To prevent the radicalisation of Britons, it is soft power that has been shown to work, not ostentatious ideas like banning orders
In considering changing the law to combat the threat of Isis affiliates in the UK, the home secretary is following a well-trodden political path. Confronted by urgent and complex social problems, politicians frequently reach for legislative change. After all, it is a response giving the impression to an anxious and angry electorate that action is being taken. Unfortunately, in this case it will not work. A few symbolic tweaks to the law will afford some marginal gains, but won’t do the “heavy lifting” in preventing small groups of young people from seeking to join a hyper-violent Islamist movement.
Instead, government focus needs to be upon enabling the messy, unpredictable and contingent “dirty work” of local counter-terrorism on the ground, and learning the lessons about what works and what doesn’t from recent experience. This reflects what we know from a growing body of research about the radicalisation process.
Inculcating violent extremist motivations involves interacting “push” and “pull” factors. Pushes propel individuals away from contacts with mainstream society and values. Pull factors attract people towards violent groups – often by providing a sense of belonging, identity and purpose. Interfering with these processes of attraction and propulsion requires sophisticated and subtle preventative interventions.
In 2011 my research team at Cardiff University was commissioned to assess the delivery of the Prevent strategy in four areas of the country. We identified three key aspects. A lot of effort at the time was going into building community cohesion. Counter-radicalisation activities were focused on inhibiting people from taking on extremist ideologies and narratives. The least developed aspects of Prevent related to deradicalisation – altering the behaviour and motivations of those already exposed to extremist ideas.