Monday, December 10, 2007

Preventing Radicalization: What's Important?

The Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) has posted the proceedings of an August seminar on the radicalization process. The focus was on radicalization by Islamist groups, though some of the findings could certainly be applied to other radical groups.

As I've written - or perhaps it's "harped on" - before, understanding the radicalization process is extremely important for anyone who's interested in preventing terrorism on the local level. Recognizing a threat that's still emerging - and intervening at an early stage - can be far more effective and productive than trying to play defense against an array of more mature threats.

Unfortunately, much of the DIIS discussion focused on the question of "Who is likely to become a radical?" which I think is not the most critical question. For example, DIIS concluded that key factors in the radicalization process are:

The perception of personal marginalization combined with the perception of Western double standards in foreign policy appears to play a crucial role.

Additionally, individuals often join radical groups for political or religious reasons and in a search for empowerment but also in search for friendship and a sense of social belonging.
That's all very nice. If you wish, you can go about looking for marginalized young people who feel that the world is against them and are searching for "friendship and a sense of social belonging," along with a sense of purpose and meaning for their lives. But given that you've just described teen angst itself, you'll end up with a list so long as to be useless.

More important, from the perspective of prevention, is "During the radicalization process, what techniques and activities leave detectable traces?"

Unlike operational terrorists, for whom avoiding detection is a high priority, recruiters have to stick their heads above the ground and find the young people DIIS describes. Studying the recruiting process and recognizing its techniques will result in a more focused investigation.

There were, however, a few highlights worth noting. Kamran Bokhari from Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) - a former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir - pointed out one of the significant vulnerabilities of radical groups:
The radical groups ... are often characterized by a “revolving door” phenomenon. Very few of the individuals who join the groups stay there in the long run. This was the case for Kamran Bokhari himself.
Another worthwhile point was made by Marco Zannoni of the Dutch Institute for Safety, Security and Crisis Management, who argued that the de-radicalization process needs to be systemic and holistic:
Multiple tasks are to be handled in a de-radicalization process. A key point is to acknowledge that different authorities should undertake different tasks in any de-radicalization process at different points in the process. Any intervention involves multiple sets of tasks such as preparing, preventing, spotting, gathering information, monitoring, interpreting and responding to radicalized individuals.

For example the roles of a teacher or a social worker are quite different from the roles of the Police and those roles are crucial at different points in time. Any intervention should be targeted at an individual who might be radicalizing, but additional interventions are needed. Those have to be targeted towards the individual’s context/situation. Possible leads for radicalization, but also for intervention, can be found in the radicalizing/radicalized individual’s immediate surroundings: at school, at work or when they perform acts such as writing messages on the internet.
I was also curious about this nugget, found in the Recommendations section:
It is recommended to find inspiration in the confetti-approach/the New Dutch model, which consists of supporting many micro-projects.
I need to find out more about the "confetti approach." It sounds like a model for innovating new approaches and finding out what works.

Overall, the seminar's findings and recommendations are difficult to argue with. Who'd take issue, for instance, with the idea that:
There is a need to look into how trust can be created between authorities and relevant communities in order to make effective counter-measures...
At a strategic level, these sorts of discussions are worthwhile. On a more tactical level, you've got to ensure that your actions are focused on the right things. It helps to start with the right question.

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