I have been working on the study of extremism, radicalisation and terrorism for over a decade and a half, largely focusing on the topic through a sociological lens. Naturally, this affords me the opportunity to explore a range of social problems at the heart of the malaise. Much of what I have to say, however, tends to go against the grain of dominant thinking, which is not surprising, as much of the leading themes focus on ideology as the cause – as if it was as simple as that. Ideology is, evidently, important, but for the vast majority of those who go down a path towards violent extremism, it may or may not figure. For the average young Jihadi or far-right extremist, theirs is a reality shaped by their lived experience in their places of birth. It is the very few who are the ideologues with clear aims to entice vulnerable others to the call. Indeed, most of the issues relating to the problems are a function of various aspects of social breakdown, as well as the ontological and epistemological foundations for much of what passes as knowledge and expertise in this field. In this essay, I reflect on the realities of terrorism by exploring recent events in relation to both Islamist and far-right terrorism, the associations between them, and the divergent ways in which they are discussed in the media but also in politics. Themes explored will be questions relating to masculinity, identity, urbanicity, nationalism and the ongoing implications of the global war on terror. At the heart of many of the concerns is the overriding concept of racism and aspects of racialism and racialisation that emerge alongside it.
In March 2019, fifty-one people were shot dead during Jummah prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand’s second most populous city. These Muslims from all over the world were gunned down by a self-confessed, manifesto-publishing, white supremacist with transnational far-right motivations, associations and aspirations. In any sociological analysis of the causes of extremism and radicalisation, it is a matter of fact that the background of the individual is scrutinised. In exploring patterns of socialisation, identity formation as well as issues relating to alienation and exclusion, it is possible to get a handle on the development of an ideological perspective that leads an individual to pursue acts of horrendous violence in the name of some greater cause. In this case, the primary suspect is a self-identified white supremacist, who viewed the world in Manichean terms, regarding Islam and Muslims as a combined category of a movement and its people who are not merely a blot on the landscape but deserve to be depopulated. This is because they somehow present a risk to the survival of the white nation itself. There is no perspective on the nature of this whiteness; that is, its own internal diversity or the historical legacies of class formation, colonialism, orientalism, eugenics or white nationalism that have defined the space occupied by whiteness. But this perspective is also an odd combination: palpable fear is presented in relation to the ‘other’, whose motivations are to seemingly take over through population expansion. At the same time, there is a decrying of these ‘others’ for their primitive, backward and hateful natures, thus seemingly legitimising ethnic nationalism and white supremacism.
Some would regard this as a reality of Islamophobia. They would be accurate in this instance. Islamophobia is not merely a response to a sense of cultural dilution at the hands of some regressive other. It extends into notions of ethnic cleansing of groups. There is much to expand on the nature of the motivations of the main suspect behind these attacks, which align with the activities of other individual actors apparently acting on their own. All have carried out an act of ultra-violence in the name of defending against the loss of privileges associated with whiteness at one level but also the fear of being overtaken by hordes of primitives. These kinds of ideas have motivated far-right extremists in the last few years in the number of places in the Global North, including in Norway, Canada, England and now in New Zealand. The reasons for these are structural, cultural and political.
Over the last two decades, men have faced considerable challenges to their positions in society, especially in the labour market and in educational terms. This is the result of the improving positions of women in these settings but also because globalisation means that the average young white man has to compete far harder than ever before and where his privileged urban post-industrial patriarchy can no longer be sustained in the light of an increasingly interdependent world. The rage against the loss of supremacy results in the venting of a certain fury against these now significant others. There was a time, well before the events of 9/11, where multiculturalism and diversity were seen as assets that contributed to the wellbeing of nations, where differences among people result in an enriched lived reality that benefits all in the pursuit of human values. But multiculturalism became distorted when the political and media classes began to shift attention away from these notions because they associated the concept with a risk of polarisation, radicalisation and ultimately terrorism. It is not beyond the realm of many who have a public school education to think that too much diversity can lead to the fragmentation of the nation itself. Alas, the experiment with diversity was over before it began, which has led to further polarisation and entrenchment in various physical concentrations within urban spaces. What social scientists will explore as the nature of downward social mobility, housing policies and gateways that limit access to certain forms of accommodation as explanatory factors in what leads to patterns of residential clustering, certain opinion-makers and political voices would argue that this outcome is solely an example of self-styled segregation. This is a blatant falsehood and a deliberate misdirection. It ignores history, past public policy and ongoing patterns of socio-economic inequalities that affect all. And in the final domain, the question of politics has become far more pervasive than ever. Populism, nativism and ethnic nationalism go hand-in-hand as a ruse to mask the failures of domestic policy and the ongoing shenanigans of interventions in faraway lands in pursuit of some greater foreign policy objective that routinely leads to catastrophe and destabilisation in those spaces as the norm.
