Experts on radicalisation have asked whether the “genie can be put back in the bottle,” with the Government’s counter-terrorism chief defending the UK’s response to the threat.
Speaking at the Jewish News’ UK-Israel conference this week, Charles Farr, Director-General of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, said there had been a shift in the last year, with young radicals now travelling to Syria and Iraq “because of terrorism, not in spite of it”.
Farr said that those who travelled shortly after the Arab Spring “thought they were joining a moderate opposition to [Syrian President] Assad… Many have now returned and pose no immediate threat”.
Joining panellists, Farr denied that police action had caused three sisters from Bradford to leave to join ISIS, and cautioned against labelling all Muslims as extremist, saying: “There are 2.7m Muslims in the UK, but only 300 are still in Syria and Iraq… I think the genie is still in the bottle.”
The security chief listed broken families, a lack of integration and past criminality as indicators of radicalisation, but said would-be terrorists can be radicalised for reasons other than ideology, saying: “Sometimes they want certainty, sometimes excitement and esteem.”
Reflecting on David Cameron’s recent crackdown on extremist organisations, he said they “normalise a view of the world which is conducive to terrorism”.
Eran Etzion, former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council, said: “You cannot eradicate radicalism, you can only mitigate and contain it,” adding that Tunisia was an interesting case-study, where “Islamists win elections, lose elections, but stay within the system”.
Palestinian Media Watch founder Itamar Marcus said much of the radicalisation in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere came from the “philosophy that the genocide of Jews is the Muslim destiny”.
Quilliam Foundation’s Haras Rafiq said he was “pleased that Prime Minister David Cameron used the word ‘Islamism’… Barack Obama has said there is an evil ideology at play, but he forgot to mention what that ideology was”.
Prof. Peter Neumann from King’s College said the flurry of 25,000 foreign fighters who have entered Syria and Iraq in the last three years was “the largest mobilisation in the Muslim world since 1945,” adding: “What happens now will have consequences for many years to come.”
Shortly after the event, which was chaired by former Le Monde editor Natalie Nougayrede, ISIS released its latest video, showing the gory execution of 15 alleged spies, drowning them in cages, decapitating them with explosives and blowing them up with rocket-propelled grenades.