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Last week I was helping to run an international conference in Copenhagen run by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue on de-radicalisation and disengagement. We were working with the Danish Ministry for Integration as part of the Danish Presidency of the EU.

Bringing together a mix of policy makers, politicians, practitioners and former extremists, we looked at best practice in helping extremists to exit from their movements and ways in which policy and mainstream services, such as prisons, probation and welfare services, can assist.

I wrote a paper for the conference setting out what we know about de-radicalisation and disengagement, latest thinking, and a series of examples of good practice.

I am in Stockholm to help launch the Swedish action plan to safeguard democracy against violence-promoting extremism.

The Swedes are unique in their approach – they are preventing violent extremism not by focus on what they don’t want to happen, but on what they positively want to see happen instead – strong and vibrant democracy. It makes a refreshing change after efforts from many other European countries that have failed to get the buy-in of vast swathes of the communities that need to be engaged. 

The action plan has six aims:

  • Enhancing awareness of democratic values
  • Increasing knowledge about violence-promoting extremism
  • Developing the structures for cooperation
  • Preventing individuals from joining violent extremist groups and supporting defectors
  • Countering the breeding grounds for ideologically motivated violence
  • Deepening international cooperation   

It was launched today to an audience of 200 municipality workers, social workers, community activists, and non-governmental organisations, and there is a real appetite from Sweden to learn from experiences in the rest of Europe and in turn spread the lessons – good and bad – that they learn as they operationalise the plan in the coming months and years.

I have co-written a piece in a new report about the ‘new radical right’ in Europe, which analyses latest trends among violent and non-violent right wing movements. There are excellent pieces by Vidhya Ramalingam from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Dr Matthew Goodwin of Nottingham University. The piece I have co-written pulls out some of the key policy recommendations.

I have written a paper setting out how the Internet is used by terrorists – from radicalisation and recruitment, to communication, planning attacks and spreading violent narratives. It also begins to explores some of the ways that governments and civil society do – and could – use the Internet as a weapon against terrorists. But more work is needed on this issue of growing importance, as highlighted last week by the Home Affairs Select Committee report on the roots of radicalisation.

The UK Parliament Home Affairs Select Committee has published the results of its enquiry into the roots of radicalisation. They conclude that:

  • Radicalisation is declining within Muslim communities in the UK, but there has been a growth in right-wing violent extremism;
  • The UK government should collate and make available – where possible – data from the Channel programme of interventions with individuals deemed to be at risk from radicalisation;
  • Grievance is a driver for radicalisation, which means that tackling Islamophobia needs to be part of the Prevent strategy;
  • There needs to be a stronger emphasis within the Prevent strategy on building trust in democratic institutions and the democratic process;
  • The Internet seems to play a more important role in the radicalisation process than universities, religious institutions or universities;
  • Further research is needed into the link between recruitment into radical groups and criminal gangs;
  • More emphasis is needed on the threat from far right violent extremism;
  • Clearer guidance is needed for universities about their role and there needs to be a clear contact point within government for student unions and university administrators;
  • Gaps in support need to be plugged for prisoners being released back into the community, and there needs to be a more regular flow of information between prison and probation systems.

The report can be downloaded here.

Today I have been in Brussels for the launch of the European Commission’s new Radicalisation Awareness Network. It is an interesting initiative that paves the way for an EU-wide, systematic, and cross-sector approach to ensuring that those on the frontline – teachers, doctors, police officers, and social workers – not only understand their role within the wider framework of tackling terrorism, but have the chance to share their experiences and feed into policy making.

This kind of thing happens little enough at national or even local levels. So for the European Commission to be spearheading this initiative is important.

There are of course many questions that remain: how do you ensure its independence, how do you make sure it engages the right people, can it be properly resourced to deliver the right products? All this remains to be seen, but it is something to watch in the coming months.

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