What should Canada do about returning jihadists? Lorne Dawson interview

Good interview with Dawson, whose work I continue to find impressive.

Nice contrast with some of the shallower pieces on the issue of returning extremist fighters (e.g., ‘Canada does not engage in death squads,’ while allies actively hunt …BONOKOSKI: Kill them before they come home? Too un-Canadian):

What to do about Canadians who joined the so-called Islamic State when they come home—now that ISIS has been routed on the battlefield in the territory in Iraq and Syria that it used to call its “caliphate”—has emerged as a challenge for Justin Trudeau’s government.

The return of battle-hardened ISIS terrorists is a disturbing prospect. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office says the number of individuals shouldn’t be exaggerated, though, telling Maclean’sthat Canadian intelligence agencies are aware of about 60 terrorist travellers who have returned to Canada from conflict zones in the past decade, including a small number from Syria and Iraq.

Even lumping them together under the heading “foreign fighters” isn’t entirely accurate, since some were involved in financing terrorism or generating propaganda. An estimated 180 to 190 terrorist travellers with ties to Canada have not come back, but a spokesman for Goodale said in an email, “We don’t expect many to return with the number of casualties and the challenge of leaving those areas.”

Still, figuring out how to handle any who do make their way to Canada is now a pressing concern. Lorne Dawson, a professor in the University of Waterloo’s sociology and legal studies department, has a unique perspective on what might work—and what likely won’t. Dawson is part of a team of academic researchers who have systematically interviewed dozens of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria over social media, trying to formulate a picture of their motivations and backgrounds.

He’s also closely familiar with programs in Europe that tried to prevent radicalization of young men in the first place—approaches that have been adapted to cope with former ISIS fighters when they straggle back from the conflict zones. Dawson spoke with me earlier today about what Canada should be doing, including what the federal government might learn from Britain and Denmark, where the scale of the problem is much larger.

Q: Given how bad ISIS is, shouldn’t returning fighters just be arrested?

A: It’s going to be almost impossible under most legal jurisdictions to find enough solid evidence to really convincingly prosecute them. So you could waste your time prosecuting them and have about half your cases fail in the courts, which no government wants to do on terrorism issues because it just looks bad, politically bad, and it’s sets all kinds of bad precedents.

That’s true in Canada, too. You do not want to prosecute unless you think you have a really strong case. Trying to get that kind of evidence, legally viable evidence, out of places like Syria and Iraq, so you could prosecute someone, the challenges are just unbelievable.

Q: So what do you do when the fighters come back? Someone returns who looks to have been involved with a terrorist group in Syria or Iraq, but you don’t have enough evidence to arrest them. What should you do?

A: You need to sit down and have a conversation with these people. They need to enter into these programs for countering violent extremism. But it has to be voluntary, or relatively voluntary, everyone knows that, or it won’t work. But, of course, you make it only somewhat voluntary by saying, “Look, your options are either you enter into this program or we’re going to continue to do a full-court press on you to prosecute you.” And most of them are aware they could end up in prison. So there is a strong incentive.

Q: And what does the program they’ve signed up for look like?

A: You have panels of experts that gather and they are supplied with all the information that can be found on the person. These experts are from multiple backgrounds. So social working, community working, educational specialist, occupational therapist, religious leaders from the community—anyone who’s thought to be relevant.

Q: So you’ve assembled experts. What’s their job?

A: First you do assessment. What is this person’s situation? Well, they’re not going to be able to reintegrate into our society because they didn’t even finish their high school. Right away, let’s start finding a way for this person to complete their educational requirements. They’re going to need some subsidy to do that. They’re going to need some assistance in getting into a program. Provide that.

They then also initiate family counselling and try and get the person, if there’s strained relations with the family, reconnected to the family and reintegrated in the community in that way. Now, through this whole process they have to report to the police regularly. They’re being monitored, they’re not being surveilled, that would be way too expensive. People are making sure they’re not associating with other known jihadists and things of that nature.

Q: Is there any evidence this sort of approach works?

A: We don’t have exact numbers, but the Danish government basically is saying they’ve now dealt with dozens of such individuals and that there’s not a single case yet where they’ve encountered someone going through one of these programs who then went and committed a terrorist act. Doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

Q: What would you say to people who’ll respond to all this by saying, “Oh, come on, professor—these are hardened, horrible people, who are implicated in all kinds of atrocities. How can you talk about a rehabilitation?”

A: I recognize the resistance to these ideas. But, from the best studies we have available—which admittedly do not deal with people coming from Syria and Iraq and from ISIS, where we have a much more extreme circumstance—but from all of the real studies done of the people who fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia and elsewhere in the world, involved in jihadist struggles, the numbers show that about a third die in the fight, about a third never come back because they want to go live in a Muslim-majority country and they disappear into Morocco or wherever, and about a third come home.

Of the ones that come home, the vast majority are either disillusioned or they’re to some extent traumatized and feel they done their bit—”I did my service to fight for the Muslim people against their oppressors, but I’m done.” A tiny fraction of them will be coming back actually still radicalized and interested in engaging in some kind of, you know, further terrorist action. And so this is why you have to have a really careful debriefing process, an assessment process, and of course our security officials know how to do that. That’s their job.