In the pursuit of attention-grabbing headlines, sensationalist messaging presented as newsworthy items, and the bold ideological motivations of certain press barons (it is no surprise that Australian news and media output is almost entirely under the sole purview of Rupert Murdoch), Islam and Muslims are demonised on such an extensive basis that to be Islamophobic is to be normal. It takes a critical mind to distance oneself from what politicians and media outlets are actually saying, but for the less critical such words are gospel. The attacks in Christchurch were not the result of a random mental health victim on a rampage. They were calculated, cold and clinical. The assailant had a clear agenda — as he identified himself in his own writings. He aimed to sow fear and discord by broadcasting his actions all over the world. He alluded to Eurocentric heroism, which borders on ethnic cleansing — a ‘kebab-removalist’. The air, thick with Islamophobia, gave him the licence he felt he could legitimately mobilise into political violence and terrorism. The sympathetic voices embolden some while radicalising others. And, thus, the circle is complete.
It is not always the case that far-right extremists take a pilgrimage of sorts before they are somehow radicalised, turning their newfound ideological perspectives into weaponised political violence and terrorism. The case in relation to the New Zealand shooter appears to be unusual in this regard. There is a real chance that he was radicalised during his travels, possibly in the Balkans, although this is conjectural rather than factual at this stage. In the course of time, it will be possible to determine where and how he was first radicalised, but it is clear that his radicalisation was significantly enhanced online. Undoubtedly, his references to the siege of Vienna by the Ottomans or the idea of ‘kebab-removalist’ in particular appeal to a certain anti-Muslim sentiment, the later with contemporary connotations, namely the war in Bosnia. What extremists find in this region is the memory of the Ottomans who held power over a period of six hundred and fifty years, during which they were able to annex territories that are now in the Balkans, South-East Europe, the Caucasus, North Africa and across the Middle East. But in many of the areas of Middle Europe today, these Ottomans are seen by some as invaders who only pillaged villages and raped women.
In the wider context of growing Islamophobia across the world today, these anti-Islam and anti-Muslim voices grow louder at a time when politicians in Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland evoke populist sentiment. This is especially the case as many of these countries were directly affected by the Syrian refugee crisis that began in 2015, and which saw over half a million people walking through the Balkans on their way to countries like Germany. In general, the far-right in Europe does focus on the historical dynamics of Ottoman history and Christian Europe. For example, Anders Breivik made clear links, seeing himself as a Knight Templar, saving Christianity from the invasive Muslim ‘other’. These notions appeal to young men who are at the fringes of their societies, burying themselves in the discourses of the far and radical right online, with its focus on hate towards differences, women and groups with diverse sexual preferences or leanings. All of it supports the projected inherited importance of the average white male who has to club together with greater cause in order to a) save the ‘white nation’ from ‘invasion’ through immigration and mixing and to b) eliminate these ‘other’ undesirables as they are breeding at excessive rates and unless checked they will fully absorb the ‘white nation’. There is a tragic absence of historical, political or social depth to these perspectives, which are effectively ideologically instrumentalised to create a ‘race war’. The likes of Breivik and the New Zealand white supremacist want a reaction to their terrorism that starts this ‘race war’.
