In an era where we are perpetually confronted with discourse enforcing that the British public are vulnerable to the threat of terrorism; it is interesting to explore the efficacy of our policy makers movements to minimise our exposure to violent terror acts. The British Government’s attempt to tackle the new, and fourth wave of terrorism, Jihadist Terrorism as Rappoport (1) states, has manifested into policies that have a considerable acceptance that ‘radicalisation' poses the main threat, not only to the West, but also to the Middle East as echoed throughout literature and media. This fear of radicalisation is reflected into the approaches implemented across significant European powers in order to protect citizens from the forever changing terrorist threat. The response is sculpted to accommodate for the multifaceted dimension of attacks from lone-wolf aggression to groups such as Al Qa’ida affiliates. This paper offers critique on McGlynn and McDavid’s assessment of the counter-radicalisation policy that aims to tackle domestic radicalisation. The Counter Radicalisation Strategy of the United Kingdom aims to identify early signs of radical thought from students in higher education . The investigation that McGlynn and McDavid (2) offer into Counter-Radicalisation and higher education is largely an area neglected in academic literature which places this article as increasingly valuable to the effects of government policy.
The article offers a logical development of points. The paper opens with a necessary background description of the Counter-Radicalisation policy which allows the reader to contextualise this study’s findings. The authors later take the reader on a thematically structured exploration of their findings. Their findings are extrapolated from the semi-structured focus group interview they conducted. Although, the article delivers a well executed formation of debate, it lacks clarity in its latter paragraphs in communicating a strong and decisive conclusion. It fails to state what their research has revealed about student attitudes toward the Counter-Radicalisation policy.
A core strength of this article is the detailed deconstruction of the government policy down to the critical linguistic analysis. McGlynn and McDavid indicate that the government’s usage of the term radicalisation is considerably flawed. This critique is based on their rightly identified understanding of “radicalisation” being a strongly contested expression. This is later corroborated in the text with the researchers stating that their investigation highlighted a largely disputed understanding amongst the student focus group of radicalisation. In evidencing the ambiguity of the term, the researchers interestingly question select students of their understanding of radicalisation. In doing so, there appears to be a difference in understandings amongst the group, the majority indicating radicalisation in a very broad manner encompassing those not entertaining in violence. Some definitions highlighted that radicalisation is a product of the process of grooming and others, placing a large statement on the wider context beyond individual culpability for radicalisation but more offering a sentiment of injustice. This is not only an interesting observation but a disconcerting revelation that opens up a fundamental and intrinsic flaw in government policies; its language lacks clarity and transparency which distances politicians and the public even further.
The contribution that McGylnn and McDavid offer in analysing the current ‘controversial’ counter-radicalisation government-led strategies further explores the systematic error imbedded in the Prevent Policy. The researchers particularly find flaw, and rightly so in that the Counter-Radicalisation policy seeks to prevent the radicalised “grooming” of students in identifying early traces of radical thought. The researchers ground their claims in an investigation carried out in late 2016 by arguing that the perception that students are susceptible and vulnerable is simply not coherent. The investigation revealed that students appear to reject notions that they are impressionable and likely to be swayed. Therefore it appears that a focus on grooming within an academic environment as a prominent cause for radicalised terrorist acts is significantly misguided. By focusing so intently on this suspected threat to a rise in terrorism, it may also ignore other more pertinent reasons behind the almost exponential increase in terror attacks in the West. There is also a comment to be made in that individuals may be radicalised through other means that are far more contemporary, fitting in with the internet based populations. This is a far more imperative area for governments to focus their efforts on as Dillon, Neo, and Khader (3) pronounce in their appreciation for considering the depth of the online environment. This article implies therefore, a significant detachment between government perceptions of students and the student’s perception of themselves as easily influenced and it appears that the government’s efforts in minimising the risk of student radicalisation is misplaced. While this may be a relatively small focus group to investigate all student opinions of this nature, it does provide a vital area for further consideration.
A large strength is that the authors pronounce their standpoint clearly throughout the paper. On the whole, they support students in feeling comfortable in challenging and exploring issues around terrorism in the academic environment. They also state that this academically stimulating university context does not have to operate in isolation from the Counter-Radicalisation. McGlynn and McDavid rightly go on to identify the flawed design of the Counter-Radicalisation Policy. The researchers critique indicates that there is a significant problem as radicalisation theories offer little or nothing in explaining the complex social world. They utilise over-simplifications of the terrorist issue to understand and construct their policy. It is fundamentally flawed in terms of the assumptions it bases its strategy of combatting radicalisation of UK students without looking deeper into the reasons behind individuals movements to identify with Jihadist terrorism.
Furthermore, the authors pronounce multiple consequences and various benefits, but largely pinpoints the alienating nature of such a scheme. It indicates that the strategy reinforces a stigmatisation of the Muslim community by inadvertently placing the Islamic demographic as the threat - an area that government policy should always be careful of fanning Islamophobia in this particularly volatile social terrain. The consequences of such distancing policies, whether intentionally finger-pointing or not, in a period where many scholars have argued the issue of nationalist ideals and the move from neoliberal/cosmopolitan appreciation is derived from a lack of assimilation or cohesion in society, it appears that it could instead of preventing the radicalisation threat, instead it is counterproductive in perpetuating the issues of increase contention between bubbles in society. This perhaps is an area within this paper that lacks gumption in fully stating the damaging affects of marginalising a particular social group. It has been argued by Cobain (4) that various studies have confirmed the risk within the prevent policy of violating the basic rights of adolescent Muslims. This is in accordance with the Open Society Justice Initiative’s recommendation for the government to rethink their policy.
