Correspondent Priyanka Shankar speaks with three experts on extremist radicalization and deradicalization. Mubin Shaikh, Pieter Van Ostaeyen, and Elizabeth Pearson.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: Terrorism continues to remain a threat around the world affecting the lives of millions of people.
According to the United Nations, weak governance, human rights violations, weak rule of law, corruption, real or perceived discrimination, political exclusion and socioeconomic marginalization motivates such violent extremism in society.
As a result, terror groups use these aspects to radicalize people to carry out violent attacks in society to achieve their political, social or religious aims.
Mubin Shaikh, a professor of Public Safety at Senaca College in Toronto and international expert in counter-terrorism efforts explains how former extremists could be flipped, to bolster peace. Shaikh also works with Parents for Peace, an NGO in the US which empowers and helps families prevent radicalization.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: Mubin, let’s first talk about radicalization and your own personal experience with it. What drove you to start questioning your identity and follow extremist groups?
MUBIN SHAIKH: You know, conflicts over meaning and identity are very common in the human experience. This is something that, of course, transcends nationality, religion, gender. It is a core human thing. And so the identity crisis that hit me was the result of a, you know, a first generation Canadian Muslim navigating that space in which there are different things pulling at them. For me, I could say there was a cultural Indian component. I can say there was also a religious component. And so trying to figure out which of those hats I'm supposed to wear is what created that identity crisis. And it's the same thing that navigation, that multiple hat situation mean. This is something that applies to to anybody and everybody. The identity crisis is easily the most common factor when it comes to radicalization of people, you know, in a Western context and I note a Western context because of think about what this Western experiment is. It's bringing together people of all different backgrounds and just throwing them together in, you know, in the same area and and basically all trying to get along, everyone trying to be on relatively the same page. And how possible can that be when when you have all these different ideas, beliefs, you know, cultural communities that you have to basically navigate between.
That was my life and at least the beginning part of my teenage years, just trying to figure everything out. So in high school. When, you know, I see myself as a member of this social group. It's comprised of people from all different backgrounds. Right? You have. You know, white, Western, European. There are Asians, but the other Asians I knew, you know, black Canadians, it was very diverse. It was a very, you know, diverse background. And that's just the, I think, testaments to how Canada is and, you know, the multicultural context in which we operate. So it's within that environment of seeking out new friendships, succumbing to the cultural temptations of others, that this identity crisis is happening. And it's learning from them and hanging out with them what exactly a house party is. Right? And that was basically just, you know. Invite people to the house while my parents were gone. Hopefully nobody will notice. Obviously the big mess that's been left inside. And so what happened was my father realized that somebody, you know, should check on the house while he was gone. And so, unbeknownst to me, he had told his brother to visit the house, to check the house while he was gone. And so, of course, in the middle of the party that I had, my uncle burst through the door. And obviously became very upset and very angry at what he had, you know, chanced upon, I guess, and what he was looking at. And so that's how. that's what triggered my descent into radicalization.
This in radicalization theory is what we call a cognitive opening. Something that happens to a person that is so shocking to their system that they will open up to views that they would normally not be open to. So that cognitive opening is what then oriented me towards the idea of becoming religious as a solution to my newly discovered problem.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: Let’s talk a little bit about your time in Pakistan. What were the sort of conversations you were having with people that made you feel like you belonged? What were the sort of tactics they were using to make you feel like you'd found maybe a pathway that you wanted to pursue?
MUBIN SHAIKH: I think it was less, you know, there because the group that I went with, the Tablighi Jamaat, as they're called, although they are, you could say, fundamentalist, they are apolitical, which is very uncommon. A lot of the well, we see fundamentalist religious groups, they tend to be political and politically oriented. But the Tableeghi Jamaat are not politically oriented, right? They're odd in this case and they do stand apart from everyone else. So it's not that they had specific narratives, or statements or anything like that which would, you know, which deliberately worked on a person's, sense of belonging. But what they did was through their actions, you know. They made us feel like we belonged in that because at that stage, the four month thing was really like an immersion experience. You know, you would spend two months in India, you and two months in Pakistan. You would go from, you know, mosque to mosque. You were very independent. So, you know, you had your own money. The group didn't ask for money. Um, you know, we didn't collect money. We didn't beg for money. Um, what what it does is it gives you the opportunity to become that religiously observant person that, you know you should be basically -by staying in the mosque, by engaging in these religious activities, which only, you know, only revolve around prayer and fasting and reading Quran and serving other people. And these sorts of things made it very easy in that sense.
