By David Ibsen
The battle against terrorism in Europe is fought in schools, prisons, homes, and communities across the continent.
It is being fought online and in real life by governments, companies, and civil society groups.
The battle is for the hearts and minds of the most vulnerable members of society.
By preying on the alienated and vulnerable, both in person and online, terrorist groups can keep increasing their numbers
Executive Director, Counter Extremism Project
At the heart of this battle is radicalization.
Terrorism is only able to perpetuate through groups attracting new recruits to their cause.
By preying on the alienated and vulnerable, both in person and online, terrorist groups can keep increasing their numbers and keep the threat of terrorism alive.
Preventing this radicalization from taking place, and rehabilitating those who have been targeted, are absolutely essential if we are to tackle the terrorist threat not just in Europe – but worldwide.
(Learn More. “For a long time, I lived for death,” says Manwar Ali, a former radical jihadist who participated in violent, armed campaigns in the Middle East and Asia in the 1980s. In this moving talk, he reflects on his experience with radicalization and makes a powerful, direct appeal to anyone drawn to Islamist groups that claim violence and brutality are noble and virtuous: let go of anger and hatred, he says, and instead cultivate your heart to see goodness, beauty and truth in others. Courtesy of Ted Talks and YouTube. Posted on Nov 14, 2016)
Combatting radicalization within state-run institutions, in particular schools and prisons, must be a central pillar of this fight.
The two institutions have, for different reasons, large populations who are potentially vulnerable to the spread of extremist ideologies.
We not only need a strategy to protect these children in schools, to prevent them from being victimized and brainwashed by radicals in their communities.
But we also need trainings for teachers to make sure they know how to deal with young girls and boys who might have been exposed to extremist ideologies.
The European Commission’s eLearning Program, eTwinning, allows teachers’ from around the world to exchange best practices.
The expansion of the network, with 64,000 projects in 13 years and half a million registrations last year, shows the educators desire to learn from each other and share their experience.
In prisons, likewise, young men are targeted by recruiters for Daesh and other terrorist groups.
In the absence of other options for inmates, this vulnerable prison population is a fertile breeding ground for extremist ideology.
(An exclusive ITV News survey reveals that 90% of prison officers believe radicalization is a growing problem in UK jails. Security editor Rohit Kachroo reports. Courtesy of ITV News and YouTube. Posted on Aug 22, 2016)
The well-being of prisoners and their development are vital for rehabilitation.
Ensuring this involves meeting basic needs and vocational training to enable them to see a future for themselves.
We need more investment in rehabilitating prisoners, and for providing them with options for their release so they are not instead sent into the hands of terrorist organizations.
Efforts to combat radicalization in our institutions must go hand-in-hand with strategies to fight it in virtual spaces.
Since the launch of the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) in 2014, we have seen that online extremism is a problem that needs to be tackled by big tech companies and governments alike.
In the fight against terrorism, policymakers must not forget the role Internet companies must play.
Many attacks, including the Manchester Arena bombing, have been carried out by individuals without direct links to terrorist organizations but who have been radicalized independently through online propaganda.
The assailant Salman Abedi used a nail bomb which he had built by himself after watching a bomb making video that has been uploaded various times on different platforms in the last two years.
(Learn More. Salman Abedi is believed to have visited Libya, and possibly Syria, in recent months. But how much was known about him by the security services? It was suggested that he had been a “peripheral figure” in their monitoring of terrorist suspects. And if he was missed, what of others in the suspected network? Courtesy of BBC News and YouTube. Posted on May 25, 2017)
We need tech companies to step up to their responsibility and implement the technology they have already developed to screen the content they are hosting.
With Facebook being critically discussed in the media at the moment, we have become aware of the way big tech companies use our data to make money.
Almost unnoticed by the public’s eye, extremists have taken Facebook as an example and launched a new Islamic State Social Networking Site for the “advocates of the Mujahideen”.
The site went live earlier this month and was available in Arabic, English, and French. Islamic State supporters shared pictures and post calling on their fellow brothers to attack Western countries.
Dangerous and hateful propaganda cannot be allowed on the Internet and the example demonstrates how far we still need to go in combatting radicalization online.
(Learn More. CEP convened “Rights and Responsibilities of Social Media Platforms in an Age of Global Extremism” on November 13, 2017, on the heels of the announcement that Google-owned YouTube removed videos and sermons from al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki from its platform. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) gave a keynote speech, followed by a discussion from New America’s Peter Bergen, CEP President Frances Townsend and CEP Senior Adviser Dr. Hany Farid. Courtesy of the Counter Extremism Project and YouTube. Posted on 20, 2018)
Regulators should clamp down on the reckless behavior of tech companies who allow terrorist content to propagate on their own platforms.
Companies, such as YouTube, take no serious responsibility for the content they are hosting on their sites.
Even after repeated reassurance and pledges to tackle illegal content by social media giants, harmful content can still be found on their platforms.
YouTube’s Head of Counter Terrorism clearly demonstrated in front of the UK Home Affairs Committee that Big Tech is not taking its responsibility seriously.
We should all agree about one thing: what is illegal in real life should be illegal online.
Combatting radicalization must form the backbone of Europe’s counter-terrorism strategy.
This must be done both online and off, and must be supported by robust tools which ensure the support of all actors involved.
Additionally, we shouldn’t forget how important de-radicalization is.
We cannot afford to leave those behind that already felt alienated before and therefore turned to dangerous extremist groups.
By stepping up this fight to protect Europe’s most vulnerable, we can create safer societies for everyone.
David Ibsen serves as Executive Director for the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization formed to combat the growing threat from extremist ideologies.
(The Counter Extremism Project acts to shine a light of transparency and accountability on those persons, businesses and institutions that financially underpin the activities of extremist groups. Courtesy of Counter Extremism Project and YouTube. Posted on Sep 24, 2014)