Essential and sobering ISGAP conference was having a conversation sorely missing in Westminster

By Emma Fox

This week, HJS had the pleasure of hosting the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) for a conference on extremism and terror threats in the UK.

The director of our Centre on Radicalisation & Terrorism, Nikita Malik, took to the floor first and described her research on the ‘dark web’ – a current hot spot for jihadist recruitment. She spoke about the difficulties of monitoring this vast area of the internet; how users effectively evade inspection from the authorities; and the extent to which graphic sexual and violent content pervades this underground world.

Furthering the discussion on Islamist networks in the West, Tom Wilson, our resident specialist in the area, delved into the Muslim Brotherhood and its South Asian counterpart Jamaat-e-Islami, exploring how such groups create institutions to infiltrate and influence British political organisations. His talk prompted several questions on the Brotherhood’s impact on UK universities – which one participant had witnessed first-hand – and how Jeremy Corbyn’s extensive engagement with Brotherhood front groups in the past could affect public policy in the area should he become Prime Minister.

At this point, I delivered the findings of Student Rights’ latest report on MEND’s Islamophobia Campaign. I pointed to explicit examples of how the group utilised a message of marginalisation to elicit financial and political support from students, academics and politicians. Those groups’ messages of tolerance and community provided an ideal platform for MEND’s extremist partners, some of whom had supported violent jihad and brutal sharia punishments, while also expressing sympathy with convicted terrorists. Successfully taking their campaign from universities to schools, community centres and even an NHS hospital, it is clear that the threat of Islamist entryism continues to eat away at our most crucial institutions – with a level of sophistication only a few could foresee.

The conference concluded with more questions from the floor ranging from the shared characteristics and susceptibilities found in radicalised individuals; the internet and its catalysing role in extremist indoctrination; and the relationship between terror networks in the UK and their counterparts on the European continent. We discussed the role of anti-Semitism in Islamist ideology, the lack of cognitive resilience amongst young students against reductionist and revolutionary narratives, and where the current lapses in research lie with regard to countering the wider extremist threat to the UK.

Essential and sobering conversations all round. This conference was not afraid to raise some of the most critical and controversial issues currently facing our democratic and liberal society. It’s just such a shame the same discussions aren’t always being had in the upper echelons of Westminster.

Emma Fox is National Organiser for Student Rights at the Henry Jackson Society.

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