Q: Are you still in contact with active foreign fighters? Are you talking to them, the way you’ve done in the past through social media?

A: Yes and no. Our channels are still open, but there’s nothing happening. Because ever since the major assault on Mosul, almost all the presence and social media of the individuals we were talking to, or watching on Twitter and other social media, they just disappeared.

Q: Do you think they are dead?

A: Many I think are dead. And I think what happened is, of course, once full military activity happened, they were just told, “You do not use your phone.” Obviously phones can be tracked in various ways. All communications stopped. We haven’t had an actual live conversation with anyone in Syria and Iraq in a couple of months.

Q: Do you get called by CSIS and RCMP regularly about what your online contact with jihadists in Iraq and Syria? Do they ask you for information?

A: No. Our funding is from the government. It’s through competitive programs. Our current funding is from the community resilience fund, through this new Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence. So of course they recognize, and it’s always stipulated in there, that we have academic freedom.

It’s arm’s length, independent, all subject to normal ethics procedures through the universities. And so they know the only way we got ethics clearance to do this research was to have extremely high guarantees around confidentiality. They recognize, in the end, they will get our results, which are beneficial to them, but they don’t get details.


Why Canada’s Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence is in the wrong department 

Phil is a friend of mine and I have great respect for the work he did while in government and the analysis and commentary he is doing outside.

His logic is sound in having community engagement and deradicalization outside of Public Safety, to distinguish the security function and  community support/resilience-building. As Phil and I have discussed, in theory, Canadian Heritage would be a good home for all the reasons he lists.

But with respect for the people who work in Canadian Heritage, the department, as constituted, is not equipped to provide strong leadership in this area given its focus on its core mandate.

The area that could have possibly taken this on – multiculturalism – has been largely decimated following the 2008 transfer to then CIC (IRCC) and return back to Canadian Heritage in 2015:

First of all, kudos to the Trudeau government for its commitment to the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence (CCCEPE—that name is way too long, however). The $35-million over five years is an excellent start and, although details are wanting, the government sees the new office  as a leadership post for Canada’s efforts.

This move represents a significant shift in Canada’s prevention of violent extremism approach from the purely hardline emphasis of the Harper government to a more inclusive and more comprehensive one under the new regime. As I have said before, we will always need the hardline tool, but we need to do more in early intervention and counter-radicalization.

One question remains: where should this new office reside? When I was still with the federal government it was housed where it is now, within Public Safety Canada. In some ways, it should stay there if for no other reason than  that department has experienced and capable staff who were part of the amazing success of the shortened efforts under Harper.

But in other and more important ways it should be moved to another department. Let me try to explain why.

Aside from getting a brand new start and being able to put the unfortunate mistakes of the previous government behind us, the biggest drawback to leaving Canada’s Prevention of Violence strategy with Public Safety lies with the very nature of that ministry. Public Safety Canada is the umbrella department for CSIS, the RCMP, Correctional Services Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency. All these are staffed by dedicated and professional people but they have one underlying commonality: they are all enforcement/punitive agencies. The Prevention of Violence strategy needs to be seen as an opportunity to occur before people engage in activities that are the remit of CSIS and the RCMP in order to work. We have seen in other places like the U.K. with its PREVENT program (which is housed within that country’s version of Public Safety) that communities associate PVE with intelligence gathering and enforcement, whether or not that is what is happening.  Having a ministry responsible for the national spy and law enforcement agencies run PVE creates a stigma that can hamper even the best efforts.  If communities do not feel comfortable and have issues of trust with certain partners, they will not want to participate.

What if the government were to put the new office under the Heritage portfolio? PVE is all about providing communities with the tools to foster Canadian citizenship and reject the empty and violent promises of groups like Islamic State. It is about being or becoming Canadian. Another aspect is the debate over narratives. I have long argued that we need to move away from “counter narratives” to “alternative narratives.” Alternative narratives are an important part of PVE—what better place to locate them than within Heritage, the department that helps foster the Canadian narrative? Our narrative is so superior to that of the Islamic State that if this were a boxing match the referee would have called the fight years ago.

Of course, those with lots of experience in PVE, especially the RCMP which has a longstanding and robust outreach program, would be asked to lend its assistance and best practices. Other partners could also contribute. Canada is—or rather was—a world leader in PVE and many countries look to us for models on what to do. We don’t need to reinvent it, we just need to tweak it to make it better.

At the end of the day it may not matter where the government decides to put PVE. Only time will tell. I am glad to see that those in the centre already recognize some important aspects on how to implement their strategy (tailor the approach to match local conditions, acknowledge that the government does not have the credibility to do PVE, etc.).  Evaluation and measurement of what works and what doesn’t will be critical.  Lots of people put their hands out when government funding is provided and the centre has to ensure that the right people are getting that money. The important thing is that it cultivate good relations with the communities it hopes to work with for the best answers to violent radicalization and extremism are to be found there, not in a government policy brief.