So you would just basically engage in the practice of the religion. And basically become used to it condition yourself to doing so. Getting up in the morning you know and then throughout the day ultimately five different prayers lectures, more prayers. Right. This was something that you could replicate to a point where this could become your daily life. And it did.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: When did you realize that we were getting radicalized?
MUBIN SHAIKH: So interestingly, the the Tableeghi Jamaat, like I said, they're apolitical. They do not talk about politics. And they actually do not like it when people talk about politics. And so very quickly, I realized that this was not the group for me. And I actually left the Tableeghi Jamaat and started hanging out with a more, more extremist type of people. So we can say the category would be the Salafi, Salafi like Takfiri. So Salafi Takfiri is like the Salafist is basically a very politicized fundamentalist, you know, worldview. The basics of Salafism is is the claim that one must return to the original way of Islam that was practiced by the prophet, peace be upon him and the early generations, the Salaf, what's called the salaf. And attached to that was the the politicization of the religion. Everything was couched in political terms. Everything was viewed from the prism of politics, of religious politics, of the idea that Islam is not just a religion, but it is a this was the belief that it was also a political ideology, that it needed to be implemented in every aspect of someone's life. Uh, and by force, if necessary. And this is when I became more attuned to the conflicts that were happening in the world and started to filter everything through that paradigm of this notion that being in a state of constant conflict is how. One should live. And so the idea was kind of solidified in my mind that fighting and waging war against the enemies of Islam and Muslims is the only way forward. And. I knew that this was extreme. Even at that time. I knew that most people don't think like this. Most people don't do this sort of stuff. And so I knew that I was becoming extreme.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: You went through this experience before 9/11 happened in the US. How did that act of terrorism influence you?
MUBIN SHAIKH: No. So I got married. Like I said, it calmed me down a little bit, but. But while I was in Canada, of course, that's when 9/11 happened. And after that. So it happened in September. In April, I would leave Canada to go to live in Syria for two years.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: And that was like your de-radicalization process?
MUBIN SHAIKH: That's right. I, I spent two years studying Arabic and Islamic studies. I went through the entire Quran. Um, we learned, of course, about the because there are two primary sources of Islam and they are the Quran. And there was a whole methodology that is employed in understanding Islam. There's the Quran and Sunnah and then it goes into, you know, biographical material and that's where you get most of the war stories that extremists, you know, fixate on. And as I was reminded, there was a very, very small portion of time in which Muslims were engaged in fighting, you know, for the first ten of the 23 years that the prophet (peace be upon him) was with the community. There was nothing. And even in the subsequent years after that, a very small amount of time over the 23 years or, you know, in the complete period, a very small portion was spent in fighting. And so and then you also learn that in what is called Sira and Maghazi material, these are reports that are not as authentic and accurate as what we might find in the in the Hadith, which are basically like raw intelligence reports that have been associated degrees of reliability. So I find that a lot of the things that the extremists talked about really came out of things that were not authentic. And in fact, when you looked at the interpretations of the verses, the context of the verses, translation, etcetera, their interpretations were completely wrong. So spending two years there in a very deep dive study of the Islamic sources. This is when I would go through what I later learned was this thing called de-radicalization.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: That's super interesting that, you know, you got into the group wanting to learn more about the religion and then also used religion to de-radicalize yourself. Is this a sort of solution that you use now when you help other people?
