Experts say Liberal counter-radicalization office should bridge, not drive, regional efforts

Not sure it is an either/or choice, some mix of the two approaches may be best:

The challenges, say security and radicalization experts, will lie in defining exactly how the office would work with regional actors: namely, whether it will act as a bridge or a driver.

“Is this going to be driven top-down by government or will it be government supporting more grassroots initiatives?” asked Michael Zekulin, a terrorism researcher at the University of Calgary. “I think most people would agree that it cannot be government-driven because part of the narrative is that government is part of the problem.”

During committee hearings on C-51, the Conservatives’ controversial anti-terrorism legislation, the critique given most often by terrorism researchers was that the bill ignored the need to nip radicalization in the bud, before individuals become inspired to commit violence.

Yet nothing in the legislation provided any kind of a plan for doing that.

The RCMP also promised to launch their own $3.1.-million program — initially called the Countering Violent Extremism Program but later changed to the Terrorism Prevention Program — which then-Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney admitted had no designated timeline and relies on “leveraging existing resources the RCMP already has in place, including frontline police officers, Integrated National Security Enforcement Team members and outreach coordinators.”

At this point, there are few details available about what the Liberals would plan to do differently or how a national coordinator would work with existing programs already being implemented by regional bodies.

There are various initiatives being launched by police agencies and local governments across Canada, said Lorne Dawson, co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.

In September, the City of Montreal was the only Canadian city out of 23 from across the globe that signed on to the Strong Cities Network, a forum for leaders to share best practices and community-based approaches for tackling violent extremism, while the Edmonton and Ottawa police departments are rumoured to be planning their own counter-extremism initiatives.

The York Regional Police are also in the process of hiring a “Counter Violent Extremism Subject Matter Expert” and just two months ago the Calgary Police Service launched ReDirect, which aims to prevent youth from becoming radicalized after several high-profile instances of local youth leaving the country to join ISIS.

One of those young men was Damian Clairmont, who died in January 2014 after going to Syria to fight with ISIS.

His mother, Christianne Boudreau, became an active proponent for stronger initiatives to prevent youth from becoming radicalized and in addition to launching her own family counselling network, Hayat Canada, also helped launch the the Extreme Dialogue video campaign earlier this year.

Boudreau says it’s essential to have someone who can coordinate efforts nationally and help integrate global best practices into domestic, community-based approaches. But she cautions that any coordinator will face the added challenge of having to earn the trust of organizations who may be skeptical of working with the government.

“I think the biggest difficulty is the diversity of the various organizations and helping them connect — there’s inter-faith, there’s the authorities and everybody else involved, and right now [there’s] the trust factor with the authorities, with the government,” she said, noting that any national coordinator should also be prepared to work with international partners as well as domestic ones to learn and adapt best practices.

“It’s integral to help bring the groups together to help cross those barriers, to help foster the diversity that’s there and help everybody get along.”

Experts say Liberal counter-radicalization office should bridge, not drive, regional efforts

Counterterrorism strategy: Take the long view – The Globe and Mail

Two interesting pieces on counter radicalization strategies, with both focusing on the Prevent aspect.

Wesley Wark notes the risks of politic rhetoric with respect to radicalization and the relative neglect of the Government’s Prevent element (compared to the other elements of the national security strategy, Deny, Detect and Respond):

The more that political rhetoric swirls around national-security threats such as the foreign-fighter problem, the more difficult it will be to establish the exact scale of the threat. In reality, the danger posed by the relatively small Canadian foreign-fighter stream is threefold – it bolsters IS psychologically; it conjures up concerns about battle-hardened veterans who might return to Canada to incite and commit terrorism; it puts Muslim communities in Canada under an unwanted spotlight and may create a new set of tensions for them as they work to contribute to de-radicalization measures. Our biggest concern is not about how we prevent Canadian foreign fighters from blowing things up in Iraq and Syria, or even blowing things up if they manage to return to Canada, but how we stop them from blowing up community stability and inciting tensions within Canada.

When the government first announced a counterterrorism strategy in 2012, it used a model borrowed from the British, with four “pillars”: Prevent, Detect, Deny, Respond. The respond pillar is meant to ensure a capacity to deal with terrorist attacks that occur on our soil. When the CT strategy was launched, there hadn’t been any. Now there have been two – the attacks in Quebec and near Parliament Hill in October of 2014. The one good thing the October attacks brought to light is the degree to which Canadian society poses a strong, innate resilience to terrorist violence.

