Terrorist stereotypes demolished – by MI5

From an official report leaked to the Guardian, it’s good to see that MI5 have caught up with established thinking that knocks the stereotypes of terrorism.

Extracts:

“…in the past radical clerics featured …but their influence has moved into the background.”

“Suicide bombing is not just a religious phenomenon. It is employed by many secular organisations, including the Kurdish PKK and the Marxist Tamil Tigers..”

“Ariel Merari, a Tel Aviv University psychologist, has profiled 50 suicide bombers and found that there were hardly any common factors. None were deranged or schizophrenic. Few had problems like depression. Merari concluded that the only factor linking all forms of suicide terrorism was the way bombers were recruited and trained. It is the psychology of the group, not the individual, that is key.”

Without being complacent, many people could have told them that long ago, as this testimony about 7/7 Beeston bomber vividly tells us. The MI5 briefing has much to say about them, but little about us, the “good citizens” and the State.

Doesn’t that need to change?quote from Guardian story

Promoting disengagement from terrorism
MI5 admits there is no substantial research on disengagement from Islamist terrorism because it is a relatively new phenomenon but the historic record of terrorist groups illustrates that individuals do leave such networks. Individuals may develop negative feelings through personality clashes or may become disillusioned with the aims and tactics of the group. The 1987 Enniskillen bombing led to disillusion among some IRA sympathisers. Despite the “rewards” of martyrdom, individuals may still fear death or be apprehensive about “failing” in an attack and spending many years in prison. A change in priorities such as the birth of a child, or a new relationship or job may take priority over terrorism”.

“MI5 says its research has implications for the government’s £45m “Prevent” strategy to curb violent extremism, which was initiated after the July 2005 bombings and “refreshed” in June”.

What implications are these?

After long delay, the much vaunted National Security Strategy launched by Gordon Brown is March was an anti-climax and little more than a ” to do” action plan, viz:

National ‘register of risks’
Increase security services personnel to 4,000
Civilian task force to be sent to trouble spots
Efforts to reduce numbers of nuclear weapons around the world
£15,000 bonus to long-serving armed forces staff
Regional counter-terrorism centres to help police
Moves to protect UK from cyber-attacks
Review of role of reserve forces

This critique from Chatham House, by no means a lefty outfit, exposed its weakness – basically it wasn’t a strategy and was based on the fallacy of defending “British values” by suspending them.
quotes
“…there are serious flaws in the NSS and the approach it embodies….-But it is a document which offers all things to all readers, while being strangely unable to provide much in the way of vision, leadership and motivation – or strategy, in other words…the NSS refers to the UK’s ‘core values’; human rights, the rule of law, legitimate and accountable government, justice, freedom, tolerance and opportunity for all. But these values are mentioned in a strangely passive and defensive way, almost as if the most that should be done with these immense ideas is to protect them from marauding terrorists and criminals (and, of course, to stop them being ruined by flood water). Saddest of all, these values appear to constitute little more than the ‘normality’ to which, we are told, the government’s security strategy will enable us to return ‘as soon as possible’ after some harm occurs.”

The scale of the post 7/7 effort is becoming clearer all the time. According to the Guardian backgrounder:
“So far 200 projects in 70 towns and cities have been funded by Whitehall in the attempt to develop the capacity of communities, particularly involving Muslim women, to challenge and resist violent extremists.”

“But it is still very early days for the police-led “Channel Project”, which is designed to divert people from violent extremism but has already led to concerns that some young people will be wrongly identified as extremists.”

And the “terrorist threat” appears to be no mirage, although the details emerge only in fits and starts, usually in court cases which are not always successful.

Extract
“Counter terrorism: Police disrupt 13 terror networks last year. From April 2007 until March 2008, over 40 people were convicted of terrorist-related offences as a result of Metropolitan Police investigations and sentences amounting to more than 600 years were imposed. The police arrested 46 people in relation to terrorist investigations between the start of this year and May 31, and charged 10, although the report points out that some of the remainder have been cautioned, detained pending an immigration investigation or dealt with under the Mental Health Act.”

The MI5 reviews argues for greater subtlety and implies less headline grabbing legislative action of dubious value. Depressingly, though I doubt if we’ll see much difference on the surface – which appears to count for more than long term results with the politicians.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London