MUBIN SHAIKH: You know, every person's journey is unique. And I do use this particular approach in my life. This is what you know, this is what it took for me. And I have used this, you know, in the time since with people that I've dealt with. I do use that Islamic approach sometimes. You know, for some people they go off track, meaning you might find, you know, as I've found sometimes you have a former Muslim extremist and they've become either agnostic or they've become atheist altogether. Sometimes this happens. It's, you know, less it's not as common. But what is more common is indeed using religion to basically counter the interpretations of religious extremists. And I also did this in my time countering ISIS online from 2012. I had an extensive Internet footprint, if you will, or online presence between the years of 2012 and 2018 inclusive in that period. And every single day I was engaging with ISIS members multiple times a day, you know, multiple individuals at the same time. And I was using religion. I was using religious sources. And this is one of the things that I found is that these people, they claim authority on the religion. But in fact, many of them don't know the religion. And when you challenge them and when you kind of go back and forth with them, once they come to realize that, then that's the wedge and that's the opening that you can create inside somebody to realize. Hold on a second. Is it possible that I don't actually know the Islam that I follow in the way that I claim that I know it? And that is what we hope to achieve to create that sense of seeking more knowledge and more information in a person's mind so that they would reconsider this extremist, you know, opinion that they've subscribed to at that time.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: These days, there's a lot of socio-political forms of extremism as well. I mean, in the US we're seeing that now and also in other countries. So then how do you handle it when it's a sociopolitical event that makes someone get into extremist groups or believe in extremist views?
MUBIN SHAIKH: What you can do in this context now is you can even with my story, you can strip away all the religious stuff from it and you can break it. You know, we can bring it, if you will, to its component parts. So social, political, you know, the different manifestations of radicalization that we see in North America today. A lot of it has to do with the same things that you would find somebody radicalizing into a religious group. Right. Ideas of identity. Identity is a big thing. Okay. Quest for significance. You know, we all want to be somebody. We all want to be viewed by others as being somebody and having this worth. These are all factors that will apply even, you know, in these cases. You also see, for example, the group dynamics. So when people join with protest movements or, you know, certain closed circle of friends, you know, these are things that will facilitate that radicalization process. Doesn't matter what your background is or what your where you're coming from or what ideology you end up in. So you have, you know, a sense of identity or identity conflicts, quest for significance, deprivation and frustration. Okay. So somebody feels that, you know, an election was stolen from them, for example, you know, this is how some of these things manifest. There's a wonderful quote that goes, ideology without grievances doesn't resonate, and grievances without ideology are not acted upon. So, again, ideology without grievances doesn't resonate and grievances without ideology are not acted upon. So that's kind of shows you the interplay between those two factors, ideology and grievances. So you can look at some or all of these factors and then we can identify in this particular context when we see radicalization occurring, why it's occurring. And keep in mind, radicalization is not necessarily an automatically and inherently a bad thing. It is certainly not something that automatically leads to violence. You know, radicalization is a basically the psychological process whereby people become increasingly extreme in their views. Okay. So the vast majority of radicalized people, even those who are extremist, will not become violent. It's difficult to know which of, let's say, a group of ten extremists, which two are going to become violent. And in some cases you can't know. You have to monitor all ten. And hope to catch the two that, you know, that become violent. So in the current context of this increased polarization, and that's another factor of radicalization in society when you look at what's happening and these different push and pull factors. So, you know, push factors are a societal factors, you know, could relate to government efficacy or, you know, larger societal issues, maybe even socioeconomic status. And then you have pull factors which which are things within an individual that pull them into a group or which a group can pull an individual into their orbit by. So by giving them a sense of belonging.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: It's really interesting that you touched upon the fact of not stripping extremists of their agency, but in society. As soon as you start seeing somebody is getting radicalized or is an extremist, people instantly isolate them. For example, they categorize them under labels like dangerous people, threat to society and. Is this how people should be reacting to a case where, you know, maybe their loved one or somebody they know of in their neighborhood is going through this radicalization process? And do you think the government policies should play a role here?