…But what about Prevent? Here, the greatest challenge lies, and potentially our greatest weakness. Some will always slip through the cracks, notably the convicted “Toronto 18” member, Ali Mohamed Dirie, whose incarceration and subsequent release did nothing to dissuade him; who obtained false identity documentation, travelled to Syria and was killed in the fighting in 2013. We risk failure on the “prevention” front if the RCMP’s efforts at community engagement do not gain a stronger foothold, if CSIS is too emboldened by its soon-to-be-granted “disruption” mandate and if the government (of whatever stripe after October, 2015) fails to find a better way to justify Canada’s actions in the world, especially its international efforts against terrorist groups.

Counterterrorism: Is it working? – The Globe and Mail.

Although Zekulin does not mention the word Prevent, he essentially echoes other critics of the Government for its apparently exclusive focus on security measures rather than the ‘softer’ prevention approaches:

As long as IS exists, their message will continue to spread. This has the potential to create additional numbers of young Canadians with whom their message might resonate. Several months ago, I wrote that Canada’s counterterrorism strategy needed to address two separate but interconnected aspects in order to meet the threat posed by IS. These included measures to deal with the imminent threat posed by the current cohort of radicalized Canadians and a counter-radicalization strategy to prevent or at least minimize the next generation of radicalized young Canadians.

IS is selling a product – themselves and their vision of what the world should look like. A counter-radicalization strategy is based on challenging the messages espoused by the group and its supporters. We need to develop our message, identify the most credible messengers and the most efficient and effective way to distribute it. This will at least begin to counter IS’s efforts. We recognize that this approach will not deter every individual. However, as our messages circulate and gain momentum, it will become increasingly difficult for IS’s perverted ideas to find fertile minds. The end goal is to minimize the number of individuals who might adopt the ideas and become a threat in the future.

We cannot be lulled into a false sense of security by our recent successes. IS’s ideas pose the real threat and they continue to circulate, incubate and entrench themselves in our society. Our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies have done an admirable job, but we need to ask ourselves whether our current strategy is sustainable. Financially, our government has limited resources; it is not realistic to continuously increase our investigative capacity every few months. We run the risk of falling into a never-ending cycle where those we identify and disrupt are quickly replaced by others. Eventually, some individuals or incidents will slip through the cracks. In the context of the current threat, that means very bad things will happen.

Counterterrorism strategy: Take the long view – The Globe and Mail.

Changing the minds of wannabe terrorists

More commentary on deradicalization approaches:

And while these may seem to be the only two options open to Canadians who turn down the path of violent extremism — death or a court date — experts say a third option — deradicalization — isn’t receiving the attention it deserves.

“These programs can work,” said Jocelyn Bélanger, a psychology professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal who has studied radicalization around the world.

“Even though the number of cases (of homegrown extremism) are limited, we know how much damage just a few individuals can create. … If we do it well, if we read the research on this, we can develop better programs. We can be preventive as well, flagging individuals who are at risk, and once they are flagged they go into a (deradicalization) program.

”Existing approaches to this type of “deprogramming” have had varying degrees of success, and the rehabilitation is usually offered on a voluntary basis, Bélanger said. In most cases, the “beneficiary” is given a choice, to serve their sentence in jail or in a special facility.

“I know it sounds like a false choice, but it is nonetheless psychologically important,” explained Bélanger. In Saudi Arabia, he noted, “Imams will actually use the Qur’an, will engage in discussion with the beneficiary about the Qur’an, ultimately trying to convince them that Islam does not support the killing of innocents.”

Changing the minds of wannabe terrorists.

Farzana Hassan, who seems to be oblivious to the many messages from Canadian Muslims against extremism:

Muslims need to transcend the propaganda that has so defined their narrative on these issues and reject the naive “crusader” fiction.

Tragically, this is a point lost on the majority of the faithful, even supposed moderates.

Mosques must discredit this narrative actively, and they must preach the values of Canadian identity even above religious affiliation.

While Muslims are of course entitled to remain distinct, they must abide not only by the laws of the land but also by its universal values.

Inciting the murder of innocent Canadians is a clear violation of those laws and values.

In dealing with religious extremism, true moderation involves more than refusing to commit violence; it involves campaigning against the absurd political assumptions that may encourage it in others.

