Radicalisation: the counter-narrative and identifying the tipping point Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Background to the inquiry

1.In this report we have focused on extremism which affects Muslim communities (while recognising the differences between those communities in terms of integration, segregation and urban or rural status), and arising from the activities of terrorist organisations such as Daesh. We share the concerns about other forms of extremism, including political extremism. We are currently conducting a separate inquiry into anti-semitism. We have also issued a call for evidence on the effectiveness of current legislation and law enforcement policies for preventing and prosecuting hate crime and its associated violence; and the extent of support that is available to victims and their families and how it might be improved. (Paragraph 8)

Factors contributing to radicalisation

2.There is no evidence that shows a single path or one single event which draws a young person to the scourge of extremism: every case is different. Identifying people at risk of being radicalised and then attracted to extremist behaviour is very challenging. It also makes the task of countering extreme views complex and difficult. If the Government adopts a broad-brush approach, which fails to take account of the complexities, and of the gaps in existing knowledge and understanding of the factors contributing to radicalisation, that would be counter-productive and fuel the attraction of the extremist narrative rather than dampening it. (Paragraph 18)

3.The Government must take a much more sophisticated approach both to identifying the factors which instigate radicalisation and in the measures it takes to tackle this. We recommend the Government work with a cross-section of academic institutions in the UK that work on radicalisation, to marshal existing intelligence and research and develop a more effective understanding of the factors leading to extremism. This should include speaking to the families of known extremists to draw on their experiences. Without such a solid foundation, the strategies in the proposed new Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill are likely to approach the issues and entire communities in an unfocussed manner, and therefore ultimately to be ineffective. (Paragraph 19)

Role of technology

4.The use of the internet to promote radicalisation and terrorism is one of the greatest threats that countries including the UK face. We commend the work being carried out on a daily basis by security officials and the police to counter online extremism. The vital function which the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) provides in combating online extremism has been invaluable to date but needs to be enhanced, extended and much better resourced to meet the scale of the ongoing threat. Its funding, equipment and operation should reflect the urgency and importance of its vital function in trying to protect the public from fanatics and criminals. (Paragraph 28)

5.We need to win the cyber-war with terrorist and extremist organisations. We recommend that CTIRU is upgraded into a high-tech, state-of-the-art round-the-clock central Operational Hub which locates the perils early, moves quickly to block them and is able to instantly share the sensitive information with other security agencies. It is odd that when taking down dangerous and illicit material the CTIRU needs to waste time trying to establish contact with organisations outside the unit. Representatives of all the relevant agencies, including the Home Office, MI5 and major technology companies, should be co-located within CTIRU. This will enable greater cooperation, better information-sharing and more effective monitoring of and action against online extremist propaganda. We have also made recommendations about the role of internet companies in this respect. We further recommend that the security services address the lack of Arabic-speaking staff, and staff with Urdu, Kashmiri and Punjabi language skills. (Paragraph 29)


6.EU organisations, such as Europol, are a vital resource for the UK in combating terrorism and extremism, and the UK makes a considerable contribution to European cooperation on these activities. We commend the leadership shown by Rob Wainwright as the British Director of Europol. It is imperative that the Government negotiates an ongoing effective relationship with these organisations, including continued access to and contribution to information-sharing, in the forthcoming discussions on the UK’s exit from the EU. The USA already has a high status in Europol, despite being outside the EU. The UK should aim to emulate this position on leaving the EU. Our predecessor Committee has previously said that platforms should be created with Interpol to deal more effectively with cross-border issues, particularly terrorism which is a key cross-border challenge. Freedom of movement works just as well for terrorists as it does for law-abiding citizens, which the measures in place to tackle it need to fully recognise. The UK’s exit from the EU makes our relationship with Interpol even more vital. (Paragraph 30)

