Family, friends of radicalized persons wary of reporting: experts

Some of the challenges in encouraging families and friends to play a greater part in de-radicalization:

Part of the problem is that friends and family members of individuals who are radicalized believe their only resort is to report their loved one to the police, which might then lead to criminal charges, according to Dr. Lorne Dawson, a terrorist radicalization expert and professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo.

“They (family members) have conflicting loyalties. They don’t know where to report the individual except for the police and they don’t want to be responsible for their loved one being arrested.”

As well, he says, family members may not take the threat seriously. “Maybe the person has a reputation for being over-the-top, or exaggerating things, or being rather extreme in their judgment and views on things.”

Calling the authorities is not ideal for a family that believes it may simply have an emotionally strung-out individual on their hands, he says.

Staff Sgt. David Zackrias heads the Diversity and Race Relations Section of the Ottawa Police Service, which aims to provide outreach and build bridges between police and diverse ethnic communities in Ottawa. He’s also the vice co-chair on the policing side of the Community and Police Action Committee (COMPAC), a community-police advisory body in Ottawa that meets once a month.

He urges family and community members to report an individual who is seemingly in the early stages of radicalization so the person can get help before a violent threshold is crossed.

“If public safety is in jeopardy, we need to make sure the right people are notified,” he says. “But if this is something that we could work with in terms of engagement and there’s an issue with a certain person who is in the infancy stage of being radicalized, then we engage the community and address those issues and share what resources are out there in the community.”

Such community resources may include a psychiatrist or social worker with the skills to help the person address the issue.

Most of Zackrias’ work within the Muslim community involves taking part in panel discussions with imams and Muslim community leaders, in which their concerns and grievances are brought forward.

“When the community comes and informs us about certain things in terms of they’re concerned that certain people are coming to town and giving hate speech, we provide them with the information to make an informed decision,” he says.

Last year, Public Safety initiated a strategy for countering violent extremism with a major focus on engaging and interacting with communities and individuals in order to research the root causes of terrorism and how to combat them, according to the department’s website.

Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a non-partisan international governance think-tank based in Waterloo, Ont., says one of the biggest challenges facing a CVE strategy is building trust between communities and law enforcement.

“The RCMP and different municipal police forces have worked with vulnerable communities and leaders,” she said. “They’ve reached out and some of these programs are really fantastic.”

As well, she says that having an open dialogue among family members about the risks of extremism is vital, because young people are adept at hiding their lives on the Internet from others, and many people may not believe that radicalization could happen in their own homes.

“Having parents and families involved is a really important tool for not only deradicalization but also in preventing wannabe foreign fighters. Like any social problem, dialogue, bringing it to the fore, and having a conversation can be helpful,” she said.

According to a Dec. 2013 study in the Journal of Forensic Science of 119 lone-actors who engaged in or planned to commit acts of terrorism in the United States and Europe, in about 64 per cent of cases friends and family members knew of the individual’s intent to commit terrorism-related acts because the individual had verbally told them.

In more than 65 per cent of the cases, the individual expressed intent to hurt or harm others while in almost 80 per cent of the cases, others knew of the individual’s commitment to an extremist ideology. These findings suggest “friends and family can play important roles in efforts that seek to prevent terrorist plots.”

Of course, recent federal government messaging makes it harder for this kind of outreach and engagement.

Family, friends of radicalized persons wary of reporting: experts | Ottawa Citizen.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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