Source: Why Canada’s Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence is in the wrong department – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

ICYMI: Deradicalization must be tailored to Canadian cities, says expert

Sounds sensible but will leave it to others with more expertise to comment:

The radicalization of young Canadians is most often a local problem that requires programs tailored to specific cities, towns or even neighbourhoods.

That’s one the preliminary findings by the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence.

The federal government set aside $35 million over five years for the centre, which was announced in August 2016. It works within the Department of Public Safety to provide training, support research and provide national leadership on counter-radicalization strategies for provinces, territories and municipalities.

“There’s a whole number of risk factors, and that’s the challenge — there’s no agreement on what the best assessment tool is or what all the risk factors are,” Ritu Banerjee, executive director of the centre, told CBC News.

People may be exposed to an assortment of extreme views, from Islamism to neo-Nazism, online, through their family, at their place of worship or school or in all these areas.

“So what you do out in Calgary might not necessarily work in Montreal or may not necessarily work in Moncton. So you have to be conscious of the local realities and the local needs,” said Banerjee.

More than a year after the creation of Canada Centre, the government has yet to fill the top job of special adviser, who would formally shape and oversee the centre’s work.

A senior government source with knowledge of the file told CBC News the government had tentatively filled the job earlier this year but the candidate backed out. The search has been renewed and the department said it expects to fill the job by the end of the year.

Social workers on front lines

Meanwhile, Banerjee and her staff have approved funding for several projects through the agency’s community resilience fund. One initiative in Montreal trains front-line social workers who deal with vulnerable youth but likely were never educated about terrorism and national security threats.

“They’re familiar with gang-related violence, they may be familiar with drugs, mental health issues, but the minute you start talking about terrorism, people get scared or people get nervous. So they need specialized support and training,” Banerjee said.

Another of Canada Centre’s early takeaways is that governments are not well placed to debate extremist ideologies.

“We recognize that it’s very difficult for a government to do that because we don’t have the credibility to do that and it would be perceived as propaganda,” Banerjee explained.

“Counter-arguments to a stated proposition have to be very much tailored to a specific audience. You have to be very careful and thoughtful about the approach you use, whether it’s face-to-face, whether it’s online and if you’re doing it online, what platforms you use. And then, who is actually delivering the message.”

Banerjee says research suggests intervening early to teach children how to think critically and be digitally literate is key to building community resilience to extremism.

Source: Deradicalization must be tailored to Canadian cities, says expert – Politics – CBC News

Seeing the human side of Islamic State helps to defeat them: H.A. Hellyer

Looks like an interesting series and find Hellyer’s analysis sensible:

When The State was released on British television a month ago, there were those who decried it as a recruiting sergeant for the Islamic State. After all, the series does portray the four British Muslim citizens who travel to Syria as, well, human. So, obviously, the series must be a problem – for IS members cannot possibly be human. They must be insane, and their processes for becoming sympathetic to this veritable death cult cannot be familiar or recognizable in any way. Only that line of thinking is acceptable.

Except, that’s not true – and it is why the series, which was recently released in North America, is actually quite important. At no point does it represent IS in a sympathetic, positive light. On the contrary, the group is presented as despicable, grotesque, and abhorrent. There is really no doubt that can be left in anyone’s mind who watches the series. Yet, at the same time, the series seeks to present how people might actually be attracted to the group.

The sense of belonging, for example, that it purports to present – even though, as one can see in the series, that sense is ultimately a fraud. The desire to be a part of something larger than oneself – the defending of innocent people in Syria from a barbaric tyrant – which, again, is shown to be a fallacy.

But in the discussion around extremist Islamism, the discussion is often dominated by voices who do not want to see nuance. Nuance, it seems, is dangerous – because nuance, it appears, makes us go soft on extremists.

That’s utter garbage, of course – because nuance and genuine insight allows us to understand why IS recruiters might succeed. And if we do not understand how they succeed, we stand a much smaller chance at understanding how to counter their recruitment strategies, and immunizing people from them.

That’s not to say the series does not have its issues – it does. But those issues are less to do with the common complaints that have been thrown at it. The series was rigorously researched by the director and his team, particularly Ahmed Peerbux – and we saw the results through the way the worldview of extremist Islamism was presented on the screen for the audience. What we did not see, which is so deeply necessary, is how those characters on the screen led their lives prior to being successfully recruited.

If the series ever does come for a second season run, the writers should tackle what had happened to those characters that made them vulnerable to extremist recruitment. These are not aliens from outer space. Nor is it Islam that makes them into ticking time bombs. If the latter were true, then several million British Muslims would have already joined the radical group – an infinitely tiny proportion has done so.

Should the series tackle that prerecruitment phase, it’s likely they are going to find that a plethora of factors play a role. Yes, there is an ideological component, which is rooted in a particular reading of purist Salafism – and not all readings, mind you – a reading that ought not to be underestimated. But it is not ideology that is always the strongest component: indeed, it is probably in a minority of cases where ideology is the deciding factor in the impetus of radicalization.

Of course, that’s not the nuance that our public discussion around these issues is keen to hear. We want to hear that these young people are crazed nutcases; that the only thing that is important to understand is how evil the ideology is; and for a not-insignificant portion of the right wing and the left-wing parts of our political spectrum, that ideology is Islam, simply.

