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The Fight Against Radicalization Begins With Disengagement

03/22/2016 12:05 EDT | Updated 03/23/2017 05:12 EDT
HAZEM BADER via Getty Images
Palestinian youths throw stones towards Israeli security forces during clashes in the West Bank town of Hebron on October 4, 2015, after Israel barred Palestinians from Jerusalem's Old City as tensions mounted following attacks that killed two Israelis and wounded a child. AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)

A symposium was held on radicalization of youth held Feb. 9 to 12, 2016, sponsored by the Canadian embassy in Australia and Griffith University, held at their campus in Brisbane.

In an effort to share experience, current and best practices, academic, operational and policy/political experience, the invitation list was extensive. Having expertise shared from Canada, Australia, United Kingdom as well as the Middle East saw agreement in a number of areas but as well saw extensive and healthy debate and disagreement throughout the dialogue(s).

It became clear during the dialogue that building resilience against terrorism is a clear goal of governments facing the home-grown threat. It was identified by government and non-governmental representatives at the conference that both Canada and Australia are directing their attention at the "at risk" targets in their countries.

Whether it is the Extreme Dialogue program funded by Public Safety Canada or Living Safer Together and Countering Violent Extremism initiatives by the Australian government, both countries recognize the threat and the need to be proactive.

The group assembled agreed that Chatham House rule would be the order of the day, so participants would be open to discussing the issues without attribution or retribution.The continuous attacks against the Islamic faith/religion was and is negatively impacting on the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. Also apparent that there is a new level of importance placed on the need for calm dialogue as we manage the concern surrounding youth becoming engaged with radicalization.

The head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), Duncan Lewis has identified concerns surrounding the rhetoric of some politicians and it resulted in his speaking to two MPs in an effort to "educate" them, as acknowledged by the Australian prime minister, which mirror concerns raised by many at the conference.

A Senate Committee meeting in Canada in February 2015 generated a discussion between Canadian legislators and Muslim leaders identifying similar concerns that the actions of a few, was impacting on the many. The head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) stated while appearing before a Senate Committee on March 7, 2016, that there are 300 plus or minus radicalized individuals in Canada, as well as 180 Canadians acting with ISIS overseas presently.

Not all are Muslim, and if they were, with a population of 1.3 million Muslims in Canada we can see that means .03 per cent are engaged in this activity. A remarkable number in reality, but clearly not representative of the Muslim population.

The mislaid attention at the feet of the Islamic faith as the foundation of the ISIS-driven hatred is destined to split countries such as Canada and Australia, if allowed. That will be a success for ISIS as they don't care what non-Muslims think about Muslims, they don't represent the Muslim interests at all, just hatred and the violence they can bring through their actions.

Peter Hartcher, international editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, spoke to this and identified that ISIS has a goal of driving fear and separating segments of society through that fear. It has been identified by many that ISIS has no connection or concern about the Islamic religion.

Didier Francois, a French journalist who was held for 10 months by ISIS, stated that discussion among captors was about politics, and never Islam or the Quran. Participants in the conference, particularly those who have been engaged with those who have been radicalized, also stated that in discussion those engaged focused on government policy and political decisions, not religion.

An area of discussion and interest was the difference between de-radicalization and dis-engagement. Particularly that we must assist in having those radicalized disengage, as most who are radicalized never engage in an illegal or terrorist activity.

Research conducted by John Horgan, published in Perspectives on Terrorism in 2008, identified that the need for disengagement must be the focus, as that is where success is found.

The article points to the fact criminologists have looked at this as well, and it is the only thing we can truly measure.

The Middle East Institute identified that de-radicalization is really about a process moving toward disengagement.

Those at the symposium, as well as academic research, support that changing what is in someone's head is difficult and may be impossible, as it isn't something we can "see, feel, taste" -- but their actions are. Disengagement means the bias present within the individual is something they have moved away from, and that should be our goal.

A problem raised during the symposium identified that we have focused our attention when there are arrest, charges and convictions. But is that what the public wants? Of course not, as that means there have been crimes committed and no one wants more crime.

The concern raised in Brisbane surrounded the laws being put in place, but as well the calls from some politicians for action. It is understandable that when you spend taxpayer dollars, in Australia and Canada, on something specific you expect to see results.

The challenge is that a successful intervention from Canada and Australia's police agencies, security agencies and their partners will lead to no arrests, no charges and no convictions, as the alternative is that we have more terrorist acts.

No one is naive in thinking that we will not have charges, but we shouldn't complain when those representing our country's security interests are successfully utilized and cause those radicalized to disengage.

Having been a police officer for 32 years, I have yet to meet a member of the public who wants more arrests; they want to live in a safer community, free from fear.

I believe that our collective success in fighting terror will see engagement with those communities targeted by radicalizers to collectively bring them to justice, and the assertion of every tool we have to bring youth who are being radicalized to a place of disengagement, thereby making all of us safer.

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