss the complex roots of homegrown terrorism? What should our response be to the threat posed by Islamist, and other, groups and individuals? And may the proposed solutions not just betray the very liberties that are meant to define us but promote the very fear the terrorists want?