West’s de-radicalisation strategy needs rethink to effectively fight ISIS, says VOX-Pol’s Meleagrou-Hitchens at Sulaimani Forum

Dr. Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Head of Research and Information at VOX-Pol partner ICSR, had said more needs to be done on a region/country specific basis as part of the West’s de-radicalisation strategy.

Dr. Hitchens made the comments while addressing the fourth annual Sulaimani Forum at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), Iraq, which took place 16 – 17 March 2016.

Referring to the experiences the British government has faced with its “Prevent” counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation strategy, Dr. Meleagrou-Hitchens described it is an ambitious project that has not worked for a number of reasons.

“Using tax-payer funding to fund Muslim organisations who were considered to be moderate is problematic for a number of reasons. For example, it creates a business around it and incentivises people to all of a sudden slap a counter-terrorism label on whatever activity they are doing and get something from the tax payer’s money,” Dr. Meleagrou-Hitchens said during a panel discussion. He explained that such an approach creates problems as other communities wonder what do they have to do in order to get such funding. It also sets a very low bar of expectations for the UK’s Muslim citizens: “[The UK government] are saying the best we can hope for you is not to commit any mass murders. Is that a standard we put for anyone else?,” he said.

Summing-up his remarks on ‘Prevent,’ Dr. Meleagrou-Hitchens said: “It is never trusted by the community it is trying to reach. It is seen as a sinister, persecutory, conspiratorial programme that is spying and trying to buy Muslims off. It has struggled and I don’t really know if it will ever recover.” Dr. Hitchens added that an intervention-based programme, where people are dealt with on an individual, case-by-case basis, is the best approach.

Dr. Meleagrou-Hitchens also advocated the need to develop counter-narratives in order to challenge the message of the global jihadist movement, including online. He emphasised the need to empower young, Western Muslims so that they can effectively counter Islamist propaganda and fend off extremist voices. He also suggested that finding credible mentor figures and involving them in such efforts is the key to successful de-radicalisation programmes.

Wrapping up his talk at the signature annual event hosted by the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) at AUIS, which is designed to bring prominent leaders, intellectuals, and practitioners to the cultural hub of Sulaimani in Iraq, Dr. Meleagrou-Hitchens warned efforts to label ISIS terrorists as “crazy guys” and “mad men” will backfire.

Watch Dr. Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens addressing the Sulaimani Forum 2016 [from 20:50 to 32:50]