Tackling radicalisation is an ugly business
The Home Affairs Select Committee report on the roots of violent radicalisation is published today, and it leads with a concern that far-right terrorism has been hitherto overlooked, and demands more attention. I gave oral evidence to the Committee, and think its conclusion broadly accurate. Nevertheless, there will be a clamour to pour money into tackling far-right radicalisation, and I think this should be avoided.
My scepticism is based on the inability of government policy to tackle something as complex as radicalisation, rather than a denial that it exists. The last five years of Prevent work with Muslim communities revealed, however well intended, tackling radicalisation is an ugly business. It was difficult to distinguish those at risk of violent extremism from who held radical – but peaceful – political or social views. It was difficult to know what sort of intervention actually worked to mollify or divert. It was difficult to effectively split counter-terrorism work from community cohesion work. It was difficult to identify local partners in this endeavour. It was difficult to do any of this without alienating large numbers of people. These hard lessons have resulted in a useful corrective, a scaling back of a lot of prevention work, coupled with recognition that the most effective response to countering violent extremism remains the hard-edge intelligence work: monitoring, intelligence gathering, disruption, and pre-emptive arrests.
The Government must bear these lessons in mind in respect of far-right (or in the future, even far-left) radicalisation. A new expansive effort to tackle this type of radicalisation could backfire more dramatically than the last Prevent policy. Certainly the English Defence League - as self proclaimed defenders of liberalism and democracy - would make hay of being targeted for government intervention, which might slow their continued demise and fracturing. Even though the Guardian are incapable of writing about far-right terrorism without a picture of the EDL, the terrorist threat does not come from them, but rather the neo-Nazi, white supremacist groups such as the Ayrian Strike Force, offshoots of the Blood and Honour scene and new iterations of Combat 18. The most valuable contribution of the Select Committee report is to encourage that the security services take threats from these groups as seriously as it does from al-Qaeda inspired ones.