…It is the obscurantist views of extremists like Maguire that have hampered progress towards economic prosperity and political stability in the Muslim world for so long.

Muslims must not see attacks on ISIS as attacks on their religion as a whole.

On the contrary, they may help alleviate all the burdens that have bedeviled the Islamic world for so many decades.

Al Canadi’s rants are those of an impressionable and disturbed young man brainwashed by a lethal world view, a view so simplistic we can only wonder at its appeal.​—brainwashed-disturbed …

Michel Petrou provides a good overview of some of the challenges with deradicalization and the absence of an equivalent program in Canada, citing the UK experience in particular:

Usama Hasan, a British imam and senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank in Britain, says he is “astonished” that Canada does not have a de-radicalization program for Canadians who have returned from Syria and Iraq.

“There may be a risk that they’ve spent time with extremist groups and been brutalized by the war. So there’s always a risk that their minds won’t be thinking straight. So it’s very important to have ‘de-rad,’ which has to include a bit of mental health counselling and looking at PTSD and things like that,” he says.

“Even if they are prosecuted and convicted, you still need to de-rad them, because they will eventually be released from prison, and quite possibly they will be even more of a threat then because they will have been hardened in prison, and so they’re a threat either way.”

When he was a student at Cambridge University in the early 1990s, Hasan left Britain and briefly joined the Islamist insurrection, or jihad, against Afghanistan’s communist government.

At the time, Hasan was a radical Salafist and followed an extreme interpretation of Islam. He has since become much more moderate. In addition to officiating at interfaith marriage ceremonies, he now advises the British government on its own de-radicalization program, dubbed Channel.

People immersed in extremist groups “live in a kind of disconnected world,” says Hasan.

“They have their own reality, which they invent and perpetuate among their group by repeating the same old propaganda over and over again, but also blocking out anything that runs counter to that world view. We have to find holes in their world view and try to get through to them in as many ways as possible to make them doubt and rethink those kinds of ideas.”

Has likens the process to convincing someone to leave a gang. “You have to give them alternatives, address their needs,” he says.

When extremists rely on their faith to justify their world view, “you have to address all those religious points as well,” he says, “with better religion.”

Hasan describes recently counselling a young man who was determined to go to Syria. Hasan says the man knew “almost nothing” about the conflict there, or about the Middle East in general.

“People had just told him it was a war between Muslims and non-Muslims, and it was his duty to go and fight for Islam.”

The man believed there were American ground troops in Syria whom he could fight. Hasan educated him about the war, especially its sectarian nature and the ongoing slaughter occurring between Muslims. The potential recruit decided to stay in Britain.

He was lucky. Many others have left from Britain, Canada and other Western countries and died far from home. Some have committed horrific atrocities. Some will come back. Whether we like it or not, we’re going to have to figure out a way to live with them.

Canada’s extremist problem –

From the US and the need for a more differentiated approach:

“Should they be prosecuted, should they be counseled, should they be reintegrated in a more compassionate way?” says Juan Zarate, who used to be a terrorism official at the Treasury Department. He’s now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Those are important questions because to the extent they are not fully radicalized, they perhaps were lured by a romanticized vision of what life was like in Syria,” he says. “Maybe it is appropriate to apply different tools and measures to peel them away from the movement as opposed to the same tools we have applied to more hard-core members of the group.”

When Americans Head To Syria, How Much Of A Threat Do They Pose?

More articles on radicalization of interest

Ongoing amount of reporting and commentary on radicalization and fundamentalism.

Starting with Premier Couillard’s measured (i.e., not rushing it) legislation requiring faces to be uncovered when giving or receiving government services, and what initiatives, if any, are planned with respect to non-violent fundamentalists inPhilippe Couillard promet d’agir sur lintégrisme religieux | Politique québécoise.

More meetings within the Muslim community in Montreal, reminding of the need for measures to improve the economic integration as part of any anti-radicalization in L’intégration plutôt que la stigmatisation.

CBC report on Self-radicalized and adrift: The shared traits of the ‘lone wolf’ killers discussed the commonalities but with experts (Dawson, Zekulin) noting correctly that there is no one pattern for those drawn to violent extremism.

For those interested, a fairly good overview of the respective roles and responsibilities of the security agencies involved in countering radicalization in Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Rouleau: How Canada tracks homegrown radicals.

