Over the Easter holidays schools feared an exodus of students attempting to travel to Syria to join Islamic State. Such fears were compounded with the recent arrest of three teenagers on suspicion of preparing to engage in terrorist acts. The individuals were held in Istanbul and subsequently deport-ed back to the U.K following a tip off from parents of two of the boys, who alerted police when their sons failed to return home after Friday prayers.
Such fears highlight two important facts. Firstly parents play a fundamental role in preventing the radicalisation of their children. Secondly, there has been too much responsibility placed on schools and government agencies to prevent radicalisation and extremism.
Police remain the primary agents to prevent and contain violent extremism. This requires police to be flexible and diverse when responding to both crime and non-crime events. Ultimately this is creating a suspect community and it is weakening the bonds of trust between law enforcement agencies and local communities. Ironically this preventative strategy is dissolving the community cohesive ap-proach which became central to government policy after the 2001 riots in Britain. Their failure to re-cruit ethnically diverse candidates is simply fuelling this culture of mistrust.
In recent months teachers have also been under increased pressure to prevent the radicalisation of their students. While schools remain well placed to identify grievances and negative perceptions among students, teachers have been left feeling confused and fearful on how best to tackle the is-sue. Under new legislation released by the Home Secretary Theresa May, teachers now have a legal obligation to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism. Thus, teachers now have a dual role of nurturing and educating their students, while also treating their students as potential terrorists. While these tasks are not mutually exclusive, they do pose a number of problems.
Trust between students and teachers remains fundamental to the emotional and physical well-being of students. By heaping responsibility on schools, the government threatens to create a divisive cul-ture of suspicion among student and teachers. This is especially true for students of the 9/11 genera-tion, who have grown up under a spotlight of suspicion. Therefore, this legislation runs the risk of dissolving trust between schools and students, with worrying consequences.
Furthermore, this absolves parents of their responsibility in preventing the radicalisation of their chil-dren. As parents remain best placed to spot early signs of radicalisation, they also should take more responsibility from dissuading young people from engaging in extremist activity. It is evident that par-ents wield a lot of influence over their child’s development. Perhaps proof of this can be seen with the recent emergence of evidence which showed the father of Amira Abase, who fled to join Islamic State in February, attending an extremist rally led by hate preacher Anjem Choudary in 2012. While Mr. Hussen negated responsibility for the radicalisation of this daughter, it is clear that by engaging in extremist activity, Mr. Hussen inadvertently introduced his daughter to an extremist ideology. Thus, highlighting how the relationship between parents and their children is fundamental in prevent-ing radicalisation.
Therefore it is clear that a collective approach is needed for implementing a strategy aimed at pre-venting and countering radicalisation. This strategy must be built on trust between families, commu-nities, and the public sector. By encouraging different sections of society to understand problems and sensitivities, it can empower everyone to identify risks and diminish the threat of radicalisation.
However it must be acknowledged that hurdles remain in strengthening community and familial rela-tionships. An intergenerational gap between parents and their children exists in many Muslim com-munities across the UK. Gender, religious and cultural expectations between parents and their off-spring continue to differ. This weakens familial relationships and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist organisations. Therefore, it is evident that families and communities need to be em-powered to overcome these obstacles. Collective engagement, both families and the public sector can play a powerful role in spotting the early signs of radicalisation. Furthermore, a collective re-sponse can better challenge the ideology which underpins the jihadist narrative. Thus, by broadening the scope of responsibility, it will reduce the risk of terrorists exploiting grievances which often act as the catalyst towards violent extremism.