To recognize that these young people start out as hardly insane – though they are certainly fools – is not what we want to hear. Our populist demagogues don’t want to recognize that it isn’t Islam en masse that is to blame for this ideological construct that underpins the likes of Islamic State, nor do they want to recognize that ideology is only part of the phenomenon in the first place.

But while we may want to look for easy, black-and-white answers, life isn’t really that simple. Indeed, life is complex – it’s part of the urge to find such simplicity that allows some young people to be recruited in the U.K. by these depraved monsters. We will be able to disrupt their efforts far better when we realize and recognize that indeed, complexity is the name of the game.

Source: Seeing the human side of Islamic State helps to defeat them – The Globe and Mail

ICYMI – Attitudes to Islam in Europe are hardening: The Economist

Good summary of recent European polling and worrisome (and correct) fear of further polarization:

IF integration means doing a bit better in education and the job market, then there are grounds to be optimistic about the status of Muslim communities across western Europe. But when you ask Europeans how they feel about Islam and its adherents, then the picture is much harsher and in some ways getting worse.

Those are the broad impressions left by a raft of recently published surveys on the subject. The authors of a study by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation, focusing mainly on Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, found some encouraging indicators on schooling and employment but still reported a big income disparity between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Professional progress was “not accompanied by an equal level of…social acceptance,” noted the report, which looked not at refugees but longer-standing Muslim residents. The authors were troubled by the finding that 20% of respondents did not want Muslim neighbours. That number would almost certainly have been higher if the study had looked at countries further south and east. A poll by Pew Research, an American think-tank, found that a majority of people in Hungary, Italy, Poland, Greece and Spain harboured hostile attitudes to Islam while only a minority of northwestern Europeans held similar views.

The Bertelsmann report welcomed the fact that in France, only one in ten Muslims leaves school before turning 17, compared with about a third of Muslim youngsters in Germany. But learning doesn’t seem to guarantee earning. In neither Germany nor Switzerland was there much difference between the employment rate of Muslims and non-Muslims. In France, by contrast, the jobless rate was 14% for Muslims compared with 8% for non-Muslims.

Moreover, there are some clear signs of hardening attitudes. In England, around four people in ten acknowledged that they have become more suspicious of Muslims following terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. That was one of the findings of the latest study published by Hope Not Hate, an anti-extremism lobby group.

Looking at a series of recent data, it concluded that in many ways sentiment in England was gradually becoming more liberal and tolerant of diversity, but Islam and the reactions it inspired were a clear exception. About half the population apparently thought Islam posed a “threat to Western civilisation” while a quarter regarded it as a “dangerous” religion because of its perceived capacity to incite violence. The picture changes depending on how the question is framed. The pool of respondents who opined (50% versus 22%) that the Muslim faith was a civilisational threat also agreed by a clear majority that it was wrong to blame an entire religion for a few extremists.

In Germany, a widely-quoted poll last year found that more than half the population believed that Islam did not belong in their country. But attitudes to Muslim people, as opposed to their religion, can sometimes be much more emollient, albeit varying a lot with the respondent’s political ideology.

Pew found that half the Germans who hewed to the political left thought Muslims were making a good effort to adapt to the country’s way of life, compared with one in five of those who leaned rightwards. The numbers for Britons of right and left were almost exactly the same. Given the many different ways in which progress (or regress) can be measured, the state of Islam in Europe may always be a vessel that some see as half-empty and others see as half-full.

What’s worrying is that almost every terrorist movement aims to polarise feelings in a way that drives people into opposing camps. The terrorist who claims to represent a certain community often hopes that the authorities, and perhaps society as whole, will stigmatise that community and provoke in it a defensive mood, so that violence starts to seem like a reasonable option. Historically, such polarising tactics have often worked.

Although things have not yet reached that point, these poll results suggest something sinister: it’s perfectly conceivable that the murderous van-drivers and knife-wielders who claim to speak for Muslims in Europe could enjoy a similar “success” in polarising sentiment across the continent.

Source: Attitudes to Islam in Europe are hardening

A Hunt for Ways to Combat Online Radicalization – The New York Times

Interesting approach, applicable to extremists and radicals, whether on right, left or other:

Law enforcement officials, technology companies and lawmakers have long tried to limit what they call the “radicalization” of young people over the internet.

The term has often been used to describe a specific kind of radicalization — that of young Muslim men who are inspired to take violent action by the online messages of Islamist groups like the Islamic State. But as it turns out, it isn’t just violent jihadists who benefit from the internet’s power to radicalize young people from afar.

White supremacists are just as adept at it. Where the pre-internet Ku Klux Klan grew primarily from personal connections and word of mouth, today’s white supremacist groups have figured out a way to expertly use the internet to recruit and coordinate among a huge pool of potential racists. That became clear two weeks ago with the riots in Charlottesville, Va., which became a kind of watershed event for internet-addled racists.

“It was very important for them to coordinate and become visible in public space,” said Joan Donovan, a scholar of media manipulation and right-wing extremism at Data & Society, an online research institute. “This was an attempt to say, ‘Let’s come out; let’s meet each other. Let’s build camaraderie, and let’s show people who we are.’”

