With concerns about home-grown terrorism, far right extremism or young people being attracted to Islamist groups, it is not surprising that a growing number of families may be worried that their children or relatives might be drawn into extremism. We try to answer some questions – starting with definitions (although it is important to note there is not universal agreement on these).
What’s extremism? An extremist is someone who supports an idea, cause, or set of values so adamantly and without compromise that this person will use their views to justify anything they do.
What’s radicalisation? Radicalisation is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals, especially with regard to support for or use of violence.
What’s terrorism? Terrorism is the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear in order to advance a political, racial, religious or ideological cause; it uses terror and open violence against civilians to attempt to force people, authorities or governments to change their behaviour.
What’s the government doing about it? The Prevent Strategy
The Government has a national strategy – part of a broader programme – called Prevent, which aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. It addresses all forms of extremisms. It is supported by legislation such as the Terrorism Act (2000/2006) and the Counter Terrorism Security Act (2015).
What is Channel?
Channel is part of Prevent and is intended to act as an early intervention. It is a voluntary scheme meant to encourage and support those individuals considered at risk to make positive life choices, steering them away from violent extremism and terrorism. It is a multi-agency approach including the police and local authorities, which make up a Channel Panel. There have been some concerns about how people are referred to Channel, particularly how people are identified as being ‘at risk’.
This is why understanding the process is important for both families and professionals. If a person referred is considered by the panel to be vulnerable, and the case accepted, the panel will put interventions into place, for example helping with education, health, housing or employment, or it might involve mentoring.
Can teachers refer to Channel without telling parents?
We need to develop a language that, instead of dismissive ridiculing, allows for engagement with ideas outside of our comfort zone. Our language should be inclusive and inquisitive and when discussing violence we should never assume one gender has a monopoly. As we explore concepts like violent extremism with young people, we need to be very careful not to recycle the gendered language we see across all media, instead questioning why it is there in the first place. What purpose are titles like ‘Jihadi Bride’ and ‘EDL Angel’ serving? Where are we seeing this language? How can we see past it? It starts with asking questions like these. Laughing at people we don’t understand is an age-old coping strategy but, more often than not, it does nothing to help solve the issue at hand. We need to employ the critical thinking strategies we encourage in our young people within educational settings. Doing this will prevent us denying agency in female actors, allowing more effective analysis of every agent’s journey to a violent extremist group.
Are there any warning signs?
The first thing to say is that there is no one set of
signals that would be a cause for alarm. Behaviours – such as increased arguing, dressing in a particular way, being active on social media or becoming more religious or political – might be typical of any teenager. When it becomes worrisome is if there is a combination of some of the following:
- when a person cuts off ties with friends and family to keep company with a new circle
- when they start to support violence
- when they suddenly become disinterested in school or activities they previously liked to do
- when they express hateful views or use derogatory terms towards other individuals/ groups
- if they are spending time on their computer researching extremist groupsif they are liking or retweeting posts made by fighters or extremist ideologues on their social media accounts
- Obviously, if a family member commits or plans violent acts, tries to acquire weapons or plans a trip to a conflict zone, then there is a legal obligation to report concerns to the police.
Recruitment – and how might a child be at risk?
Radicalisers have three main ways they work: face to face, on-line and through printed or other material. In face-to-face interactions, a child may be approached directly by someone who seems trustworthy – perhaps in a club, group or a religious setting. They would not straight away talk about a violent ideology, but initially just show interest, praise them and make them feel important. Later they might stress a young person’s significance to the movement, or duty to take part. They might tell of the rewards of belonging, or the excitement. Skilled radicalisers will find a point of vulnerability, even in children who are successful at school and who have a secure home life.
Indirect radicalisation can occur through peers, i.e. those who have already been conscripted and seek to draw others into their group. On-line radicalisation can again be direct or indirect – direct in terms of a person who is able to contact your child and who gradually builds up an on-line relationship; and indirect through your child looking at extremist material and becoming convinced to take some sort of action. Physical material in terms of leaflets, books or videos may also be offered – perhaps handed out at demonstrations. It’s important to point out that there is no one defined route to radicalizing a person. In some cases, people have self-radicalized via the internet.
What if a child joins an extremist group?
If a child does join a group, or travels to join a group overseas, report the situation and take advice from the police. Former violent extremists suggest that it is important to try to keep contact, and to stress that they will be welcome if they return, even if you do not agree with what they are doing. Being accusatory or angry at any stage may push them further. Radicalisers often use family tensions to draw young people further into a group.
What about online recruitment?
You can also anonymously report material promoting terrorism you have found on the internet to the Home office on https://www.gov.uk/report- terrorism
What should I do if I’m worried?
There is a scale of action, from informal conversation through to referral to authorities. Firstly, it is best to try to open up dialogue, not being judgmental but trying to find out what is behind the worrying behaviour. Young people often want to explore issues, for example talking about politics or religion – this is a positive thing. Former extremists often tell us that parents should try to keep the lines of talking open, try to listen, and tackle the tricky questions together. The idea is to help young people learn and grow, while building resilience to negative ideas and arguments. Talk to the child’s teachers, youth workers, community organisations and other parents – there are always people to get advice and support from.
Check for more details of our resources, workshops (for students and professionals) and videos on www.connectfutures.org