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Friday, 20 February 2015

Richard Barrett admits that the West has no ideas at all to counter the propaganda of Islamic State

I have a number of ideas that would most certainly help, but no one listens to me ...

A teenager who converted to Islam less than a year ago and idolised the killers of Fusilier Lee Rigby is facing a lengthy jail term after being found guilty of plotting to behead a British soldier. Nineteen-year-old Brusthom Ziamani was believed to be on his way to carry out his plan when he was arrested in east London in August last year carrying a 12in knife and a hammer in a rucksack. Richard Barrett is a former director of global counter-terrorism operations for MI6 and former coordinator of the Al-Qai'da Monitoring Team at the UN and Hanif Qadir is founder and CEO of The Active Change Foundation, a grass roots charity created to prevent & counter violent extremism & terrorism.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b052m59j From 1:52


JN:

The conviction of a London teenager for planning to behead a soldier apparently reminded people of the problem of identifying individuals who are often caught up sometimes very quickly in the world of extreme jihadism. You will know that President Obama has convened a conference in Washington to bring together governments and others facing similar problems. The Home Secretary is one of attendees but answers are very difficult to find. I have been speaking to Richard Barrett who has been attending the conference. He is Vice President for Special Projects at the Sufan Group in New York and United Nations for anti-terrorism and before that was Head of Counter-terrorism at MI6. We talked about radicalisation and I asked him whether the assumption now was that this would be with us for a generation.

RB:

This idea that teenage angst in the case of Ziamani - that's always been with us and will always be with us. It is just the expression of that angst which changes. One generation might throw a brick through a shop window, another generation might go off and join the Islamic State to fight.

JN:

I think what people who are not subject to these pressures and influences find it difficult to understand is the speed with which this can happen.

RB:

That is odd and I have seen people getting to the stage from conversion to joining the Islamic State in as little as six weeks. It is quite extraordinary and I think it is perhaps because people who convert are those most likely to be people who seek a sense of belonging and identity which can drive people to take this rather extreme action.

JN:

Given that governments have to do something even if they know that can't sort this out easily, what should be top of the shopping list listening to the people at this conference? What is the direction that governments in Europe and here particularly in Britain should take in the next year or two?

RB:

There was a lot of talk today about "empowering the community". It sounds nice, it is a good sound byte, but what does it actually mean in fact? I think this has to be worked out a little bit, but I think ultimately, insofar as the community can be "empowered" to look after itself and to be aware of the danger of self-radicalisation, I think that must be the right way to go and so it is a question of finding things which deal with the aspirations or desires of the individual, if you like, who see their futures in extremist movements and finding alternatives for them which offer the same things.

JN:

I suppose, looking at it the other way round, the challenge is clearly how to counter a very effective propaganda machine by Islamic State aimed at these people who are susceptible to the message.

RB:

They do have an amazingly effective propaganda machine and it's not so much its technical capability ,but the content is very very compelling. I think it's very difficult for governments or even communities to offer such compelling content to compete with that. It's all very well to push out content like that but you have to have a receptive audience and if the audience is not receptive it is not going to lead to anything so you have to deal more with the receptivity of the audience than the content of Islamic State propaganda.

JN:

The real problem surely is if you get people who cross the line and reach a point where they are willing to contemplate suicide bombing or death in battle or whatever it is, it's hard to get them back.

RB:

It does seem very hard to get them back but you could also say the same for someone who forms a cult or a gang or whatever. It's always been very very hard to get people out of movements when they've pinned their flag so firmly to the mast. What can you do about that? You have to undermine the leadership, you have to expose their flaws, you have to show that what they're doing is actually counter-productive to what they professing to be trying to do and so on, but it's difficult.

JN:

Finally, you've lived in this world for a time and you've watched them for a time. Listening to what you have been listening to in Washington, what's the most interesting thing you've heard in the last day or two?

RB:

I am afraid to say that the most interesting thing I have heard is the confusion about what to do, and that is disappointing in a way, understandable but disappointing that all the great minds that have been put to thinking about this problem haven't really come up with a sensible way to forward so I guess that means we have to keep on trying and working at it and eventually help it to burn out.

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