MUBIN SHAIKH: So, you know, this is something that Parents for Peace is, you know, very well involved in. And at that place, where is first to identify where the how the radicalization is occurring. So a person is, you know, increasingly extreme, becoming more and more extreme in their views. If family members can see that and or others, it could be friends, it could be a teacher in school, it could be a colleague at work. The first thing to do is not to isolate that person and not to completely cut them off, even if they might cut you off. It does happen. But to remain in their orbit and influence as much and as long as possible, and to engage them with personal stories and personal things, especially for those with whom you've had a friendship for so long, and to keep working on that friendship or whatever, that the nature of that relationship is condemning them, pointing fingers at them, damning them to hell. These are not going to these are not tactics that work. Having a strong support system around that person is going to be very necessary.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: Is there a fear that they could go back to joining extremist groups again? What sort of tools or techniques could help them navigate potential radicalization triggers?
MUBIN SHAIKH: There are going to be triggers. There's going to be, you know, some form of relapse, if I can use that that term. It does happen. Um, you know, a person, especially young people, when when they're still trying to form that identity, you know, um, and trying to do so with a still developing and still forming brain even, it's not uncommon that it, that that will happen. And so building resiliency and what that means is preparing an individual for triggers that will come up possibly try to suck them back into that that understanding. So preparing an individual at the outset is going to be the most important aspect of of that resiliency. Secondly is going to be how do you deal with that once it occurs, if an idea comes up again? Well, we have there are ways in which that can be dealt with. If it's an intellectual thing, well, then it can be discussed intellectually, right? If it's something that's, you know, related to a physical condition, well, then we can go, you know, to a physician or some medical professional or other kind of professional to maybe deal with that part of, you know, the the situation.
PIETER VAN OSTAEYEN
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: Pieter, you've been researching terrorist groups for many years, and I'm keen to understand why they try to radicalize people. What do they gain from it?
PIETER VAN OSTAEYEN: Well, the Islamic State, one of their core values, if you want to call it like that, is the idea of brotherhood and equality. So basically, all these frustrated Moroccan guys here in Belgium, for example, who joined the Islamic State and other groups, their idea was that they didn't belong in Belgium, but they also didn't belong in Morocco, for example. So if they wanted to go somewhere where they were equal to their brothers and where there was the idea of creating an Islamic caliphate again. That's what attracted most of them. And of course, there were a lot of psychos as well who just went to Syria to kill. But most of these guys weren't really religious when they left. Actually, they were just a band of friends, a bunch of friends who left early in the war and who ended up there stuck there for several years. Most of them have been killed by now. But we see the same processes basically happening in throughout the soil in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, where the Islamic State sees discomfort within the society, they try to create an opportunity by that. They try to profit off from the situation of these people and by promising them that they will take care of of law and order in the area. But then they obviously impose draconian interpretation of the Islamic law to these people as well.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: It's interesting that you say that many of these people who went and joined these groups weren't really religious. They did it because they felt like they wanted to belong somewhere. But these groups want to create a brotherhood, a caliphate, and that's all linked to their religion. But then there are also groups, for example, in the US like the KKK and the other groups, that it's very sociopolitical radicalization. So is it religion or sociopolitical factors which shape extremist groups ideologies?
PIETER VAN OSTAEYEN: No. Basically, religion is used to justify the social, economical and political motivation of most of these people. Religion is just a cover up. We can clearly see that in how the Islamic State, for example, used Quran and Hadith to justify some of its actions. This one example I'm thinking of is the burning of the Jordanian pilot, Muath al-Kasasbeh, who crashed into the lake near Raqqa with his fighter jet and who was publicly burned by the Islamic State. Basically, they filmed the whole thing and they published it. It was a horrific video. They explained it as the rightful killing, an eye for an eye, the rightful killing of a pilot who bombed people in their houses who were burned alive and then burned by the rebels. So they did exactly the same to him. They burned him alive and then they buried him by rubble. But then there is a verse in the Quran that says that only God can punish with fire, but the Islamic State always tries to find. Some obscure text that will justify their actions. And here again, obviously, they did find texts. Another example, the throwing down from tall buildings of. Homos and lesbians. That's very disputable because it isn't in the in the hudud, the Islamic penal law. It isn't inscribed there. But they found a text which says, throw them down head first, and then if they still survive, stoned them to death. And that's exactly what they did. So they always found some way to justify their actions that were very brutal in some cases, indeed. Led by social, economical and political grievances justifying whatever they did. And they've been very creative in this, and they are still using this same tactic over and over again.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: You know, I was wondering, in the US after the 9/11 terror attacks, a lot of questions popped up in the public sphere as to why the terrorists did this and why terrorists from the al Qaeda group hated Americans. How would you explain Qaeda's ideology to Americans still questioning nine by 11?
