Adam Deen: "Deradicalisation can work if you have a strong counter narrative"

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Adam Deen: "Deradicalisation can work if you have a strong counter narrative"

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Adam Deen is a senior researcher and Head of outreach at the Quilliam foundation. A former member of extremist islamist group Al Muhajiroun, he is now an expert in deradicalization. He talks to euronews reporter Valerie Gauriat about the reasons for which young people can be attracted to terrorist groups such as the so-called Islamic State, and the possible ways to disengage them from taking that path.

“One of the powerful things, the powerful message that comes across, from the ISIS propaganda, is it’s very simple. In a world where people are very insecure, in a world where there is uncertainty, the ISIS message, is very comforting. It’s a simplification of the world. It separates the whole world into good and evil. What that does, it helps you understand the world, and give a framework, so you can decide who’s bad, who’s good, and what’s good, whats evil. That is very comforting for people. And it has the veneer of being genuine and true Islam. And that’s what we need to address. That’s the problem

Up until recently we were trying to make sense of these individuals going abroad. And we were saying these were young angry men, disenfranchised, upset with all these kinds of injustices in the Middle- East. And they feel as a duty to go abroad and fight. But then we heard of stories of entire families gathering their belongings and traveling, emigrating to the so-called Islamic state. And that simple grievance narrative can’t explain that.
What does explain it is the ideology that underpins such actions. And that is that they are somewhat alien within western societies, and there is a yearning for a utopian Islamic society. This all points to the ISIS ideology. Very much it’s premised on the idea of rejection of the west, rejection of western values And if you scrutinise the statement by ISIS, taking on responsibility fr the Paris attacks, it’s coaxed on this kind of language, anti western. France was seen as the vice, the land of prostitution if you like. All this is part and parcel of the ideology itself.

Ideology on its own, I don’t think would prompt someone to take their own life and perform terrorist acts. Couple that with the events of the world, seen as injustices in the world, and a sense of alienation. Couple that with an ideology that filter all these events, and makes sense to them in a kind of binary outlook, where this is a conflict between good and evil, it’s us against them. That creates a very dangerous cocktail, where someone feels very justified and almost following gods divine will to do something about these events, even to the extent of blowing themselves up. You have to understand that these people believe they’re doing God’s work. And this is the indoctrination. And they follow a type of ethic that is amoralistic. It is beyond reason. But there’s an eternal type of thinking, an eternal type of rationality which is consistent with their world view.

Deradicalisation can work, but that only happens if you have a strong counter narrative. One of the difficulties in other parts of Europe, for example scandinavian countries, France, Belgium, is that they don’t have a strong counter narrative. In the UK, after 15, 20 years, of this type of puritanical Islam, Wahabism and Islamism being running amok for all this time, we’ve developped strong counter narratives. We’ve identified the problem, we’ve isolated it and now we’re challenging it. The problem is in those regions, part of the world, in Europe, is they don’t have that. The danger is, if they don’t act very soon, things could accelerate on a much faster level compared to what was happening in the UK, 15 years ago. Because they’ve go much more against them now, with this kind of extremist social media machine.

What’s important, what we’re doing in the UK, and atthe Quilliam foundation, with people that are on the cusp of terrorism or extreme, we’re debunking their narrative. We’re providing an alternative understanding of their arguments, and we’re deconstructing their arguments. What needs to be done, and what is happening now, is that we need to stop people arriving at extremism to start with. We need to stop people going on this journey of extremism. And that requires a theological reform. The very way we understand islam; the way we understand the world through the islamic lens, has to change. And that’s an important component in deradicalisation.”