Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, writes about combating radicalisation.
Democracy is a fragile institution. In recent years it seems that our democratic values have been under consistent attack. We have experience of this ourselves. Yet they have survived. Not only that, but democratic institutions have been re-established in countries where they had previously been overthrown. The recent history of a number of EU Member States is testament to that.
One feature of our democratic values is openness to all opinions, even opinions which attack our democratic values. But that openness cannot contemplate actions which seek to impose structures which are anathema to the vast majority of the population or which pose a credible threat to the live of others.
The actions of those involved in the barbaric murder recently of Drummer Lee Rigby, a British soldier in London, and the bombings and murders in Boston leave us struggling to provide explanations. These individuals appear not to have been the victims of persecutions or oppression. They resided in modern, open and liberal states yet, despite this, they developed a level of hatred and enmity beyond reason for their fellow citizens and their society that in their distorted judgement justified randomly destroying the lives of individuals unknown to them.
The term “radicalisation” describes the process of acquiring and holding extremist views. Although this activity is not necessarily illegal, some individuals have shown a propensity to move from simply believing in the righteousness of a specific cause to pursuing it violently.
The EU Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism was originally published in 2005. However, there is evidence to suggest that the nature of the challenge the strategy was designed to address may have evolved. In addition to the atrocities already mentioned, the acts committed by Brevik in Norway, Merah in France and the resurgence of right wing extremism in Europe clearly demonstrate that the current threat is multi-faceted.
Upheaval and conflict in the Arab world has seen the spectacle of many individuals travelling from Europe to fight in civil wars and some being seduced by Islamic fundamentalism.
The fighting in North Africa and Syria constitutes a particular risk in that there is evidence to suggest that some travelling fighters are being radicalised with a view to posing a threat to Europe upon their return. Indeed, the majority of Islamist motivated terrorist attacks committed in Europe over the last few years have involved such foreign fighters.
It is essential that we do all we can to protect young people from these dangers and to show them that there are more fruitful ways to make contributions to their societies than self destruction.
That is why the Irish Presidency of the EU has sought and gained the agreement of the EU’s member states to update the EU Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism.
A purely law enforcement based approach will not address radicalisation and violent extremism. Meaningful engagement with communities is an essential part of this process. But what does this mean? For a start, it does not mean the profiling or stigmatising of sectors of our populations. Engagement means, amongst other things, the protection of fundamental rights and recognition from the outset that the majority of people wish to go about their daily lives in peace and to play a productive part in society. That must be beyond question and the point from which we should start.
While stressing that terrorism can never be justified, our aim should be to identify the factors that can lead some individuals to become radicalised. Actors such as fear or lack of opportunity can lead to feelings of isolation and openness to exploitation by others who do not share European values and who have at their heart the destruction of our society.
We must also acknowledge feelings of marginalisation or experiences of engagement with law enforcement authorities within the EU which are not entirely positive. I am not necessarily referring here to the experiences of groups or communities in this country, but we need to guard against it. There is an ongoing need to develop our community policing skill sets and our engagement with the new communities which comprise today’s Europe and Ireland. We must be inclusive in everything we do.
In Ireland, an Garda Síochána (the Irish police) operates one of the most forward thinking programmes of community relations and racial integration in Europe through its Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office. The Office is in contact with many of our minority communities through its network of Ethnic Liaison Officers. It is to the credit of these communities that they have entered into this relationship with open minds, hearts and a willingness to help create a better society for everyone. When the time comes for the recruitment of new members of the Garda Force, it is important that the profile of those recruited truly reflects the Ireland of 2013 to ensure the force’s continued cross community support.
The creation of the EU’s Radicalisation Awareness Networks (RAN) has resulted in the drawing together of people from a diversity of backgrounds. The Network provides a valuable forum for researchers, social workers, religious leaders, youth leaders, police and other experts, and gives them the opportunity to pool their considerable knowledge and valuable expertise. The RAN will also contribute to the policy process at national and European level.
The Internet has of course been a major force for good. It has revolutionised communications. Yet, there are those who have been swift to exploit its potential for more harmful purposes. It has been found to be an ongoing significant presence in the lives of radicalised individuals. It is not acceptable that the preaching of hatred and incitement to violence should go unchallenged in this dimension. New and innovative ways must be found to counter this phenomenon. That is not to suggest that fundamental rights such as the freedom of speech need be compromised. That would simply play into the hands of those who would seek to deprive us of such rights.
We must also not lose sight of the valuable contribution that can be made by the victims of terror and radicalisation. What is clear from their experiences is that no family or individual, no social demographic or community is immune from this threat. None of us can afford to be complacent. This is an issue that all of us must face together. Updating the EU Strategy will be a significant step in the right direction. That is why work initiated by Ireland in this area in the course of our Presidency of the EU is of substantial importance.
This article originally appeared in the Sunday Business Post. Alan Shatter TD is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence and Chair of the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Council.