Speaking at a press conference where he announced the death of the Islamic State group (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on 27 October 2019, US President Donald Trump threatened to ‘drop’ captured IS fighters on the UK border if the government did not start repatriating them from Syrian camps. ‘They came from France, they came from Germany, they came from the UK. They came from many countries’, he added. ‘And I actually said to them, if you don’t take them, I’m going to drop them right on your border and you can have fun capturing them again’. Earlier that month, US forces removed Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, part of a group of IS members known as the ‘Beatles’, from a camp in northern Syria. The aim was to prevent them from escaping captivity, but also to potentially take them to Guantanamo Bay. Both Londoners, Kotey and Elsheikh were radicalised in their twenties. Their alleged IS crimes are some of the most heinous imaginable. But little is understood about how they came to be transformed into deranged executioners.
Much has to do with psychological processes that began once they arrived in Syria, although it is widely accepted that young people such as these two join radical Islamist groups due to ideological convictions. Yet, the socioeconomic issues behind their motivations are often overlooked, as is the wider political and cultural fabric of the societies in which they are born and raised, and in which they face systematic patterns of racism, disadvantage and exclusion. During its zenith, Islamic State informed potential recruits that what they endured on a daily basis meant they were not welcome in Britain. Living in Iraq or Syria would solve all of their woes. Through a widespread campaign of information dissemination and ideological communication, young people from poorer locations responded to the call. Accounts of anti-Muslim hate rang particularly true for the vulnerable people that IS was targeting. Approximately nine hundred Britons made it to Iraq and Syria as the UK government celebrated preventing one hundred and fifty or so from making the journey, as a senior Prevent official told me. The Prevent strategy has been in place informally since 2003 and formally since 2006, but despite efforts to put up an engaging front, the policy remains controversial. There is a clear and direct relationship between the social outcomes endured by young Muslims in urban areas across Britain and the degree to which they sympathise with violent Islamism.
The social problems facing British Muslims are aggravated by the utterances of populist figures. Islamophobia grows when political actors seek to gain capital from their insensitive contempt. Sentiments from US President Donald Trump, which inspired the ‘send her back’ chant in reference to a critical Muslim congresswoman, create huge damage, as does UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suggestion that Muslim women donning the niqab look like ‘letterboxes or bank robbers’. Such views also embolden elements of the far-right, who come to believe that their perspectives have legitimacy. It is too easy to lampoon, jest or simply snub through poisonous opprobrium. Far-right groups grow due to the same set of structural challenges encountered by British Muslims, but also because of messages they hear in the media and in politics. In a climate of fear, hostility and intolerance reinforced by polarising politics and economics, there is a process of reciprocal radicalisation, boosted by populism. It has the effect of normalising Islamophobic attacks, which are predominantly directed towards visibly Muslim women. The high rates of unemployment, poor health, limited housing and relative educational underachievement faced by many are ignored. The fact that half of British Muslims live in the poorest 20% of areas in the country is disregarded. Structural disadvantages, combined with direct and indirect forms of racism normalised through austerity and Islamophobia, are significant social issues that receive scant attention. The sole emphasis on political ideology leading to radicalisation is therefore misleading.
Islamophobia, however, is not restricted to social and political life. It also infuses policy-making. A vast trust deficit remains between the UK government and British Muslims. This has grown since the ‘war on terror’, made worse by the fact that the only meaningful terms of engagement the UK government has with British Muslims are through the discourse of extremism and terrorism. Undoubtedly, Muslims in Britain have far greater dilemmas than radicalisation, but nowhere is this fully understood or wholly appreciated in developing policies. The wider drift towards authoritarianism, exclusivism and protectionism afflicting liberal democracies more generally is of concern. In this climate, the UK government has blurred the line between moderate and moderated Muslims. Critics of the dominant policy outlook are sidelined by those who seek to maintain the status quo in relation to counter-extremism in particular. This suggests a certain paranoia and pressure to conform to prevailing diktats, and to kowtow to dominant (mis)understandings of Islam and Muslims, both locally and globally. The solutions to these issues are not half as complicated as would be imagined. Rather than concentrate on the symptoms, the root causes must be fully addressed. There is no point focusing on the fever if the virus is still in place. A focus on social and economic conditions is essential to ensure that all groups are able to share in the fruits of opportunity and mobility. This would diminish the number of people vulnerable to both Islamist and far-right radicalisation.
