Saturday, August 4, 2018

Good practice initiatives to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism – focus on women

Good practice initiatives in preventing radicalisation in the UK have come in the form of supporting voluntary organisations who work at grassroots level with people who are the most vulnerable in society, for example initiatives like Inspire, WARN (Women Against Radicalisation Network), and the Henna Foundation. There are numerous such organisations that exist around the UK and many were established decades ago addressing problematic cultural issues that particularly affected women in Asian communities, like forced marriages, honour killings, and domestic violence. In 2008 the Labour Government brought together women leaders of such groups under the National Muslim Women’s Advisery Group (NMWAG). They sought the advice of these women as they knew their communities well and had credibility within them. The Labour Government at the time sponsored three main initiatives that addressed theological issues and women, one that empowered women in the form of promoting role models, and lastly one that increased civil participation.430 In general the work was received well by women in their communities but the most powerful by product of this initiative was bringing together strong, active, and credible Muslim women who were able to share best practices and support one another in their work. Even after the NMWAG was disbanded in 2011 by the coalition government many remain in contact today and they continue to work and support one another as they face similar challenges in their work. Women who head these groups are criticised as they speak openly about difficult issues within their communities. Their actions have been construed as encouraging Islamaphobia and have caused some factions within their communities to become quite defensive. Inspire and WARN both were created specifically to address the problem of radicalisation and Islamist extremism. Perhaps because of this they are more heavily criticised than some of the other older Muslim women’s organisations. However this does not deter the founders as they are highly motivated to rid their community of extremism and hate. Inspire organised a “Road Show” where they toured the UK with their message against extremism and spoke about actions women could take against radicalisation and on advice on how they could protect their children. They held workshops and talks creating awareness. They raised the difficult subjects that were generally not spoken about within many Muslim communities and really aimed to put these women into the picture, making sure they were equipped to defend themselves and their children against extremist recruiters. WARN also do similar work in the form of workshops stating on their website, “Our workshop teaches mothers to know what’s what and how to spot the signs of radicalisation. It walks them through the simple steps they need to make sure their children stay safe online.” These organisations are doing great work within their communities and there is a great possibility that the decrease in numbers of young women wanting to join ISIS/Da'esh can be attributed to some of their work within schools and communities.   

A fundamental part of good practice is to be transparent and for all those working with   individuals and communities to gain the trust of those who may be susceptible to radical views. This also includes all Government institutions, such as the Police, Education, Healthcare and Social Care. The multi-agency approach has worked exceptionally well in the UK and has successfully addressed the needs of hundreds of individuals who have been at risk of radicalisation or who have actually held radical views. This is largely to do with the afore mentioned PREVENT strategy and the UK Channel initiatives. The key to the success of Channel is information sharing and for all parties to be on the same page when addressing  each individual case. The cases that come through Channel need to be understood by all parties involved so that the best possible actions can be taken for each person. If information is not relayed effectively there is a greater chance for people to slip through the net, or escalate issues which could lead to problems. On the other hand, although multi agency approaches with regular face to face meetings are essential when dealing with cases, what has also tended to occur is a type of “professional help overload.” This is where the individual is in connection with an excessive number of agencies and professionals. In one case, an individual had around 10 people they needed to keep regular meetings with and it became quite suffocating for them. They began to resent the amount of time taken up by the meetings and did not find any of them useful to her. What was decided at the Channel Panel, in this case, was to cut back some of the services the individual felt they did not need and to keep the ones she engaged with the best. 

Training all frontline Government workers so that they understand the complexities of the issues surrounding radicalisation and can address any problems that may occur, is an essential best practice. In the UK, WRAP (Workshops to Raise Awareness of PREVENT) training is offered to all those working in front line services so that they have adequate knowledge of extremism and radicalisation. However, although WRAP training gives a good introduction, it is important for training to be ongoing and background reading needs to be kept up by individuals who work in the area. Best practice would include a means of support for individuals dealing with cases, especially those who feel unsure of how to deal with a radicalised person. There should be a helpline for professionals of some sort and an accessible and easy to understand handbook for frontline workers so they are helped to make the right decisions.  

Dealing directly with an individual’s radical views is something that needs to be dealt with in a sensitive manner, in the UK this is the role of the UK Channel Intervention Provider (IP). An IP saying the wrong thing or acting in a way that can aggravate the individual can be catastrophic. Professional IPs who have the responsibility of talking to radicalised individuals are all well trained and have in-depth understanding of radical views. They need to have the ability to counter arguments and be familiar with extremist rhetoric, in order to be most effective. Each individual referred onto Channel will have a particular drive and this will need to be addressed in a non-combative way. Anita Nayyar is an IP who uses her Psychology background to employ Freud’s “Free Association” technique where she will allow her clients to speak freely and openly on subjects using prompts to encourage speech. This allows the individual to feel comfortable and say what is on their minds leaving the IP with a clear understanding of their needs and to then specifically address them. She gave the example where one client spoke about the fact they had a very limited network of friends. The IP then arranged for them to meet people in her local area with whom she could meet on a regular basis. Offering the correct support for individuals will give the individual a sense of genuinely being helped this will then increase the chance of them remaining on the programme and engaging for as long as the IP deems fit. A large function of the IP is not only to engage in counter narratives with an individual but to support and mentor them. Often IPs are referred to as mentors and this may be a more apt definition for IPs depending on the case in hand. Under some circumstances where the individual is not radicalised but is categorised only as vulnerable to radicalisation, the IP must get to know their client and provide them with solutions to specific problems they may be having. For example, it is not uncommon for IPs to help their clients filling out CVs to find a new jobs or filling out forms for college to embark on a course. To ensure an individual feels hopeful and supported is a major part of an IPs job description as this helps to eradicate susceptibility to radicalisation.

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