PIETER VAN OSTAEYEN: Well, don't forget that 9/11 was preceded by a bunch of other attacks by al Qaeda. We have the attack on the USS Cole. I don't know if you remember if it was before or after nine over 11, but we also had the attacks in 1998, if I'm not mistaken, on the the embassies of the of the United States in Dar es Salaam and in Nairobi. So al Qaeda was already propagating that it would start a war against the United States. Osama bin Laden was very clear in it in his two fatwas, especially the second fatwa, which was a declaration of war against the Zionists and the Americans. So the whole idea of al Qaeda was that the United States deserves to be attacked because basically they are the main supporters of Israel. Which unlawfully claims Al-Quds, Jerusalem. That was the whole religious idea that was opposed by bin Laden and propagated also by the following leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Ayman al-Zawahiri actually was the main architect, probably of nine over 11. He persuaded bin Laden to perform the attacks. There always have been obviously impactful large attacks by al-Qaeda, but al Qaeda turned and evolved in the last few years into focusing on the near enemy instead of the far enemy. And that's a paradigm shift that has happened after Osama bin Laden got killed, actually.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: What do you mean by near enemy rather than foreign enemy?
PIETER VAN OSTAEYEN: The nearer enemy, for example, al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Yemen, they have a branch that is trying to launch international attacks. But the main focus is on the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government. Shabab in Somalia is solely focused on the near enemy, so the Somalian army and government, it has not claimed any major external attacks yet. You can see this actually, you know, almost the entire al Qaeda landscape that they have shifted.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: So does this mean for countries in the West, radicalization from these terror groups is no longer such a big threat as it was before?
PIETER VAN OSTAEYEN: No, no, it will go on. But the problem is right now, the opportunity ten years ago was a much bigger for these guys because basically if you're living in northwestern Europe and you want to go to Syria, it isn't that far and it isn't that difficult to go to. You just have to travel to Turkey and you can cross the border. Same counts for American citizens, for example. They just have to take a flight to Turkey and then they cross the border into Syria and they were in the war zone going to current theaters of operation for the Islamic State in like, for example, Afghanistan or the Sahel is a lot more difficult. People will still keep radicalizing. It's no doubt about that. That's going to continue that trend. But the bigger mobilization for the jihadi crowd in the war theaters, as I shall call them, seems to have diminished a bit. At least now they are more focusing on local population and not so much more on foreign fighters.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: How have the tactics extremist groups use to radicalize people changed over the years? You've been researching these groups. What are the kind of messages they send to people to recruit them?
PIETER VAN OSTAEYEN: The way it's happening now is probably the way it's always been happening, mostly via contacts, personal contacts or social media contacts. The way it happened in the past, like ten years ago, when the first guys left, it was mostly peer pressure, family pressure in a way. Social contacts, friends, messages that they received from people they knew who had joined the jihad in Syria already at a certain point was infiltrated in the networks of Belgian jihadis and could clearly note the importance of their old physical networks that had been translated into a social network that spanned all over from northwestern Europe to Syria, Iraq and beyond. So social media played a crucial role. If it wasn't for Twitter, we wouldn't have seen this massive recruitment Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, all these platforms. They have been infested with jihadi propaganda and jihadi recruiters, and now they are returning again. And basically they've never really been away.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: What are the messages on social media channels that they put out there?
