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We Must Tackle Gen Y Jihadists' Trigger Points

26/10/2015 6:03 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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In May this year British Prime Minister David Cameron hinted at a new counter-extremism strategy. Since July he has talked up this new strategy and the importance of attacking violent extremism at its source. And now Cameron is operationalising his strategy by funding a 'new national coalition against radicalisation' to the tune of £5 million (AUD$10.6m).

The government coordinated, but community based strategy is a brave information campaign like no other. Cameron's strategy is to confront extremist ideology, target those that promote extremism (whether violent or not), equip the Muslim community to challenge extremism in the real and online worlds, and build much needed community cohesion.

It will attempt to starve and counter the extremists' psychological operations targeted at Britain's children and adults. And this approach should be applauded for the promise that it offers to those most vulnerable to manipulation. Whether it can actually starve extremists out will remain to be seen.

We are certainly not saying that Britain has got it right yet. But Cameron has demonstrated courage in his readiness to re-strategise and try new things and, just as importantly, make new financial investments.

Recently, on this side of the world, Australia's counter terrorism (CT) leaders and bureaucrats undertook a stock-take of our counter violent extremism (CVE) measures. It is unlikely that we should be comforted by the meeting, as our CVE measures still have a long way to go.

In policy circles CVE has become the go-to policy initiative for CT: arguably it still lacks tangible meaning for many. Australia's CT strategy doesn't clearly articulate where CVE fits: which explains why it has become a policy fix-all. Those communities most at risk can't understand which CVE policies are directly CT related, and which are about social cohesion. Worse still, in many Islamic communities CVE has become synonymous with Australia's intelligence agencies.

Radicalisation is dependent upon the online as well as the physical worlds. For our Gen Y jihadists the seed of terrorism and extremism is more often than not planted through online grooming.

The gap in our policy in the online space has been created because radicalisation takes place so quickly now: from online exploration to attack. To systematically counter this we need to understand the trigger points for change. This knowledge will create opportunities for us to develop better strategies for countering online messages.

The British government argues that 'we have to stop it at the start -- stop this seed of hatred even being planted in people's minds and cut off the oxygen it needs to grow'. And a change in lexicon from CVE to online radicalisation safety might be just what Australia needs

Purveyors of jihadist doctrine act like predatory paedophiles. First they seek out and engage those who are feeling segregated or alienated in our communities. The jihadists then prey on this by creating a fantasy relationship. This relationship is a lie designed to further segregate the target from family and friends by drawing them into a secret life. And within no time, and with little external signs, a new Gen Y Jihadi is created.

This is a simplification of a complex and highly contentious process: adult-child interaction. And there is most definitely a need for further research. In the interim, online engagement between jihadists and youth becomes a lot less attractive when you call out the predatory behaviour for what it is.

There are well-established inter-agency, multinational and cross-sector arrangements for countering online grooming for child exploitation. These relationships, with no tangible links to the national security bureaucracy, are often over looked in CT circles.

The Australian government should consider diversifying its policy objective for CVE measures. We need to address how to best equip Australian families and communities with the tools to prevent our children from being groomed online: by either sex offenders or other predators. We also need to educate our kids on how to stay safe online.

Much of the work for this kind of project has already been done. The Australian Federal Police and Microsoft Australia have adapted the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre ThinkUKnow program for Australia.

ThinkUKnow is an award-winning internet safety program. Parents, teachers and carers, and children aged 11-17 are provided with training on internet safety. The focus of the program is on ensuring children know who they are talking to online, how to stay safe and how to report concerns.

This week, one of Australia's most senior and now retired public servants said to us that a good bureaucrat creates good policy by making things simple, whilst a bad one creates complexity. In this new CVE space, bad policy also creates more anger, resentment and ultimately more terrorists.

Australia's CVE challenge presents an opportunity for a good bureaucrat to develop some simple and effective strategies to inoculate our youth from manipulation.

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Co-written by Dr Tobias Feakin, Director of National Security with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

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