The terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have exposed the West to notions of extremism never seen before. Whereas many of the conflicts during the Cold War and its immediate aftermath were characterised by political ideologies or ethnic tensions, the events in 2001 and its aftermath were notable in the manner in which individuals were polarised and radicalised towards gradually more extreme ends. Nearly 16 years on, much of the world continues to feel the impacts of what took place on that day.
Since then, analysts and security specialists have sought explain and rationalise the how and why of individuals getting radicalised towards extremist causes. And yet, despite immense amounts of literature produced over the course of these 16 years, the very definition of extremism itself remains elusive. In the interim, further questions have been raised with regards to the distinctions between violent and non-violent extremism and the specific parts they play in radicalising vulnerable individuals.
Outside the realm of theory, extremist groups and ideologies continue to wreak death and destruction across the globe. The Islamist extremism represented by al-Qaeda has since been eclipsed, at least momentarily, by the Islamic State which took over large swathes of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt. Terrorists guided directly by the group’s ideology or simply inspired by it were responsible for bloody attacks in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Belgium, Tunisia and elsewhere.
Perhaps as a reaction, long-dormant and marginalised factions of right-wing extremists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis have made a comeback in the 2010s, riding a wave of xenophobia and conducting their own attacks in Norway, United Kingdom and United States.
Confronted with these threats, governments across the world have found themselves trying to formulate a coherent and sustainable response against the forces of extremism. While many governments have followed a fairly orthodox approach of responding to extremism under the wider counter-terrorism strategy, a few governments have vied for alternatives.
This paper seeks to explore the concept of extremism, its definitions, its subsets and ways in which governments counter extremism. In the first chapter, this paper investigates the various ways in which extremism has been defined. This paper notes that the definitions of extremism have varied from country to country, and even different governments within the same country have provided amendments towards how they define extremism, focusing on how this process took place within the United Kingdom which remains the overall case study of this paper. Afterwards, the paper highlights the distinct ways in which “violent extremism” and “non-violent extremism” have been defined, noting how the latter concept took an increasingly important position in the United Kingdom’s counter-extremism strategy.
Afterwards, this paper analyses the counter-extremism strategy of the United Kingdom. Using government-published White Papers; the way in which the British Government counters extremist narratives and deny extremists public space; how it aims to increase the profile of credible voices against extremism; how it uses targeted powers to disrupt extremist activities; and, how it aims to build cohesive communities where radicalisation is not a problem. Within the context of analysing the counter-extremism programme, this paper pays particular attention to the Prevent Programme of the counter-terrorism strategy and its Channel Referral System that aims to act as an early warning system towards individuals becoming radicalised.
Subsequently, this paper addresses the numerous concerns faced relating to Prevent, Channel and the wider counter-extremism strategy, noting why they are important when assessed at the macro-level and how they can be detrimental to counter-extremism projects elsewhere. Particular attention is given in this section towards accusations that these programmes have unfairly targeted Britain’s Muslim population while overlooking the growing threat from right-wing extremists.
In the final chapter, this paper looks at the feasibility of applying Prevent and the wider counter-extremism programme in Iraq. As a country reaching the end of a devastating war against a faction of Islamist extremists, Iraq is in dire need of robust and holistic counter-extremism strategies and this paper highlights how the Prevent model can act as a suitable, community-centred method in Iraq where familial, tribal and religious support networks remain the most comprehensive grass-roots institutions in the aftermath of the war that has swept across much of the country. This paper then concludes with a comparative analysis of counter-extremism programmes from Germany and Morocco both of which would complement a Prevent-based counter-extremism model in Iraq and would be suitable to the socio-political context of the country.
As a whole, this paper identifies the counter-extremism strategy of the United Kingdom as one of the most robust and comprehensive examples of strategies in existence. The paper notes that although a number of structural and practical deficiencies hinder the ability of the programmes to be fully effective, they nevertheless represent a highly community-centric approach to counter-extremism that distinguishes the British approach from the security-centric policies of countries such as United States, France and Israel. A number of community-based strategies have been undertaken in each of these countries but the strategies remain highly securitised overall and they lack the scope and depth of the British programmes. Such reasoning also underpins why the author recommended the counter-extremism programmes of Germany and Morocco on a complementary capacity, as the programmes from both these countries offer strategies is compatible with and can complement the British counter-extremism strategy.