As the international community works to prevent new generations of radicalization in war-torn regions, debate focuses often on the problem of people uprooted from their homes—a population that has reached a record high of 68.5 million people. Public discussion in Europe, the United States and elsewhere includes the notion that displaced peoples are at high risk of being radicalized by extremist groups such as ISIS. Scholars and peacebuilding practitioners have rightly warned against such generalizations, underscoring the need to learn which situations may make uprooted people vulnerable to radicalization. A new USIP study from Afghanistan notes the importance of specific conditions faced by displaced people—and it offers indications suggesting the importance for policy of supporting early interventions to stabilize the living conditions of displaced people after they return home.
The truck attack on a mosque two weeks ago in Finsbury Park, London, represented two disturbing recent trends in terrorism. First, the manner of attack: There have been six major truck attacks in Western nations since December of last year—Nice, the Berlin Christmas Market, London Bridge, Westminster, Stockholm, and Finsbury Park. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are scrambling to find an answer to these kinds of attacks. Second, the profiles of the terrorists: The perpetrators have largely been either citizens or permanent residents from within the societies they attack.
Increasingly, the danger to a community or a country comes from inside rather than outside its borders. The solution favored by far right politicians and their supporters worldwide is to mitigate the risk of attack by preventing the movement and settlement of Muslims in western nations. However, most terrorism experts agree that this does not address the problem and is in many ways counter-productive.
Though the process is still very much still in progress, there has been no shortage of attempts to explain the origins, trace the trajectory, and draw out the conclusions of the Arab uprisings. However, the attempt by I. William Zartman in his edited volume Arab Spring: Negotiating in the Shadow of the Intifadat stands apart. This very prolific professor of international relations has over the decades—and through the pages of some 20 books—turned conflict resolution into an academic discipline in its own right. In the process, he has defined its parameters. Zartman is therefore uniquely equipped to place the tumultuous recent events of the Arab region in their proper historical and academic context. These were—and still are—a set of developments determined by a desire for change from an old to a new order and, therefore, at heart involved a negotiation of that transformation. It is through this lens that Zartman offers a conceptual framework for negotiating transitions, with a team of experts—most of them from the very countries where the events they describe took place—providing their insights. There is also a chapter on South Africa and another on Serbia, which serve as points of comparison. Recommended by Jose Vericat, Adviser.
Only use counter-narratives when objectives, target groups, and success criteria from the start can be described precisely and in detail
Do not base counter-narratives on the notion that it is possible to describe ‘facts’ about reality, but instead address feelings, dreams, and opinions that youths can relate to
Do not use campaigns that promote normality as a positive alternative to radicalism
Counter-narratives and campaigns promoting normality, are often highlighted as universal means against online propaganda from militant movements. However, such campaigns are driven by a number of unfortunate assumptions and are difficult to apply in practice.
We often turn to information campaigns to inform and instruct the general population. Such campaigns are also pointed to as possible tools, to combat radical and militant counter-cultures on the internet. However, reaching broad segments of the population is one thing. It is more challenging, to direct communication at a smaller audience, which cannot immediately be identified and defined, such as vulnerable youths, radicalised individuals, ideological deviants, violent extremists, foreign fighters, etc.
Simplistic, sensationalist media coverage of terrorism obscures our understanding of its causes, and hinders our ability to prevent it.
After each atrocity, social media hosts the well-rehearsed rituals of mourning. News of the identification of the perpetrators is frequently followed by condemnation of the double-standard of media coverage – in relation to geography (sometimes misguided), and to language, particularly regarding the word ‘terrorist’. (It’s worth reading the BBC’s guidance about why it prefers not to use the term altogether). In recent months, it has become clear that there is frustration about the application of mental health diagnoses, especially in relation to white male violence, as well as confusion about the relationship between mental illness and terrorism. This is a fraught and difficult subject, rarely discussed sensitively on a platform such as Twitter, which rewards simplification and polarisation.
After the killing of Jo Cox, there was justifiable anger at ‘de-politicisation’ of her murder: many media outlets chose not to highlight Thomas Mair’s links to far-right white supremacist groups. His act certainly fits the definition of terrorism (‘one who uses violence or the threat of violence to further their political aims’) – although this does not discount the possibility that Mair may suffer from mental illness, nor does it negate the importance of a diagnosis. Rather than a reductionist either/or (“Is it ideology, or is it pathology? Chemicals in the brain, or ideas in the mind?”), it’s important to acknowledge that mental illness can be a contributory factor, because violence is often a confluence of personal, social and ideological elements. There’s a public bravura that prevents politicians from acknowledging this nuance (those that dissent are forced to state the obvious: ‘to understand is not to justify’) – all of which serves as an indulgence of ignorance, a dangerous form of self-denial.