Ms. Donovan and others who study how the internet shapes extremism said that even though Islamists and white nationalists have different views and motivations, there are broad similarities in how the two operate online — including how they spread their message, recruit and organize offline actions. The similarities suggest a kind of blueprint for a response — efforts that may work for limiting the reach of jihadists may also work for white supremacists, and vice versa.

In fact, that’s the battle plan. Several research groups in the United States and Europe now see the white supremacist and jihadi threats as two faces of the same coin. They’re working on methods to fight both, together — and slowly, they have come up with ideas for limiting how these groups recruit new members to their cause.

Their ideas are grounded in a few truths about how extremist groups operate online, and how potential recruits respond. After speaking to many researchers, I compiled this rough guide for combating online radicalization.

Recognize the internet as an extremist breeding ground.

The first step in combating online extremism is kind of obvious: It is to recognize the extremists as a threat.

For the Islamic State, that began to happen in the last few years. After a string of attacks in Europe and the United States by people who had been indoctrinated in the swamp of online extremism, politicians demanded action. In response, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other online giants began identifying extremist content and systematically removing it from their services, and have since escalated their efforts.

When it comes to fighting white supremacists, though, much of the tech industry has long been on the sidelines. This laxity has helped create a monster. In many ways, researchers said, white supremacists are even more sophisticated than jihadists in their use of the internet.

The earliest white nationalist sites date back to the founding era of the web. For instance, Stormfront.org, a pioneering hate site, was started as a bulletin board in 1990. White supremacist groups have also been proficient at spreading their messages using the memes, language and style that pervade internet subcultures. Beyond setting up sites of their own, they have more recently managed to spread their ideology to online groups that were once largely apolitical, like gaming and sci-fi groups.

And they’ve grown huge. “The white nationalist scene online in America is phenomenally larger than the jihadists’ audience, which tends to operate under the radar,” said Vidhya Ramalingam, the co-founder of Moonshot CVE, a London-based start-up that works with internet companies to combat violent extremism. “It’s just a stunning difference between the audience size.”

After the horror of Charlottesville, internet companies began banning and blocking content posted by right-wing extremist groups. So far their efforts have been hasty and reactive, but Ms. Ramalingam sees it as at the start of a wider effort.

“It’s really an unprecedented moment where social media and tech companies are recognizing that their platforms have become spaces where these groups can grow, and have been often unpoliced,” she said. “They’re really kind of waking up to this and taking some action.”

Engage directly with potential recruits.

If tech companies are finally taking action to prevent radicalization, is it the right kind of action? Extremism researchers said that blocking certain content may work to temporarily disrupt groups, but may eventually drive them further underground, far from the reach of potential saviors.

A more lasting plan involves directly intervening in the process of radicalization. Consider The Redirect Method, an anti-extremism project created by Jigsaw, a think tank founded by Google. The plan began with intensive field research. After interviews with many former jihadists, white supremacists and other violent extremists, Jigsaw discovered several important personality traits that may abet radicalization.

One factor is a skepticism of mainstream media. Whether on the far right or ISIS, people who are susceptible to extremist ideologies tend to dismiss outlets like The New York Times or the BBC, and they often go in search of alternative theories online.

Another key issue is timing. There’s a brief window between initial interest in an extremist ideology and a decision to join the cause — and after recruits make that decision, they are often beyond the reach of outsiders. For instance, Jigsaw found that when jihadists began planning their trips to Syria to join ISIS, they had fallen too far down the rabbit hole and dismissed any new information presented to them.

Jigsaw put these findings to use in an innovative way. It curated a series of videos showing what life is truly like under the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The videos, which weren’t filmed by news outlets, offered a credible counterpoint to the fantasies peddled by the group — they show people queuing up for bread, fighters brutally punishing civilians, and women and children being mistreated.

Experiencing the Caliphate Video by Upvotely

Then, to make sure potential recruits saw the videos at the right time in their recruitment process, Jigsaw used one of Google’s most effective technologies: ad targeting. In the same way that a pair of shoes you looked up last week follows you around the internet, Jigsaw’s counterterrorism videos were pushed to likely recruits.

Jigsaw can’t say for sure if the project worked, but it found that people spent lots of time watching the videos, which suggested they were of great interest, and perhaps dissuaded some from extremism.

Moonshot CVE, which worked with Jigsaw on the Redirect project, put together several similar efforts to engage with both jihadists and white supremacist groups. It has embedded undercover social workers in extremist forums who discreetly message potential recruits to dissuade them. And lately it’s been using targeted ads to offer mental health counseling to those who might be radicalized.

“We’ve seen that it’s really effective to go beyond ideology,” Ms. Ramalingam said. “When you offer them some information about their lives, they’re disproportionately likely to interact with it.”

What happens online isn’t all that matters in the process of radicalization. The offline world obviously matters too. Dylann Roof — the white supremacist who murdered nine people at a historically African-American church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 — was radicalized online. But as a new profile in GQ Magazine makes clear, there was much more to his crime than the internet, including his mental state and a racist upbringing.