PIETER VAN OSTAEYEN: The official groups mostly don't. They did that in the past. But nowadays it's calm. They don't openly recruit anymore on social media. Most of these contacts are peer to peer. So basically people who know each other from years before who get into contact again and start persuading the other one to come over. That was the whole idea. For example, we had in 2016, we had a terrorist campaign in France, which was led by a French jihadi, Rashid Kassem, who was leading a network on Telegram, Sabor de Lumiere, and he was basically giving instructions to his followers in France to, for example, priest Gilles Hamel in Normandy to stage an attack on the Notre Dame. Luckily, the attack was foiled and there are dozens of other examples, and that was a network, Sabado Lumiere. Sometimes the guys who were involved there only knew Rashid Kassem via the Telegram account. Never met the guy in person. Even the two guys who killed the French priest, Jules Duhamel, in Normandy they had never met before the day of the attack itself. So they just communicated via the Telegram channel and they agreed to perform the attack. The main idea is people still tend to believe that there is a phenomenon called lone wolves. In my idea, lone wolves don't exist. They're always interconnected, being physically, being via the internet or whatever. But there is always a connection. There's nobody who radicalizes by himself, not even by watching hours of propaganda. You always need to have a physical or very persuasive connection who can get you that little step further than normal people go.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: Aren't governments curious enough about why people got radicalized in the first place? And then they try to understand the ideology of terror groups and find solutions to help.
PIETER VAN OSTAEYEN: Governments could do a lot. So basically, after the foiled attacks of February 2019, the Paris attacks in November 2019, the Brussels attacks in March the following year, we took very repressive and short term measures. We as the.
The government at that time said that we are going to clean out. We have to clean out Brussels and we have to clean out Molenbeek. The main focus was very short term. They didn't, for example, clean up Molenbeek. They cleaned out Molenbeek, but they didn't clean it up. They didn't create job opportunities. They didn't invest in education. They didn't invest in the city environment itself. Go on. It's it was all all always very, very repressive. That was the whole idea behind it. And in my idea, radicalization, one of the main feeding grounds of radicalization is lack of. Education, lack of knowledge. That's why we should invest more in education. I mean, general education. A lot of these guys who left for Syria when I spoke to them when they were on the ground, they contacted me to translate Arabic for them. Can you imagine? They were fighting for Allah.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: Liz, I'm keen to understand, is terrorism still a threat globally?
LIZ PEARSON: I think it's a big question. And when we're asking ourselves questions about terrorism as a threat, we have to think about where, what and how. So when we think about terrorism now, I think often people, the public probably thinks of the terrorist groups that they've heard most recently mentioned in the media, in the press. So perhaps, you know, five, six years ago, we would have been thinking of Islamic State because they were the group that was carrying out attacks that was most often in the headlines. And perhaps now there's more of a focus in the media on far right groups. But terrorism is always evolving. We've had terrorist groups really since the middle of the 19th century, and we start off with anarchist terrorism. And then we've had far left groups looking back into the 1970s, we've had postcolonial terrorist groups which were fighting for liberation and freedom. So we've always had different threats. And the threat that is considered the most important in a particular time and place, it tends to be what people think of as the sort of current terrorist threat. So whilst it's true that, you know, Islamic State was in Western countries seen as a huge threat from around 20 1314 until really the loss of its territories, 2019, and then we had COVID, of course, which has interrupted things we don't know at the moment how things will evolve. I think we're still in this kind of post COVID world. Many people have become interested in the intersection between conspiracy theories and extremism, between the far right and conspiracy theorists, between the manosphere and people online who have got misogynist views and their intersection with the far right and indeed with, you know, Islamist groups. So it's difficult to say that there is no threat, but it's also hard at the moment to say who that's from. And, you know, if you're looking at that from an American perspective, that's obviously going to differ from looking at that from the perspective of people living in Syria and Iraq or Afghanistan where there are, you know, on a daily basis, perhaps attacks. So it depends very much on the context and who's asking that question.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: I think that's really interesting. And you also mentioned that there are so many factors intersecting these days when it comes to extreme ism. And based on that, I was wondering if the tactics that people use to recruit people into extremist groups are the same or do people join groups using online platforms? Or because there are so many intersectional factors coming together like socioeconomic factors and religion, have extremist groups started radicalizing using other techniques?
