The following is a summary of an event with Raffaello Pantucci chaired by Henry Jackson Society Research Fellow Hannah Stuart; it reflects the views expressed by the speakers and not by The Henry Jackson Society or its staff.
On 16 April 2015, Raffaello Pantucci, author of the new book We Love Death as You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists, was hosted by HJS at its offices in Millbank Tower. Mr. Pantucci gave a brief overview of his research into “homegrown” British jihadists, shared lessons he learned while writing it and provided his insights to a variety of questions fielded by the audience.
The Phases of Islamist Radicalisation, 1949-Present
- Following waves of migration from former colonies after the Second World War, political dissidents from the Middle East and South Asia followed, bringing with them the seeds of Islamism. Key events in the late 20th century ignited a crisis of identity within some British Muslim communities, including the on-going Kashmiri conflict, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Rushdie affair and the Bosnian War.
- 9/11 and subsequent conflicts in the Middle East galvanised a new generation of young jihadists. Al-Qaeda uses its network of individuals to direct attacks in the West, culminating in the 7/7 bombings and the foiled 2006 transatlantic airlines plot.
- Al-Qaeda’s diminishing capabilities, the rise of successors to the jihadist cause and continued growth in the importance of the internet, represent a shift in accelerant factors of radicalisation, but not a fundamental change. Most recently, the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq has brought a renewed focus on foreign jihadist conflicts.
The Importance of the Individual in Understanding Radicalisation
- There is no one-size-fits-all reason in understanding the processes of radicalisation. Individuals are drawn to extremism for a variety of reasons: convert’s zeal; social isolation; or the influence of a charismatic individual, to name a few.
- Radicalisation is a social process: relationships between individuals are the most effective means of transmission of extremist ideology. Intermediaries can bridge the gap, for example, between hardened mujahideen and prospective jihadists in, or coming from, the West.
Jihadists’ Changing Operational Goals
- Early efforts focused on supporting causes abroad, in Kashmir, Afghanistan and Bosnia, for example.
- Through close co-operation with the leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, al-Qaeda trained and equipped cells in the West to carry out highly sophisticated attacks.
- In a response to the vulnerability inherent in larger plots, decentralised attackers now seek to carry out attacks with fewer associates and links abroad, less sophistication and muted ambition. Most recently, there has been a renewed emphasis on traveling abroad, often accompanied with the intention of either martyrdom or jihadist nation-building.
Best Practice in Countering Radicalisation
- Counter-narratives and civil society challenges from within British Muslim community are a prerequisite to demonstrating the fallacy of extremist ideology and isolating extremist individuals. This is complicated when representatives of Britain’s Muslim communities are themselves receptive to or apologetic for radical Islam.
- While careful monitoring of the internet can impede the transmission of radical ideas, it is not a real solution, especially since most radicalised individuals have had contact at some point with an individual who encourages them to take the next step.