Still, just about every hate crime and terrorist attack, these days, was planned or in some way coordinated online. Ridding the world of all of the factors that drive young men to commit heinous acts isn’t possible. But disrupting the online radicalization machine? With enough work, that may just be possible.

Does Canada take the threat of far-right extremism seriously?

Worth noting the contrasting assessments:

Yet the outburst of deadly racist violence in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend is not without parallels in Canada. Recent estimates suggest there are dozens of active white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups across the country.

They advocate everything from biological racism to anti-Semitism to radical libertarianism. Members of groups such as the Heritage Front, Freemen of the Land and Blood and Honour have been charged with dozens of crimes, including murder, attempted murder and assault.

Roughly 30 homicides in Canada since 1980 have been linked to individuals espousing some form of extreme right-wing ideology.​ 

But the pattern of right-wing extremist violence in Canada is too inconsistent to merit being prioritized over the threat posed by Islamic extremists, according to two former members of the security establishment.

“I do think right-wing extremism is a national security problem, but we’re not devoting the resources to it because we don’t need to,” said Phil Gurski, a former CSIS analyst who now runs a security consulting business.

“I have seen nothing to suggest that they pose an equally dangerous threat as that posed by Islamist extremism, which in and of itself is still a fairly minor threat in Canada.”

The limited national security resources devoted to right-wing extremism is also based on a belief that such groups are fractious, ideologically incoherent and engage mainly in lower-level crime such as robbery or graffiti, said Stephanie Carvin, a former national security adviser for the Canadian government.

“The violence that results [from right-wing extremist groups] tends to be dealt with more at the police level than the national security level,” said Carvin, who teaches courses about security and terrorism at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“If you just look at the sheer number of cases of individuals who are foreign [jihadist] fighters, or potential foreign fighters or returnees, it still outweighs the potential actors on the far right.”

A dangerous oversimplification?

As recently as January, just days before the deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque, a threat assessment based on input from Canada’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies determined there was “no indication that right-wing extremists pose a threat to migrants.”

CSIS’s own website says the threat posed by the extreme right has “not been a significant a problem in Canada in recent years. Those who hold such extremist views have tended to be isolated and ineffective figures.”

But the Quebec City shooting, which police believe was carried out by an individual holding anti-immigrant views, raised questions about the accuracy of the security establishment’s estimation of right-wing extremism.

James Ellis, a Vancouver-based terrorism scholar affiliated with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS), said it’s a dangerous oversimplification to portray the majority of far-right groups in Canada as too disorganized to pose a serious threat to national security.

“You’re essentially taking your eye off the ball,” said Ellis, who until recently maintained the Canadian Incident Database, which tracks acts of terrorism between 1960 and 2015.

“The data suggests that right-wing extremism is certainly on par if not exceeding the threat from Islamic terrorism cropping up within Canada itself.”

Source: Does Canada take the threat of far-right extremism seriously? – Montreal – CBC News

ICYMI – UK ‘has stripped 150 jihadists and criminals of citizenship’ | UK news | The Guardian

Given the recent attacks in the UK, hard to say that revocation acts as a deterrent:

More than 150 jihadists and other criminals have been stripped of their citizenship and banned from returning to the UK, it has been reported.

Ministers stepped up the “deprivation orders” amid fears the collapse of the so-called Islamic State terror group will lead to an influx of militants from Syria, according to the Sunday Times.

Quoting official figures and security sources, the paper said more than 40 suspects have had their right to a passport removed this year, with about 30 targeted since March.

It added those who have had their citizenship removed include gunmen and “jihadi brides” who have travelled to Syria.

 They are all dual nationals, including British-born people with parents of different nationalities, as ministers cannot take away citizenship if it would lead a suspect stateless.

A senior security source told the Sunday Times: “There’s an awful lot of people we have found who will never be coming home again. Our number one preference is to get them on trial. If we don’t think that’s possible, we use disruption techniques.”

Last week the Home Office revealed just six suspects in Britain who cannot be deported or prosecuted are subject to terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims).

The security minister, Ben Wallace, said: “Prosecution and conviction is always our preference for dealing with terrorists.

“Tpims (terrorism prevention and investigation measures) are one of a range of powers at our disposal to disrupt terrorism-related activity where prosecution is not possible.”

Source: UK ‘has stripped 150 jihadists and criminals of citizenship’ | UK news | The Guardian

From ISIS-Lands to the Netherlands: Jihadists Try to Get the Press to Help Them Come Home

Thoughtful discussion of some of the issues with respect to returning Daesh  and other fighters:

Now that the self-proclaimed caliphate of the so-called Islamic State is falling apart in Syria and Iraq, many European jihadists are looking for ways to come home—and some of the Dutch ones have been reaching out to the media, hoping it will save their lives.

Just last week two fighters contacted TV shows in the Netherlands to announce their return to Dutch soil, a third contacted the police.

The grim irony of such a ploy is obvious. Many would-be holy warriors from European backgrounds have been associated with organizations that took journalists hostage, ransomed some, tortured and beheaded others. When they thought their groups were on a roll, jihadists bragged to their Western enemies “we love death as you love life.” And all too many times in France, Britain, Belgium, and Germany they have slaughtered innocents by the score.

