25th Sep, 2018

Coventry academic says fighting terrorism is about 'building society where people feel valued'

Felix Nobes 25th Mar, 2018

A LEAD Coventry academic researching terrorism in Europe gave us his thoughts on the UK’s strategy to address the threat.

Doctor Joel Busher from Coventry University has been a leading figure in understanding radicalisation in the Midlands.

He has written publications on ‘Prevent’ – an approach that aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism – and the rise of the English Defence League, a far right English nationalist movement which many consider to circulate offensive views.

Prevent tactics involve safeguarding and close assessment of people in schools and groups who might be susceptible to radicalisation.

He was recently involved with an event in the city which heard from two formerly radicalised individuals and various Coventry based academics.

It aimed to increase awareness of radicalisation in Coventry and the wider region and improve future responses.

On the dangers of racial profiling and whether Prevent is particularly important in multi-cultural areas like Coventry, Dr Busher said: “It is important to remain mindful of this challenge. I suspect this is never the intention of those making referrals to Prevent – and I am aware that Prevent practitioners are working hard to minimise this problem – but we must recognise that our perceptions of ‘risk’ and ‘risky behaviour’ are shaped by the information that we consume on a daily basis.”

Dr Busher said there is no ‘easy fix’ and wanted to draw attention to issues related with how we consume and engage with news.

His study into how Prevent is used in schools saw wide acceptance among staff that Prevent comprises another form of student safeguarding. Although he did express concern about racial profiling.

He said: “The study also indicated persistent concerns about how Prevent-related responsibilities might exacerbate experiences of stigmatisation among Muslim students and concerns about raised concerns efficacy.”

In a message to policy makers in Coventry, he said: “We need to be thinking beyond simply ‘preventing terrorism’ to thinking about how we build a society with less polarization and where people by and large feel supported, fulfilled and valued as human beings.”

In a final remark about the threat of far-right terrorism, he said: “The evidence tells us there is a real threat from the extreme right, across Europe and North America.

“Prevent is already being used to address this threat, but again it can only be part of the response.

“We also need to be wary about the risks of stigmatising low-income white communities who can become associated with such activity.”

The event, held at the Council House, titled Coventry Counter-Terrorism, was organised by the United Nations Association Coventry Branch.

Shahid Butt, a British Muslim with first-hand experience of racism and radicalisation, said: “Identity is very important and critical thinking can counter the views of extremists.

“Most people who get drawn into terrorism with organisations like Daesh (ISIS) actually do so out of compassion and feeling a sense of hopelessness, it’s important to engage with them.”

Geoff Thomas, Prevent co-ordinator at the council, added: “Coventry has such a strong reputation for peace and reconciliation, and a wide network of organisations play an important part in reinforcing the message.

“This means that we are on a relatively firm footing but is really important to be able to organise these types of events where people can be quite open and frank about the issues which affect them.”

Coun Abdul Khan, deputy leader for Coventry City Council, said that it was encouraging that so many people had helped organise the event. He said: “We need honest conversations involving people from a wide range of backgrounds. It’s important that we can build on our reputation for positive community relations. I’m pleased that we were able to host the event at the Council House.”

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