The national campaign launched today in the UK to raise awareness of the dangers of travelling to Syria is well overdue, especially in light of the fact that around 500 British citizens are believed to have travelled to the country and joined the civil war. This campaign, promoted by police forces across the country, should be welcomed and others should offer their support to these efforts.
However, such a campaign needs to be comprehensive to ensure that it is effective. As such, Quilliam offer the following suggestions:
• Engaging with, rather than criminalising Britons who travel to Syria, is a welcome change. Motives and actions can vary, and it is important not to tar those who support the humanitarian efforts with the same brush as jihadists. Due process and individual human rights must be respected at all times.
• It is right that this campaign is police-led, but other agencies, including local authority Prevent and community cohesion teams, should also be involved in order to help disseminate key messages.
• The emphasis on working through registered and well-established charities is important, and The Charity Commission should also be given more powers to tackle those organisations that abuse their charity status to support extremism.
• Offline efforts must be complimented by online efforts since many young people get much of their information from social media outlets and interact with extremist recruiters and disseminators online. The solution here, however, is not illiberal censorship, but engagement and counter-speech.
• Civil society groups that offer counter-narratives to extremist narratives also need to be empowered. The message needs to be promoted that joining one of the many jihadist militias, many of whom are fighting among themselves, is futile and counter-productive. Indeed, many Britons have already been killed by intra-jihadist in-fighting.
• Whilst it is important to engage with Muslim families and focus on the role that parents can play, some of those who travel to Syria are converts to Islam, therefore messaging needs to reach a wider audience.
• Furthermore, the initiative to promote the role of women in emotionally supporting those vulnerable to extremist narratives is a very positive step, which would be further boosted by a more comprehensive engagement with the ideological root causes of extremism.
• Political inclusion and engagement through the mainstream political system, in order to address issues arising from international conflicts, must be encouraged as a non-violent and legal way to address grievances. At the same time isolationist and exclusivist identity politics in which only intra-community solutions are sought needs to be discouraged. This involves promoting an inclusive British identity that involves and empowers peoples from all ethnic and faith backgrounds, and working towards a more cohesive society.
This campaign is a welcome addition to national counter-extremism efforts, however, further emphasis on tackling extremist ideology and jihadist narratives is essential if we are to effectively prevent Britons from fighting in Syria.
For further media comment on this issue, please contact Jonathan Russell, [email protected], 020 7182 7286.