And while only one “slice” of those radicalized, Maclean’s discusses issues related to converts as many extremists are in Islam’s conversion problem, echoing Imam Soharwardy’s call for more “vetting” by mosques of those wishing to convert (Prominent Muslim cleric urges imams to vet new Islamic converts).

Government looks to terrorism studies to stop radicalization

Not out of character: denouncing something for political purposes while quietly carrying out some needed work:

According to a request for proposals posted online on Wednesday, Public Safety Canada is looking to carry out five research projects delving into such areas as the “psychology” of violent extremism, the role of the Internet in radicalization, and the extent to which women become involved in terror movements.

“We are funding research that is studying the participation of western extremist travellers in the conflict in Syria, how they communicate, how they travel. This research will give us the building blocks that we can use to develop better strategies to stop radicalization before it ever manifests itself,” Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney told the House of Commons public safety committee on Wednesday.

Government looks to terrorism studies to stop radicalization.

CBC report on how the Government continues to emphasize enforcement, not prevention, in its public messaging (both are needed):

[Michael] Zekulin had hoped to hear details of a counter-radicalization strategy announced months ago by the RCMP. He didn’t get it.

“The whole counter-radicalization strategy is to prevent the next generation of fighters. We need to get into communities, recognize the threat at home because groups like ISIS are very sophisticated using social media to recruit to their cause.”

In fact, Canada is well behind other allies in developing a counter-radicalization strategy. Britain, the U.S. and Australia already have such plans in place.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says cooperation between his force and CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) has provided timely information that has led to successful arrests and prosecutions in recent years.

“We have about 63 active national security investigations on 90 individuals related to the travelling group — both people who intend to go or who have returned — so the pace and tempo of the operations is quite brisk,” he told the committee on Wednesday, adding “that it’s nothing Canadians need to be alarmed about.

“I think we are managing through our collective efforts our response that is appropriate to the nature of these suspected offences.”

Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director of CSIS, points out that while Canadian security agencies have increased their vigilance, Canadians still wind up in conflict zones.

“At the end of the day when they come back there’s a good chance they are deeply radicalized,” he told CBC News. “They are trained in weapons of war and they may hurt Canadians at home.”

For his part, Zekulin also worries that those radicals will become effective recruiters once they’ve returned. As fighters and as Canadians, he says, they have credibility and a story that can influence others in their community.

So while the federal government is sending jets to stop the spread of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, an important battle over radicalized Canadians may also be taking shape here at home — a battle in which Ottawa may already have waited too long to intervene.

Has Ottawa been too slow to take on radicalized Canadians?

Made-in-Canada terror is real – and its being ignored – The Globe and Mail

Somewhat alarmist, and understating the work that has been done and continues to be done. I would not consider Public Safety, RCMP and CSIS activities as indifference; one can debate whether we are doing enough and the right things.

UK in its 2003 Prevent strategy over reached and was trimmed back in 2011. Community engagement and messaging became more important, and was largely successful in maintaining cross-community support post the Rigby killing.

Similarly in Canada, the relationships built up by the RCMP, CSIS and likely other police forces within affected communities are helping identify potential threats.

All plays into the revocation debate within C-24, as seen in Sheryl Saperia’s reference to this article in Wednesday’s hearing.

What might be the consequences of our continued indifference?

Inaction emboldens those seeking to radicalize our citizens to continue operating with impunity. The pipelines shipping our citizens to these jihadi hot spots become increasingly entrenched and more difficult to disrupt.

Another real possibility is the return of these citizens to Canada after their participation in foreign conflicts. They come back with a “postsecondary” degree in extremism, trained by hard-core foreign jihadists in real battlefield situations, posing a real terrorism threat.

There is a circularity to that threat: Radicalization leads to individuals travelling abroad, which then leads to … radicalization? Simply put, our inaction is potentially creating conditions for an even more potent and dangerous form of radicalization and recruitment than we are currently experiencing.

We will no longer simply need to be concerned about outsiders radicalizing and recruiting Canadians to go abroad and fight. Instead, the recruiters would be Canadians who have fought abroad: Credibility and a powerful narrative, their own experiences, would be shared with a much larger pool of friends, acquaintances and community members than an outside recruiter could ever hope to reach. We are already starting to see this unfold as individuals from Western states who have gone abroad to fight are increasingly using social media to relay their experiences to others.

Made-in-Canada terror is real – and its being ignored – The Globe and Mail.