Radicalisation and community engagement
1 Sep 2015|

In Australia and in my home country of Canada, we’re seeing various responses to radicalisation. Putting security and police officials at the front of the reintegration and de-radicalisation efforts is important, but they won’t be effective without assistance from the communities that they seek to engage. Indeed a collaborative approach is necessary so that communities and officials are jointly committed to finding solutions.

First let’s ask ourselves ‘how big of a problem is radicalisation and is it growing?’ In 2014 the Canadian security agency reported that the number of Canadians in theatre with ISIS grew from approximately 130 to more than 300. Speaking at the Senate hearing in the fall of 2014, officials said that there had been a 50% increase in Canadian foreign fighters in the preceding months. Senior police witnesses appearing before the same committee identified that the number of people requiring close scrutiny as a result of information and intelligence gained was growing daily and that they were moving hundreds of officers from other investigations, including organised crime, to resource new operational requirements.

The communities where radicalization is occurring are often unable to cope with what they are seeing within their own networks of families and friends. In some cases they may have a fear of dealing directly with the authorities who can help them. In Canada there has been some significant progress as a result of recent community engagement initiatives. Police have been successful at intervening early in some significant cases including in May 2015 when Montreal Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested ten young Canadians who were boarding an aircraft heading to Syria via Turkey to join the jihadists.

In a recent article, the Mackenzie Institute focuses on the challenges facing Canada as its government seeks to develop legislation to deal with radicalization alongside combatting the terrorist threat. Canada hasn’t experienced a mass-casualty terrorist attack and a number of planned attacks have been prevented. In 2006 Canada arrested eighteen suspects in the “Toronto 18” plot to bomb major targets in Toronto and Ottawa, as well as other acts of violence against public officials. A number of other threats have been countered in recent times. In part this was due to the efforts of local communities to engage police and security officials directly with their concerns about particular individuals. And we’ve seen a movement within many nations centered on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), with programs and initiatives focused on education and services within communities.

Some will argue that a more aggressive stance and police action will be successful, but I don’t think that we can “arrest ourselves” out of this problem. By considering the factors that feed into decision making around radicalisation we may be able to find the solutions. Where radicalised individuals were finding themselves on a destructive path, Canadian efforts have been focused on the development of strategies falling within the realm of ‘Crime Prevention through Social Development’ (CPSD). This common sense approach attacks the root cause of what drives or moves people onto a destructive path. Crime prevention through social development as a strategy is a long-term approach requiring the mobilization of those influencers within a community to attack the underlying causes and develop solutions to be implemented. The Canadian Council on Social Development has had real success in their community development initiatives combatting criminal behaviour.

The solution may lie within our education systems, as they engage more young people than any other. But we must remember that the face-to-face interaction of negative influencers are often supported by the internet and its ability to deliver messages quickly, anonymously and in quantities that are difficult to combat. Any community-focused approach needs to keep in mind these outside influencers as well.

The issue of radicalisation is a national security problem but we can offer multiple solutions including a focus on pre-radicalisation as well as de-radicalisation allowing for an upstream approach to what has been primarily seen as a downstream problem.