Some Islamists cannot be saved

We need to get real about the limits of ‘deradicalisation’.

Frank Furedi

Topics Politics UK World

Once again an act of terror has been committed on Britain’s streets by a convicted terrorist who had served only half of his sentence. Twenty-year-old Sudesh Amman, who was released from prison just under two weeks ago, must have laughed at the naivety of the British justice system, which made it so easy for him to go on his violent rampage in Streatham on Sunday. He was imprisoned in 2018 for ‘Islamist-related terrorism offences’.

But, of course, we already knew that our practices for monitoring convicted terrorists were hopelessly ineffective. In November, Usman Khan, who had recently been released from prison on licence, killed two people near London Bridge. At the time, he was also participating in ‘deradicalisation’ schemes. Like many other resourceful jihadists, Khan knew how to game the system.

It is now widely recognised that convicted terrorists rarely become deradicalised in prison. If anything, people serving time are far more likely to be drawn towards the outlook of hardcore jihadist inmates than adopt a tolerant democratic worldview. It is also clear that the official deradicalisation programmes are ineffective. These people have zealously embraced a jihadist worldview. A few counselling sessions is clearly not enough to make them change their minds.

The way we deal with convicted terrorists must be overhauled. As a first step, it is essential that the various deradicalisation programmes we have are put on hold. As criminologist Dr Simon Cottee of the University of Kent explains, ‘the problem with deradicalisation is that we don’t know if it works. We don’t even know if it makes sense to reform or “reprogramme” jihadis.’ He adds that ‘these programmes frequently empower a coterie of extremism entrepreneurs with questionable expertise’.

Policymakers clearly do not understand the challenge they face when it comes to Islamist terrorism. They are wedded to the widely held idea that would-be terrorists are ‘vulnerable’ people who have been ‘groomed’ by charismatic jihadists. This is a big part of the problem.

After the terrorist attack in Woolwich in 2013, the then home secretary, Theresa May, said that thousands of people were ‘at risk’ of radicalisation. From this perspective, radicalisation is like a mysterious, infectious pathogen that infects groups of dissatisfied and alienated people.

This completely ignores the political, intellectual and social influences that motivate young people to embrace jihadist sentiments and support violent acts of terrorism. It presents radicalisation as almost entirely psychological, as cases of good boys and girls going rogue, resembling 1950s tales of American prisoners of war being brainwashed into becoming communists by the Chinese.

We treat terrorism almost like a child-protection issue. The authorities warn that impressionable young people are being targeted online, on campuses and at social venues by cynical operators. Back in November 2007, it was reported that the UK government’s Research, Information and Communications Unit was drawing up ‘counter-narratives’ to the anti-Western messages on jihadist websites. These jihadists sites, it said, are ‘designed to influence vulnerable and impressionable audiences’. It is a symptom of the political disorientation of those within the security establishment that they use the language of child protection to discuss the process through which young people decide to kill their fellow citizens.

So long as young, homegrown terrorists are regarded as vulnerable and psychologically disoriented people, we will not be able to contain the threat that they represent. It is far more accurate to perceive the Sudesh Ammans of this world as individuals who have made a choice and decided to declare war on their own community. Frequently, such individuals have taken the initiative to familiarise themselves with jihadist websites and literature. They are not so much the passive objects of radicalisation as they are individuals who have chosen a new identity and way of life. And once this identity becomes integral to their persona, they become ever more estranged from the society into which they were born. They cease to be young people looking for a cause and willingly become enemies of society.

In one sense, the difficulty successive governments have had in dealing with homegrown terrorism is understandable. It is difficult to accept that many young Muslims have chosen to reject British society. It is even more difficult to acknowledge that some have crossed the line into supporting violence. But it is time for a degree of maturity and realism to prevail. We need to accept that some people have irreconcilable differences with our way of life. We also need to understand that some of these people will do whatever they can to terrorise us, and that they cannot be saved, cured or deradicalised. We need to be at least as resolute in defending our way of life as they are in their attempts to destroy it. These people need to be deactivated, not deradicalised.

Frank Furedi’s How Fear Works: the Culture of Fear in the 21st Century is published by Bloomsbury Press.

Picture by: Metropolitan Police.

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Rick O’Shay

10th February 2020 at 2:26 pm

The only way to protect ourselves from these superstitious idiots is to stop ALL immigration of Muslims and to repatriate those already here. The nonsense constantly spouted by our silly politicians (“Islam is the religion of peace”—Theresa May) is risible and they should be held responsible for any deaths caused by these enemies they encourage to live among us.
To those who would say this is extreme, my response is that you too should be held responsible for all deaths and injuries caused by them, and you should be jailed.

Aunty Podes

8th February 2020 at 4:19 am

What strikes me as hihjly ludicrous is that it never seems to occur to any of these eager suicidal jihadis that extremely few, if any, of their imams seem in any rush to claim their share of the stock of virgins they maintain await the martyrs. Are the imams perhaps all homo-sexual or is it that they lack the dedication or courage?

Rick O’Shay

10th February 2020 at 2:30 pm

Jihadis who blow themselves up wouldn’t be any use to the virgins awaiting them as they would be flying mince (As Billy Connolly said!)

Jonathan Yonge

7th February 2020 at 6:33 pm

Always worth reading Furedi, he is clear and concise:

‘So long as young, homegrown terrorists are regarded as vulnerable and psychologically disoriented people, we will not be able to contain the threat that they represent.’

At its heart is the ‘bien pensant’/BBC worldview that plebs are stupid and therefore blameless.

Matt Ryan

6th February 2020 at 3:25 pm

First thing we need to address is sentencing. Any early release or only serving half a sentence needs to be removed as an option. A sentence should be the time you serve.
Next, any trouble in prison should lead to automatic extensions to the sentence.
Finally, we can then get around to making sure the terrorists aren’t released without being assessed for the risk to the public.

Michael Lynch

6th February 2020 at 10:14 am

Perhaps the armed Police unit that tail these types should just shoot them on sight as soon as they step out of prison; it’ll certainly save lives and a lot of time, trouble and money.

Jonathan Yonge

7th February 2020 at 6:35 pm

Difficult to argue with you:
If they had 20 armed undercover trailing this guy they must have thought that he would try to kill.

I would like the probation officer to explain to the victims why this should be refuted.

jessica christon

8th February 2020 at 3:12 pm

1) “Because that’s not who we are, as a society.”

2) “Because if we do that, we’re as bad as they are.”

3) “Because that’s what Isis would want.”

4) “Because that isn’t what Jo Cox would want”

… and so on.

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