Social media industry response to online radicalisation

7.The internet has a huge impact in contributing to individuals turning to extremism, hatred and murder. Social media companies are consciously failing to combat the use of their sites to promote terrorism and killings. Networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the vehicle of choice in spreading propaganda and they have become the recruiting platforms for terrorism. They must accept that the hundreds of millions in revenues generated from billions of people using their products needs to be accompanied by a greater sense of responsibility and ownership for the impact that extremist material on their sites is having. There must be a zero tolerance approach to online extremism, including enticement to join extremist groups or commit attacks of terror and any glorification of such activities. Manuals for terrorists and extremists should be removed from the internet. It is therefore alarming that these companies have teams of only a few hundred employees to monitor networks of billions of accounts and that Twitter does not even proactively report extremist content to law enforcement agencies. These companies are hiding behind their supranational legal status to pass the parcel of responsibility and refusing to act responsibly in case they damage their brands. If they continue to fail to tackle this issue and allow their platforms to become the ‘Wild West’ of the internet, then it will erode their reputation as responsible operators. (Paragraph 38)

8.The EU rules introduced in May are a first step towards the internet companies assuming more responsibility. The UK Government should now enforce its own measures to ensure that the large technology companies operating in this country are required to cooperate with CTIRU promptly and fully, by investigating sites and accounts propagating hate speech, and then either shutting them down immediately, or providing an explanation to CTIRU of why this has not been done. This activity would be facilitated by the companies co-locating staff within the upgraded CTIRU and we recommend that this be part of its enhanced operations. We do not see why the success of the Internet Watch Foundation cannot be replicated in the area of countering online extremism. (Paragraph 39)

9.The Government must also require the companies to be transparent about their actions on online extremism; instead of the piecemeal approach we currently have, they should all publish quarterly statistics showing how many sites and accounts they have taken down and for what reason. Facebook and Twitter should implement a trusted flagger system similar to Google’s and all social media companies must be more willing to give such trusted status to smaller community organisations, thereby empowering them in the fight against extremism. In short, what cannot appear legally in the print or broadcast media, namely inciting hatred and terrorism, should not be allowed to appear on social media. This is all the more necessary when one takes into account Daesh’s view that inciting individuals to take action “in the heart” of countries is “more effective and damaging” to those countries than action taken by Daesh itself. (Paragraph 40)

Role of media

10.The media have a responsibility to avoid contributing to negative views of particular groups in society through unbalanced or unsubstantiated reporting. This is particularly important in relation to stories about extremism and terrorism involving people professing to be Muslims, and in reports about views held by Muslims, because of the impact it can have in creating hostility towards Muslim communities and alienating people from those communities, particularly young people. Islamophobia contributes to young Muslims feeling alienated from mainstream society, as we heard in Bradford and Glasgow, thereby potentially leading to them becoming more susceptible to radicalisation. It is not clear to us that all news editors are taking sufficient care in their handling of these stories and some continue to prioritise sensationalism over facts. They should refrain from using the term ‘so-called Islamic State’, and should instead refer to ‘Daesh’. We also recommend that they do not identify terrorists as Muslims, but as terrorists and followers of Daesh. (Paragraph 45)

Concerns about the Prevent Strategy and Duty

11.The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”. We have heard calls for Prevent to be brought to an end (although notably not from Inspire or the families of those who had travelled to join Daesh). Even the Government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorist Legislation has recommended a review of Prevent, because of it becoming such a huge source of grievance. Rather than being seen as the community-led approach Prevent was supposed to be, it is perceived to be a top-down ‘Big Brother’ security operation. Allaying these concerns and building trust will require full and wide engagement with all sections of the Muslim community, including at grassroots level—and not just with groups which already agree with the Government. The focus of the strategy should be around building a real partnership between community groups and the state. The concerns of parents about the lure of radicalisation, and their desire for support and advice, should be heeded. If stakeholders buy into such a strategy it can be successful, but unfortunately that is not what is currently happening. (Paragraph 55)

12.The Government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal. This will help communities to understand what Prevent is seeking to achieve and help to avoid it being seen as threatening to their culture and religion. As our predecessors have said in previous reports, we also recommend that the Government abandons the now toxic name ‘Prevent’ for the strategy and renames it with the more inclusive title of ‘Engage’. (Paragraph 56)

