Roots of violent radicalisation - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We suspect that violent radicalisation is declining within the Muslim community. There may be growing support for nonviolent extremism, fed by feelings of alienation, and while this may not lead to a specific terrorist threat or be a staging post for violent extremism, it is nevertheless a major challenge for society in general and for the police in particular. There also appears to be a growth in more extreme and violent forms of far-right ideology. Indeed it is clear that individuals from many different backgrounds are vulnerable, with no typical profile or pathway to radicalisation. However, there is a lack of objective data, much of the evidence inevitably being anecdotal. Only 250 people have been convicted in the UK of terrorism-related offences since 11 September 2001. However, there is a wealth of knowledge held by people working with individuals judged to be vulnerable to violent radicalisation at a local level that could better inform our understanding of why some of these individuals do become radicalised and, crucially, why some do not. One of the aims of the increased auditing demands to be placed on Channel providers should be the collection of a wider range of data to contribute to this evidence base. We recommend that the Government publish the methodology whereby this data will be collated and analysed, and make arrangements for suitably de-sensitised data to be made available to the wider research community. (Paragraph 21)

2.  One of the few clear conclusions we were able to draw about the drivers of radicalisation is that a sense of grievance is key to the process. Addressing perceptions of Islamophobia, and demonstrating that the British state is not antithetical to Islam, should constitute a main focus of the part of the Prevent Strategy which is designed to counter the ideology feeding violent radicalisation. (Paragraph 22)

3.  The Government notes in the Prevent Strategy that individuals "who distrust Parliament" are at particular risk of violent radicalisation. This appeared to be borne out in our inquiry, both in terms of Islamist and extreme far-right- radicalisation. Individuals are frustrated because they feel unable to participate in the political process and feel that mainstream parties do not recognise their concerns. This may not be true and we stress that we are talking about perceptions. Clearly there is much to be done by Parliamentarians and by the political parties to ensure that there is a nonviolent outlet for individuals throughout society, but we also consider that there is an insufficient focus within Prevent on building trust in democratic institutions at all levels. This should be emphasised more strongly, including how work currently being undertaken by the Government Equality Office to implement the 2010 recommendations of the Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation feeds into Prevent. (Paragraph 23)

4.  As with the scale and drivers of radicalisation, it proved difficult for us to gain a clear understanding of where violent radicalisation takes place. In terms of the four sectors we explored—universities, prisons, religious institutions and the internet—we conclude that religious institutions are not a major cause for concern but that the internet does play a role in violent radicalisation, although a level of face-to-face interaction is also usually required. The role of prisons and universities was less obvious. Much of the uncertainty relates to the fact that a number of convicted terrorists have attended prisons and universities, but there is seldom concrete evidence to confirm that this is where they were radicalised. The Home Office told us that violent radicalisation is increasingly taking place in private homes, particularly as the authorities clamp down on radicalisation in more public arenas. Given this, we are concerned that too much focus in the Prevent Strategy is placed on public institutions such as universities, and that it may be more accurate, and less inflammatory, to describe them as places where radicalisation "may best be identified". We consider that the emphasis on the role of universities by government departments is now disproportionate. (Paragraph 38)

5.  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. Given the fact that elsewhere some terrorist organisations appear to have identified recruitment to gangs within prison as providing an opportunity for radicalisation, we suggest that the authorities should be alert to the potential for a future threat in this area. We recommend that the Government commission a piece of research to explore these issues in more detail. (Paragraph 39)

6.  On the whole, witnesses supported the outcome of the Prevent Review. We too welcome many aspects of the new Strategy, which appears to address some of the major criticisms levelled at its predecessors. (Paragraph 41)

7.  A view was expressed by some of those giving evidence to us, and those to whom we spoke less formally, that the revised Prevent Strategy only pays lip service to the threat from extreme far-right terrorism. We accept that Prevent resources should be allocated proportionately to the terrorist threat, and that to an extent we must rely upon the intelligence and security services to make this judgement. However, we received persuasive evidence about the potential threat from extreme far-right terrorism. The ease of travel and communications between countries in Europe and the growth of far-right organisations, which appear to have good communications with like-minded groups within Europe, suggest that the current lack of firm evidence should not be a reason for neglecting this area of risk. The Prevent Strategy should outline more clearly the actions to be taken to tackle far right radicalisation as well as explicitly acknowledge the potential interplay between different forms of violent extremism, and the potential for measures directed at far-right extremism to have a consequential effect on Islamist extremism, and vice versa. (Paragraph 46)

8.  We accept that some universities may have been complacent about their role, and, while we agree in principle that universities are ideal places to confront extremist ideology, we are not convinced that extremists on campus are always subject to equal and robust challenge. We recommend that the Government issue clearer guidance to universities about their expected role in Prevent, following consultation with university and student representative bodies. We would hope that college authorities and student bodies will recognise that individuals or groups expressing hatred against any particular race or nationality is simply not acceptable on a British campus, and certainly needs to be challenged immediately. (Paragraph 51)

9.  We further recommend that, a designated contact point with relevant expertise within Government is provided to student unions and university administrators to assist them in making difficult decisions about speakers on campus. (Paragraph 52)

10.  The Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit does limited but valuable work in challenging internet service providers to remove violent extremist material where it contravenes the law. We suggest that the Government work with internet service providers in the UK to develop a Code of Conduct committing them to removing violent extremist material, as defined for the purposes of section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2006. Many relevant websites are hosted abroad: the Government should also therefore strive towards greater international cooperation to tackle this issue. (Paragraph 59)