LIZ PEARSON: I don't know the answer to that question. I think it's a really interesting question whether it's still the same. Um, you mentioned online and I think the internet has been, um, a real site of concern since we had the prevalence of preachers like Anwar al-Awlaki, who was obviously an American who was extremely popular English language preacher and had high numbers of in terms of audience across the world, he had a great reach. The governments and security services have been really concerned about the ease and accessibility of propaganda that, you know, in previous ages would have been disseminated on cassette tapes, for instance, or, you know, in leaflets. So the Internet has certainly made it much easier for those preachers to disseminate materials or for intellectual ideologues of whatever ideology to disseminate their materials. But there remains a big question around whether this idea of online radicalization or at least pure online radicalization, someone who could be entirely radicalized on the Internet, there's still a big question mark over the degree to which that happens and is possible. Most often we have seen kind of the Internet is obviously a big part of our lives. So the Internet has been important as a factor in radicalization. We've seen that real places offline, real relationships offline have also been very important. If I appoint to a sort of case in the UK of Shamima Begum, who's been in the news a lot recently over her attempts to return from Islamic State, what was Islamic State territory back to the UK. You know, she's been trying to do this for some time. It was thought that she and her two school girlfriends who travelled over there in 2015. This idea of online radicalization was really important, but she travelled with a group of real friends. They knew people who'd gone over there, so the internet was only part of the story of how that radicalization had happened. Now I mentioned though, that it does depend partly on where you are. So European radicals, people who'd gone off to join Islamic State from Europe, we know that the internet was really important. The Internet was a really crucial part of Islamic State strategy in terms of putting out their videos, highly effective videos with very high production values. Very reminiscent of the kinds of games that young people, teenagers will play. So that's an important part of their strategy. When you're talking about the United States, though, because you've got that greater degree of distance between the site of conflict that people were being asked to travel to Iraq and Syria at that golden age, in inverted commas of Islamic State, where they were calling for people to join them as fighters and propagandists. Then the Internet becomes more important when you're at that greater distance because there is less chance that people will interact offline with other people who are familiar with Islamic State and how to get there. So the relevance and importance of the Internet slightly depends on where you are. Again, absolutely Islamic State and any other group that's trying to recruit. In recent years, the Internet has been extremely important to them, but it hasn't been the only thing that's important. Now, I mentioned also that I'm interested in gender, and one of the things that I and my colleagues found when we were doing research this is a few years ago in 2015 and 16, research I was doing with a London based think tank called RUSI. We found that actually the Internet was really important in gender terms, thinking about young women's radicalization, too. We were looking at Islamic State specifically, and that was because of the kind of restraints and constraints that young women faced versus young men in terms of where they could go without accompaniment, how easy it was for them to be approached in the street. You know, street radicalization was at that time in Europe a problem in terms of Islamist jihadist preachers, you know, basically accosting young men when they were coming out of mosques, giving them pamphlets, encouraging them to come to meetings. And young women, they weren't unaccompanied in that way. So they were easier for radical groups like Islamic State to contact secretly online. They were accessible in a in a different way from young men, and that's to do with a range of factors. So again, the answer to how important the Internet is, Well, it depends. And one of the things it depends on is gender is location is the ideology of the group that's doing the recruiting and perhaps some of the cultural factors that matter in terms of the specific demographic that they're trying to recruit.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: Taking all these factors into account, if, you know, culture, gender, location, what does deradicalization look like?