13.The Prevent Duty has placed a responsibility on educational establishments and other public bodies which they are finding very hard to fulfil. We are concerned about a lack of sufficient and appropriate training in an area that is complex and unfamiliar to many education and other professionals, compounded by a lack of clarity about what is required of them. We recommend that the Home Office appoint an independent panel to reassess the Prevent training being provided to education and other professionals, to ensure they have the confidence to be able to deliver their Prevent Duty in the context of the environment in which they work, and the need to continue to deliver their primary function. The review team should include frontline staff and should aim to issue new guidance on delivering Prevent, including the provision of clear definitions of extremist behaviour; and to specify the length of training which professionals receive and when there should be follow-up training. Finally, the independent body should be asked to report on the advantages and disadvantages of placing the Prevent duty on a statutory basis and the range of institutions which are subject to the duty. (Paragraph 69)

14.We have consistently heard strong criticisms about Prevent both from grass-roots organisations and from community members. The Government must do more to explain its approach to any new measures aimed at countering extremism in advance of them being implemented. There has been a great deal of counter-terrorism legislation over the past 12 years, some of which has been counter-productive, as the former Director of Liberty told us. (Paragraph 70)

15.The Government plans to introduce a new Countering Extremism and Safeguarding Bill shortly. It is imperative that this does not turn out to be another Bill that fails to achieve its objectives. Concerns have already been expressed about the approach the Bill is expected to take, including from the former and current national police leads on Prevent (Sir Peter Fahy and Chief Constable Simon Cole of Leicestershire Police) and a multi-faith alliance of 26 organisations and individuals. The Home Office has itself acknowledged that finding meaningful definitions is proving problematic. The Government must ensure that the Bill includes a clear definition of what extremist behaviour is and a full explanation of what the Government is and is not seeking to achieve through its provisions. This information should be made available before the Bill receives detailed consideration in Parliament. (Paragraph 71)

Border security

16.The Director General of Border Force has assured us that the UK has one of the strongest borders in the world and additional measures have been put in place since the horrific attacks in Paris in November 2015. However, we are not convinced that border exit checks operate at the 100% level which the Home Office has set, which would mean that every person leaving the country by whatever mode of transport was checked. Known terrorists like Siddhartha Dhar have been able to exit the country by avoiding the major points of departure and instead using smaller airports, ports and Eurotunnel, which employ weaker, purely digital processes. We call on the Government urgently to report to the House the conclusions of its review into security at smaller airports and ports. Even at the major airports it is the airlines, rather than the Government, which are operating as guarantors of our safety. Until 100% exit checks are fully in place, UK citizens under suspicion for encouraging extremism and prohibited from leaving the country will continue to be able to do so undetected, and could end up joining terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq. (Paragraph 84)

Seizure of travel documents

17.We were appalled to hear from Assistant Commissioner Rowley, the UK counter-terrorism police lead, about the apparent ease with which Dhar and others arrested for terrorism offences could breach bail conditions and flee the country, despite being asked to hand in their passports. It seemed incredible to us that the only follow-up action for failure to comply was a polite reminder letter from the police. We welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of the importance of seizing the travel documents of suspected terrorists subject to police bail to prevent them travelling abroad. We were very pleased that the former Prime Minister’s interest in this issue, in response to our concerns, led to the then Home Secretary tabling an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill currently before Parliament to make breach of certain pre-charge bail conditions relating to foreign travel a criminal offence, where the person has been arrested in relation to terrorism offences. The Government should ensure that the new legislation requires automatic notifications about individuals suspected of terrorism offences to be sent to HM Passport Office and the CTIRU, and that the handing in of a passport is made a pre-condition of bail. (Paragraph 87)

Support to families

18.The support made available to families of individuals who travel abroad to join terrorist organisations is lamentable. We were concerned to hear from Konika Dhar that she received no support from the Government or statutory agencies. Our predecessor Committee previously recommended that there needs to be an easily accessible advice and counselling service, particularly for parents, but also for other family members and friends, who wish to raise concerns and ask for help when worried about their loved ones being radicalised. We reiterate the recommendation for such a counselling service which would provide much needed support to families. We know that identifying the route to radicalisation and the tipping point where individuals start embracing extremism is complicated. By constructively engaging with the families and friends of people who have been radicalised, lessons can be learned, which is crucial to better identifying the tipping point for their transition to extremism. As a minimum, the Government must change the name of the ‘anti-terrorist helpline’ which can be seen as too stigmatising and makes people apprehensive about expressing their worries. (Paragraph 94)