But the three from the Netherlands are part of a group of 10 presumed jihadists who have criminal court cases pending against them. Dutch public prosecutors believe most of them are still to be found in what’s left of ISIS-land. After a Rotterdam court recently decided they could be present at their hearing, their trial was postponed until January 2018, allowing them time to return.

A 22-year-old Dutch-Moroccan rapper known to the court as Marouane B. is one of the potential returnees. He says he is en route back to the Netherlands and a few days ago posted a rap about his intended return, singing, “I will come back one day, mama, don’t worry… I am fleeing.” (The video has since been taken down.)

In a phone call to Dutch News RTL, Marouane refused to say whether he is affiliated with ISIS or not. “I had expected to be a change factor in the civil war by fighting [Syrian dictator Bashar] Assad,” he said. “That didn’t succeed, because the world is siding with Assad, at least that’s what it looks like from here, and I always had the intention of returning after the war.”

In a similar interview, a Dutch postman turned Islamic convert turned Islamist, Victor Droste, spoke to the Dutch TV news program 1 Vandaag via Skype. Droste admitted he’d been at the front, but refused to say whether he had been fighting. He fervently denied being part of ISIS, but he looked the part, and had been publicly advocating his support for Sharia and Islamism in the year before he left the Netherlands in 2013.

The Dutch government made conscientious attempts to inform the alleged jihadists about the trial via social media like Facebook and through their relatives. The efforts didn’t fail, but they are just the beginning of awkward attempts to address what could be an enormous problem.

An estimated 300 Dutch men, women, and children are known to have traveled to the Middle East to join the ranks of various jihadist organizations, including ISIS.

European Union counterterrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove has warned that the EU as a whole will be hard-pressed to deal with some 1,500 to 2,000 fighters who may try to return as ISIS is driven out of its strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa (PDF).

Different countries are addressing the problem in different ways. According to French intelligence sources, Paris has deployed special operations forces on the ground in Syria to hunt down and kill French jihadists who could pose a threat if they return.

The latest figures from the National Dutch Terrorism Prevention Coordinator (NCTV) tell us that as of June this year, 190 who left the Netherlands managed to join ISIS, and 50 returned. Some, at least 45 jihadists, died. But most of the survivors find themselves now cornered in a flailing wannabe state, a far cry from the heroic caliphate they had been dreaming of, and death has proved less appealing when it becomes palpably real.

With the jihadists’ stories trickling in, the Dutch security services try to gauge the security risk involved if they return. Even if the men are found not guilty of participation in war crimes and/or membership of a terrorist organization, which is unlikely, they are still suffering from PTSD. Letting them loose on the society they rejected would be risky business, and not just for the Netherlands.

“We have a responsibility toward other countries, too,” says Daan Weggemans, a terrorism expert attached to Leiden University who also serves as an expert witness in terrorism court cases. “Our focus tends to be on Dutch returning jihadists, but security is all about the broader picture. The idea that Dutch jihadists would only return to the Netherlands is not right.”

Jihadists are rarely stopped by borders, and certainly not by the open frontiers on the European continent, where they can take advantage of lax security in one place to stage attacks in another.

Exchanging information among security services is crucial, says Weggemans, but there are holes. Libya, for instance, is a major route for people pouring into Europe, but hardly keeps track of who is who, and there is considerable traffic back and forth. The bomber who wrought such carnage at a teen concert in Manchester, U.K., earlier this year was a Briton with extensive ties to family—and to ISIS—in Libya.

Foreigners who would come to the Netherlands with a stream of refugees might be a risk, says Weggemans, but so are jihadists who are in touch with, say, the nephew of a friend, and end up virtually invisible to authorities in an apartment here. “Those are the returnees that I worry about,” he says.

Islamist men returning from war are a major security risk. But then what are we to do with returning wives and children? After a serious amount of brainwashing they are hardly reliable candidates for free-spirited, democratic society. Differently put, how is any person who has actively supported people who put severed heads on spikes in town squares or gays being thrown off tall buildings going to deal with, say, two men kissing in the street in Amsterdam? Or mini skirts, or the notion of equal rights for women, for that matter?

Making policy on returning children poses yet another challenge. An estimated 80 children with a Dutch background are in Syria and Iraq, with ISIS or other jihadist groups, according to the April report of the Dutch National Security Service. Fifty percent are 9 years old or older and half of them are boys.

“With the minors there is also a big element of concern,” Weggemans explains. “They could have seen or done terrible things and were possibly trained a certain way. We know quite a bit about it and such information is very important if you start to help these children… You know that some were too young to be involved, others were educated there, girls were veiled, boys in training camps. We have to think about what we do when kids come back.”

So far, the Netherlands has been spared terrorist attacks. That may in part be because of internal policy, our relative insignificance, or dumb luck. Nobody knows precisely why. But the quiet to date holds no promise for the future. As in every other country, an attack on Dutch soil could happen any moment.

“I know it’s been said many times before, but we have to acknowledge that we won’t be able to prevent all attacks.” Weggemans tells The Daily Beast. Even if you have very active security services, you simply can’t keep track of everyone.