11.  Given the impossibility of completely ridding the internet of violent extremist material, it is important to support defences against it. We support the Government's approach to empowering civil society groups to counter extremist ideology online. The whole area of communications technology and social networking is complex and extremely fast-moving. A form of interaction that is commonly used by thousands or even millions of people at one point in time may only have been developed a matter of months or even weeks earlier. It follows that legislation and regulation struggle to keep up and can provide a blunt instrument at best. Leaders in fields such as education, the law and Parliament also need to be involved. Evidence taken by this committee in regard to the riots in London last August showed that some police forces have identified social networks as providing both challenges and opportunities, with the message from one chief constable that the police recognised that 'we need to be engaged'. In respect of terrorism, as in respect of organised crime, the Government should seek to build on the partnership approach to prevention that has proved successful in the field of child abuse and child protection. (Paragraph 60)

12.  Good aftercare is critical to ensuring that prisoners who may have been vulnerable to violent extremist ideology in prison can make the transition safely into the community, and family involvement is critical to good aftercare. We are concerned that The National Offender Management Service has not paid more attention to ensuring that conditions of release do not unnecessarily restrict family contact and indeed actively encourage positive family support and engagement. Where there is a tendency for a family to reject the offender it can be important for the mosque to encourage the family to provide support and engagement. We are not convinced that the work of the chaplaincy in facilitating the transition from prison to the home community is as effective as it needs to be, although we were impressed with the hopes and aspirations which were described to us by the Imams we met and it is clear that there are serious moves within the Muslim community to create the necessary structures and arrangements.. We recommend that this is always taken into account. We also heard conflicting evidence about the level of support available in the community and recommend that resources are prioritised towards closing any gaps. (Paragraph 65)

13.  The National Offender Management Service must be an equal participant in the Prevent strategy, alongside other agencies. We are very concerned that prison authorities are not receiving feedback about prisoners vulnerable to radicalisation after their release. Such information would be critical to improving understanding of prison radicalisation and prison processes for monitoring and dealing with it. We recommend that the Government should a) implement a system whereby this information is fed back into prisons and b) develop a portal that would allow the relevant agencies dealing with prisoner intelligence, including the UK Border Agency, to share data more quickly and easily. (Paragraph 66)

14.  We fully agree with the Government that public money should not be used to fund groups who hold views that contradict fundamental British values. However, we are concerned that the parameters for this policy are not sufficiently clear and that the situation could arise whereby risk-averse public authorities discontinue funding for effective groups because of unfounded allegations of "extremism". The Government should draw up and issue guidelines with clear criteria to potential funders. We also note that several Channel providers have recently lost funding and there is currently a lack of capacity on the ground to deliver the Strategy. This should be rectified urgently. (Paragraph 74)

15.  The view came across strongly in our evidence that Prevent is most successful at the local level where it is mainstreamed into local safeguarding procedures, youth services, neighbourhood policing and so forth. We support this approach and encourage the Government to do the same. (Paragraph 75)

16.  Despite the Government's efforts to remedy this perception, there is a lingering suspicion about the Prevent Strategy amongst Muslim communities, many of whom continue to believe that it is essentially a tool for intelligence-gathering or spying. This might be mitigated if these communities felt more ownership of the strategy: the Government should be even more open and transparent about whom it engages with in the UK's varied Muslim communities and should seek to engage more widely. Only through engagement will the Government be able to get communities on their side and really prevent radicalisation. It would also be assisted by adopting a more pro-active approach to combating negative publicity, particularly in respect of the Channel programme. We saw plenty of evidence during our enquiry both of engagement and of considerable expertise within the Muslim community. This needs to be acknowledged and respected by the authorities in order to strengthen the foundations of the partnership approach, which is proving effective in many places. Finally, we believe there is a strong case for re-naming the Prevent Strategy to reflect a positive approach to collaboration with the Muslim communities of the UK, for example the Engage Strategy. (Paragraph 80)

17.  The language used to talk about Prevent, and counter-terrorism more generally, can have a detrimental effect on Muslim communities' willingness to cooperate with Prevent where it conflates terrorism with the religion of Islam. The Prevent Strategy largely manages to avoid this. However, those engaged in public life must ensure that the language they use reflects the same tone. (Paragraph 81)

18.  The Government recently reviewed proscription legislation as part of the review of counter-terrorism powers published in January 2011. We agree with the decision not to strengthen the law on proscription in a way which would allow for the banning of groups which are currently operating within the law, as the evidence suggests that proscription would not be effective and could be counter-productive. However, we are concerned that it is too difficult for groups who no longer pose a terrorist threat to obtain de-proscription, a move which might encourage some groups in their move away from active support for terrorism. We therefore endorse the recommendation of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation that the law be changed to make proscription orders time-limited. (Paragraph 87)

19.  Violent radicalisation is clearly a problem within the UK but it takes place within an international context and it is important for the UK authorities to be aware of developments elsewhere and to share information with partners abroad, both in respect of extremist Islamist organisations or movements, and in respect of extreme right-wing groups within Europe and America. However, the strongest forces against radicalisation are the partnerships of mutual respect and shared citizenship within the UK and within local communities in our towns and cities. The evidence given by Muslim organisations was impressive and we were encouraged by the evidence of greater effectiveness of local partnerships, of leadership within individual communities such as the student community, and the evidence of joined up thinking, for instance in preparing for the return of offenders to the community. It is important for the government to demonstrate, by action and words, strong support for these initiatives as well as maintaining the determination to support the work of intelligence agencies and the police in tackling those who choose the route of violence and intervening to protect those they seek to recruit. (Paragraph 88)

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Prepared 6 February 2012