19.We are never going to combat terror effectively unless the communities themselves take on a leadership role. It is these communities that stand to lose the most when atrocities occur. We were deeply concerned to hear CAGE’s views on not condemning terrorist acts, which we believe simply increases the sense of isolation from society that some individuals within the community feel. We also note CAGE’s sensitivity about the use of the term ‘religious fascism’. We commend the speed of organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain in condemning atrocities, but feel they could do more to expose and remove those who preach or advocate race hate and intolerance, and particularly those who draw young people into extremism. Such large community organisations must also show more effective leadership in supporting families concerned about their loved ones. It would be hugely beneficial for the new advice service which we have recommended be established to be staffed by trained members of community organisations. The Home Office should also provide support for existing community initiatives such as Families Against Stress and Trauma (FAST), including publicising their activities, to ensure that people are clearly aware of who they can turn to for support. (Paragraph 95)


20.The Government needs to have a more effective strategy to help those who have genuinely moved away from extremism and wish to reintegrate into society, just as it should also seek to support those families who have reported radicalisation by individuals or community groups. Indeed, ways should be found to harness their knowledge and experience in the fight against radicalisation if this can be done safely. The UK should look at the experience of other countries, including Denmark, which has developed a specialist approach to dealing with returning foreign fighters. There is no monopoly of wisdom on these life and death issues. We will look in greater detail at the “detoxification process” for extremists as part of our ongoing work on this subject. (Paragraph 99)

Building resilience

21.Engaging with and empowering young people is a critical element of the effort to counter extremism and provide an effective counter-narrative. From our engagement with young people who are most affected by these issues, it is clear that they are willing to discuss their concerns and share their views, and they should be given a safe space to do so. The Government must move urgently to develop a programme that helps these young people better develop the critical skills required to be conscious of manipulation and grooming and to actively question information they receive—both offline and online. It is only when they are equipped with these skills that they will be able to develop the resilience and tenacity necessary to deal with the complex issues of faith, identity and aspiration, as well as mental health, the role and power of women, the role of prisons, English-language skills and urban pressures. This is also why we have recommended a hotline that is not led by the security services. This resilience programme would best be developed through working with education experts, community organisations, social media companies and policing bodies, including Police and Crime Commissioners and senior police officers, which must all take steps to encourage young Muslims to challenge extreme interpretations of their faith. (Paragraph 103)

Developing and communicating alternate messages

22.The approaches to counter-terrorism of successive governments have not so far achieved the success we would all have desired (although the success of the UK’s security services in preventing tragedies on the scale which have been seen elsewhere should be noted). Instead, in some circumstances, they have created suspicion and alienation amongst the very people they need to reach. Most of the communities that one might expect to say that radicalisation was present within them gave little evidence that they believed it was on their doorstep. This raises suspicions that the extent to which Prevent has reached those it needs to is limited. This is exacerbated by the fact that families who identify radicalisation may tend to retreat, making them even harder to reach, and is a failure of so-called community groups. (Paragraph 111)

23.The success of Abdullah-X’s YouTube channel in appealing to young people shows how, if done sensitively and in collaboration with community organisations, Government involvement can be effective in engaging with the target audience. The UK has the brightest and the best talent in the creative industries in the world, including in video-games. We should be using this talent to ensure that every sophisticated piece of extremist propaganda is countered by even more sophisticated anti-radicalism material. The Government must facilitate regular meetings of the leaders of the UK’s Muslim communities, while also recognising that many communities have no leadership and taking the necessary proactive steps to reach out to them. These regular meetings should also include think-tanks with expertise in the field and the private sector, to begin to build a bank of best practice counter-narrative case studies that will help civil society and business to implement effective counter-narrative programmes. Its scope should include training for community organisations and working with former extremists to develop and target online counter-narratives. (Paragraph 112)

24.Terrorism is an overwhelming global crisis, and violent extremism is what fuels it. Countering it involves the portfolios of education, health, justice, home affairs, foreign affairs and international development. Local communities in the UK are ready and willing to enter the fray and defend the British way of life. The Government must not squander any opportunity to harness this beneficial force. It must forge and disseminate strong counter-narratives that will address the wilful blindness and blame-games of vested interests and combat the lies and deceit that the extremists want to feed to our young people in order to send them to their deaths. (Paragraph 113)

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2 August 2016