"It is the communities that defeat terrorism, not the police"
-- Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair
There is a growing realisation that in our global struggle against terrorism, we are not fighting a global terrorist monolith. While many have tried to characterise Al Qaeda in traditional terms – global infrastructure, clear leadership, structure and form, shared aims – it is now becoming increasingly apparent that things are not that straightforward. Al Qaeda is an ideology, not a structure; there are sympathies not links across borders; motives swing between discrete political goals (regime change in Saudi Arabia), wide-ranging ambitions (an end to Western hegemony) and the resolution of long-running local and pre-existing battles (Jemaah Islamiyah, the group behind the Bali bombing, in Indonesia); and the means of attack range from high-tech spectaculars (September 11) to ‘old school’ car and truck bombs outside nightclubs and embassies (the 2003 attack on the British consulate in Turkey). How the global community deals with this growing political extremism is a critical challenge.
In recent months, security experts have begun to talk about the ‘three tiers’ of terrorists, what Rumsfeldian scholars might call the ‘known knowns’ (those with clear and largely known links to Al Qaeda), the ‘known unknowns’ (those the authorities don’t know individually, but are able to locate points of vulnerability within communities, who have some contact with known operatives and who have probably received some form of training) and the ‘unknown unknowns’ (the people who have the potential to turn to radicalism, but are currently leading normal lives).
Many of our counter-terrorism policies and practices, including the changes brought in after September 11, are well-suited to dealing with the first tier, and to some extent the second tier of terrorists and potential terrorists. But there are continuing gaps relating to the third tier. This was, unfortunately, brought into sharp focus in London on July 7, when four ‘fresh-skinned’ young men were able to slip through the intelligence net to blew themselves up on three packed tube trains and the number 30 bus. And as police and the Security Service hunted for the would-be bombers of July 21, and the subsequent arrests have shown, the extent of the ‘disconnect’ between our security architecture and some parts of Muslim communities came into sharp focus.
One of the key lessons, therefore, must be that we need to complement our current counter-terrorism machinery with a more bottom-up approach that is able to take the efforts right into the heart of communities around the country. Sir Ian Blair’s comment reminds us of the need for terrorism to be fought on the ‘home front’. To this end, the Home Office is working in partnership with Muslim community leader on strategies for tackling extremism, the Security Service will be opening a number of regional outposts and the Special Branch has announced greater activity at the local level, too. And, of course, the soul searching continues within Muslim communities themselves across the country.
Although the July bombings have focused minds in London, this is a challenge facing security communities right across Europe. In March 2004, the multiple bombings in Madrid killed just under 200 people and have resulted in enhanced counter-terrorism policies and practices there; the killing of controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh have caused a shock-wave in the liberal Netherlands and heightened anxiety within the normally tolerant society; and countries across the EU are facing up to the challenges of growing immigration, continued isolation of minority groups and the social unrest this causes, as exemplified by the riots in Paris last year.
This project explored the value of what might be termed ‘community-based counter-terrorism’ in responding to the changing nature of the terrorist threat within European countries. As the planned governmental and community initiatives begin their work, this project stands back and looks at how such an approach can deliver results in practice on the ground. It addresses questions such as how the relevant agencies – intelligence, security, community groups, local authorities, police, local public services, central government and European institutions – can work more effectively at the local level; how authorities can ensure they avoid viewing Muslims as a homogenous group; how they can ensure they reach the right people within Muslim communities, especially women and young people, and go beyond the self-selecting leaders that so often represent these communities; how they can manage the risk that their actions undermine community relations and reduce their legitimacy; and what this means for other actors, such as politicians and the media.
To read the report on Wilton Park conference "Towards a Community-based approach to counter-terrorism" from March 2006 please click here
The final report - Bringing it Home: Community-based approaches to counter-terrorism can be read here.
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