In conjunction, although this article does offer useful and constructive insight into the strengths and shortcomings of the Counter-Radicalisation movement, it fails to mention a fundamental aspect of its counter-productivity. Many scholars have identified considerable research that Counter-Radicalisation encourages hate crimes and significantly disturbs the cohesion of communities (5). Although the government has claimed that radicalisation is far from a racist discourse, and this policy has the ability to stretch to encompass far-right violent activity, it is clear that internal logics comprise of defining religious populations as ‘other’. Whether this is an appropriate stereotyping response to the threats European states have been facing or not, it does present itself as a targeted policy in keeping with Islamophobic trends in Europe. Further texts also pronounce the necessary attention that this policy requires for its tendency to lean towards a discourse that resembles racial profiling. A government policy accused of such racism requires attention which this article simply ignores or fails to provide comment on.
On a methodological level, this paper also offers considerable detailed qualitative investigation into the attitudes of students regarding the Prevent policy. In doing so, it provides this ill-documented area of investigation rich and detailed data. The investigation evidences that the implementation of Counter-radicalisation does little in affecting the behaviour of academic university debate, nor does it instil an air of fear to approach conversations regarding terrorism. This can be explained perhaps by students being somewhat oblivious to the monitoring they are subject to. This is insufficiently, yet touched on that students of this particular focus group lacked understanding of this government policy. Perhaps this could be regarded as a positive aspect of this policy as it does not infringe on the liberating university context to explore debates that stimulate knowledge in the safety of an academic environment. However, it is a wider concern that university students are detached from government policies that are directly related to them.
Despite the findings of McGlynn and McDavid’s investigation proving interesting, the weaknesses of this exploration largely lie in the methodology. An investigation that solely bases their argument on findings extrapolated from a focus group is consistently weak. Focus groups systematically favours the verbal, dominant and confident participants which intern generates a considerably biased output. The results therefore may not fully reflect that of the general pubic. Furthermore, in questioning such a controversial and socially dividing topic, this form of data gathering might be difficult for certain people to have fully expressed their opinions and concerns. The artificial environment that the group were placed in also has the ability to influence the responses that are generated. Nor does this form of qualitative data allow one to project the study’s findings in the same objective manner as a quantitive research.
On the other hand, the prominent strengths include the researcher reflexivity of the limitations of a focus group to the quality of the findings. For instance, the authors state that their investigation looks into one of the designated areas of Government interest which does not provide a well rounded and generalisable finding. Therefore, the opinions of the particular focus group could only largely reflect specific societal concerns that interplay and affect the responses of the focus group. In addition, the use of a focus group benefits from the interaction between the participants which has the potential to generate new thinking in a stimulated environment. The focus group method also enables participants to develop conversations to open up raw and new areas of investigation.
Although the authors appear to criticise the shortcomings of the policy, they also shed light on the fact that this appears to be the first step in implementing some form of policy that looks into addressing terrorism from both outside and inside. An extension of looking at this terror threat at the constitutional level in identifying those susceptible to radicalisation, it is useful in addressing the problem at grassroots instead of simply detecting those already, by the British government’s identification, radicalised. Furthermore in critiquing this article labelling this government policy as a first step in solving the problem, they ignore terror management that predates this Counter-Radicalisation initiative. The Prevent Policy’s Counter Radicalisation strategy being stated as a first step implies that it is a new move to tackling this problem. It is not, however, as Tony Blair; the former prime minister of England quickly rolled out multiple measures to minimise the domestic face of terror in response to the 9/11 attacks. The Prevent Violent Extremism movements however were criticised for their primary focus on Islamic extremism, it later was revised into a new model that widened its scope to an investigation that encompasses deterring those from white working class communities in response to the resurgent far-right. Similarly, the Coalition Government later reformed the Prevent Policy to a more narrowed focus to a deterrence of violent extremism. Therefore it appears that there has been a series of revisions of this Counter-Radicalisation or policies of this nature which means that the authors are potentially praising this government strategy which excuses it of its aforementioned shortcomings. After the period of time that has elapsed government structures should be far more extensive.
Rapoport, D.C. (2006) Terrorism: The fourth or religious wave. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Terrorism_The_fourth_or_religious_wave.html?id=820p19yLdsQC&redir_esc=y (Accessed: 29 January 2017).
Office, H. (2014) CONTEST: The United Kingdom’s strategy for countering terrorism. Available at: https://www.counterextremism.org/resources/details/id/277/contest-the-united-kingdom (Accessed: 29 January 2017).
Dillon, L., Neo, L.S. and Khader, M. (2015) Identifying individuals at risk of being radicalised via the internet. Available at: http://www.radicalisationresearch.org/research/neo-individuals-radicalised-internet/ (Accessed: 19 February 2017).
Cobain, I. (2017) UK’s prevent counter-radicalisation policy ‘badly flawed’. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/19/uks-prevent-counter-radicalisation-policy-badly-flawed (Accessed: 19 February 2017).
Baker-Beall, C., Heath-Kelly, C. and Jarvis, L. (2014) Counter-Radicalisation: Critical perspectives. Routledge.