LIZ PEARSON: So there are so many groups that are working on deradicalization. It's clearly a really important. Part of any. Strategy. Government strategy is to work to de-radicalize people who are 1 to 1. So in my convinced to work authentically with such programs. We've seen de-radicalization work best I think when that is with trusted partners and when it works. Academic experience of researching. I've looked more at counter-radicalization. So those strategies which are designed to prevent people from radicalizing in the first place, but sometimes the same intervention providers are also working to de-radicalize and to de-escalate. When people have had contact with extreme groups have become convinced to a certain extent that they're sort of some of the same intervention providers are working in that space to de-radicalize. So there's a difference between de-radicalization and disengagement in European context. I think the emphasis is on de-radicalization to stop young people, to to make them no longer commit to those ideas. If you're looking at a context like Nigeria, where you've had a group, the jihadist group, Islamic State, West Africa Province, and also Boko Haram. So those groups have been very important in recruiting fighters who are perhaps, you know, doing this forr money, not necessarily through ideological conviction. So then it might not be that you're thinking about de-radicalization getting rid of that ideology because they've never really truly been bought into the ideology. It's been about convincing them that fighting for these jihadist groups isn't the best thing for them going forward. It's not the only place where they can get money or where they can get status, then that's much more about disengagement. So the emphasis, I think I don't know where the answer to your question, where is the emphasis now? You know, that's very dependent on the again, the specific country and the specific ideology which is causing the most problems at any given time.
PRIYANKA SHANKAR: Liz I'm also keen to understand whether as a society, people questioned why certain people become extremists and whether they wonder if, you know, these people who've got radicalized end up becoming complete strangers who preach hate. Is that sort of the thought process in society? Are these questions being asked or should they be asked?
LIZ PEARSON: Well, if you look at societies where I mentioned Nigeria because it's had a very successful kind of program of rehabilitation for fighters who have said that they want to be rehabilitated, but it's very, very difficult to get community buy in community trust when your community has been damaged by an extremist group. It is, of course, human nature. I think to be very wary of the idea that those individuals that, you know, have perhaps killed people, that in from your community to be able to trust them again, no matter how many de-radicalization or disengagement programs that they have been through. So you have to have sort of community buy in to these programs. And in the Nigerian context, that's been extremely hard to get. People are extremely stigmatized. And the term terrorist and the term extremist, they are, by their nature, very pejorative terms. They suggest that what the person is engaged in is a completely illegitimate, morally illegitimate pursuit. You know, that's why some people prefer the term political violence, because that term terrorism already delegitimizes. It's pejorative. It's a bad person in pursuit of a bad cause, doing things which are not justified. I mentioned Nigeria, but, you know, you talked about Shamima Begum. And if you look at kind of surveys of British attitudes towards Shamima Begum, I think I don't know which when the last survey was done, but surveys that I have seen by organized by newspapers showed very high levels of. Popular mistrust of her, of her motives and very little public desire to see either Shemima or people like Shemima returned. And of course, that's partly to do with just the facts of what she did traveling over to Islamic State. There's very little sympathy for the fact that she was young or that she may have been groomed by Islamic State strategists to travel over there. People are not keen to see, at least in this country, context, young women like her return. But in fact, women have already returned and so far they've done so successfully. And it's before there was perhaps the media kind of storm over Shamima Begum herself. And it's a really important issue because at the moment, what people tend to think less about is what the situation is in Syria and Iraq and how that will evolve. The numbers of Europeans or Western young women that are still there and are radicalized young men, we've had children now are coming of age in the camps such as Al-hol, which we know are extremist hotbeds. They are places where women are organizing essentially their own kind of systems of retribution and justice within those camps. There are no go zones in those camps. So it's extremely important for the future stability in Iraq and Syria, which may or may not have impacts on the future stability of Europe. So it's a short term kind of view not to consider people like Shamima Begum the responsibility of the British government to be brought back, to be rehabilitated, to be de-radicalized, and to be removed from a situation in which they may pose more risk, essentially. And that's a question. That question of rehabilitation is one that countries across Europe have been facing and some have been facing this better than others. Belgium has already and Germany have returned young women like Shamima Begum. I haven't been following what the kind of media or public response has been to that in those countries. But that's the kind of route that I think most people with knowledge about the situation there and with knowledge of the future risks that they pose would advocate.