But the challenge of the moment is what to do with those who identify themselves and ask to be treated with mercy in a liberal society after the failure of the fanatical caliphate they longed to establish.

Source: From ISIS-Lands to the Netherlands: Jihadists Try to Get the Press to Help Them Come Home

Young Islamists have ′very scant′ knowledge of Islam, study finds | DW | 11.07.2017

Interesting analysis of texts among young radicalized Muslims:

Young Muslims who become radicalized often invent a patchwork, imagined version of Islam that has little or nothing to do with the Koran. That’s the conclusion drawn by scholars at the universities of Bielefeld and Osnabrück. They’ve just published a book analyzing 5,757 messages from a WhatsApp group of 12 young men ahead of a spring 2016 terrorist attack.

The messages came from a mobile phone, seized by police, that had belonged to one of the young men involved in the attack. The researchers say that the chat offers unique insights into the radicalization process and mindset of Islamists in Germany.

The messages also illustrate the enormous differences between Islamism and Islam. Many of the self-styled “true Muslims,” the experts found, themselves have little valid knowledge of the Koran or the rest of their religion.

“The result is a kind of ‘Lego Islam’ that can be continually adapted to new requirements and in practice has nothing to do with the forms of traditional Islam practiced by the majority of mosque communities in Germany,” write co-authors Becem Dziri and Michael Kiefer.

The authors omitted the names of those involved in the chat and didn’t specify the attack, although the time reference strongly suggests that it was the bombing of a Sikh temple in Essen in April 2016. At the time it was reported that the young people involved in that attack were radicalized via social media, and three of them, all teenagers, were later convicted of attempted murder and conspiracy to murder.

Deutschland Anschlag auf Sikh Tempel in Essen (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Kusch)Luckily no one was killed in the temple bombing

Budding Islamists mix jihad and genies

The conversations leading up to that act of violence suggest that the youths were willing to kill for a faith of which they had only a rudimentary understanding.

“The religious education within the group is very scant,” writes co-author Rauf Ceylan. “Often they didn’t even know the simplest Islamic theological basics. The members of the group are laymen and autodidacts who pick and choose information from the internet and communicate it to the rest of the group.”

Excerpts from the chats often seem like comedy sketches sprinkled with sometimes misused Arabic words and phrases and English slang. In one, a participant responds to a self-appointed leader’s call for a meeting to discuss the jama’a (group) by saying he didn’t have any Islamic clothing. The leader responds: “You can also were sweatpants or something like that. If you want I can loan you something for the day.”

Another message reveals that the author doesn’t even own a copy of Islam’s main religious text.

“I need a Koran,” he writes. “I’ll get one soon from lies [a Salafist group that gives away Korans on the street in Germany]. If I see abu nagi, I’ll tell him he’s a kafir [infidel] because he thinks erdogan [sic] is a Muslim.”

When asked what the most absurd detail of the chats was, Ceylan told DW that participants interwove the belief in magical genies in their pseudo-theology.

“Over the course of the chat protocol, you can see how a religious world gets invented in which supernatural beings can have real effects on the young men,” Ceylan said. “They take fragments of the Koran and cobble them together. That’s why we call it ‘Lego Islam.'”

Salafisten verteilen Korane (picture-alliance/dpa/B.Roessler)Salafists pass out free Korans on German streets

Careers as ‘pop preachers’

Scholars also say that the chat illustrates the process by which young Muslims get radicalized. Key is the role of the “amir,” the self-appointed leader, who “instructed” the others despite lacking any theological credentials himself.

“He’s an alpha male like you have in school,” Ceylan told Deutsche Welle. “The people who act as Salafist preachers aren’t theologians. They’re people who have sometimes failed in life, but if they have a gift for being alpha males, they can become superstars overnight. This shouldn’t be underestimated. You can make a whole career of being a pop preacher.”

The second ingredient in the making of a radical Islamist, the scholars explain, is a young person with the right biography. Emancipation from parents – becoming an adult – gets conflated with emancipation from the mainstream community as one of the “chosen ones.” Ceylan cites the example of a young man who became radical after discovering that his father was having an affair and telling his mother, which led to a divorce.

“These are fundamentally young people who are trying to overcome a crisis in their lives or a biological ruptures,” said Ceylan. “The timing is crucial. Who do I meet in this phase?”

Social media platforms often play a role in radicalizing young people

The importance of language

Ceylan says that although bogus theology is part of the problem, religious instruction is not enough to combat radicalization. He calls for more money for German language imams, psychological therapists in prisons, where many young people get radicalized, and interventions in schools.

“These young people don’t get radicalized secretly, as the chat protocols show,” Ceylan said. “Their teachers see that something’s not right. A kid grows his beard out or starts saying more and more radical things. And the parents see it before everyone else.”

Above all, Ceylan says, those who do intervene with young people susceptible to Islamism need to speak the right language.

“The characteristics of the charismatic ‘self-made’ preachers…are that they speak German, use young people’s slang, make a theatrical impression, display street credibility and present themselves cleverly. That, together with the simplicity of what they teach, makes them attractive to young people.”

Source: Young Islamists have ′very scant′ knowledge of Islam, study finds | TOP STORIES | DW | 11.07.2017