Ideology also needs to be addressed, but this would be an easier task with the number of vulnerable people made smaller. It is also incumbent upon community and civil society organisations to maintain their efforts to engage with government and with wider communities to break down the walls of misunderstanding, intolerance and bigotry. All of this is entirely logical, but a million miles away from the dominant threads of counter-extremism policy. To deal with the answers to both Islamophobia and radicalisation, there needs to be much better UK government thinking on these urgent issues, but also greater honesty on the part of commissions, think-tanks, scholars and activists. To appreciate what stimulates these young people, it is important to understand the harsh truths facing groups, especially in the poorer parts of the country. More should be done to remain sensitive to the social and economic realities of life for British Muslims.
Sudesh Amman, a first-generation Sri Lankan Muslim, was shot dead on the streets of south London by undercover police officers on 2 February 2019. Released less than two months after serving half his sentence, Amman attacked three people with a knife he had purchased moments earlier. Questions were asked about what caused this event and how it can be prevented in the future.
There are numerous cases of young people now in prisons for various offences related to spreading material associated with terrorist groups, whose aim of radicalising others in the hope of generating further support for acts of violent extremism led to their conviction. These young men, once locked up for their offences, are generally released after serving half of their allocated time. However, these prisons can act as an incubator, where impressionable young men are surrounded by hardened ideologues with an even more chequered history. In the case of Amman, and as reported in relation to others, deeper radicalisation can occur, in the process further damaging the minds of these young men. In imprisoning someone for offences related to terrorism, it takes them away from particular stimuli, but by being in certain institutions of incarceration, there is a real possibility of these prisons acting as a breeding place, where the radicalised can learn from others. Elsewhere, there have been problems of torture and abuse at the hands of captors that have played significant roles in radicalising individuals who became influential leaders within their domains. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was an insignificant car mechanic before he was radicalised in prison and then became the number one Al Qaeda figure in Iraq from 2005 onwards. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was an inconsequential teacher with a background in theology. He too was radicalised in prison, ultimately becoming one of the founding actors within the Islamic State.
In many ways, when a young British Muslim has radicalised, it is already too late. The problem is the belief systems they now carry have warped their sense of themselves and their position in the world. It is true that this ideology is problematic, but it is not new to the study of violent jihadism. It has always been part of the eschatological framework of particular interpretations of script. The problem is why so many young people are seemingly drawn to it. And this is the crux of the matter. If ideology is the pull in this equation, the push is individual and structural factors that are somehow enabled at a particular moment. While the lure of ideology is potentially always there, attempts to fight it are limited because the push of structural and individual factors is too great. Halfway measures that intervene just before ‘the bomb goes off’ only do so much. The case of Amman, therefore, is not unsurprising in the context of the problems of knowing what to do with radicals in Western Europe and often getting it wrong. Having witnessed, experienced and seen it first hand, too many working within the fields of deradicalisation, counter-extremism and counterterrorism start with the premise that an individual on the verge of carrying out an act of violence can be ‘reverse-engineered’ if their psychological state of mind can be altered by education or emotional support. This approach has amiable ambitions. However, upon the completion of this intervention, and as individuals are returned back to the communities, they face the same vulnerabilities of being exposed to all of the pressures that lead some to a narrow path of self-realisation through self-annihilation. There are much wider structural issues that relate to investment in rebuilding communities that have faced decline over the last few decades, especially in parts of the country traditionally home to post-war ethnic minority communities, now in their fourth and fifth generations. By being trapped in spaces that reduce opportunities rather than open them up, creating narrow cultural domains rather than present opportunities to learn and share with others from different backgrounds, with internal questions relating to intergenerational disconnect, with communities having been effectively left out of the race for success, which is essentially racialised and gendered, the risks remain.
The government, in its usually reactionary manner, wishes to increase sentences or to ensure that those who have been imprisoned complete their sentences. This works well with presenting strength and receiving the support of parts of the country that equates toughness with results. At the same time, there will be those who decry counterterrorism policies that are quick to incarcerate individuals based on a presumption of intent rather than actual evidence of action or its potential. All of this will also embolden far-right groups and their counter-jihadi rhetoric. But all of this is also to forget that the reality of extremism is that it is a function of social conflict in a more general sense, which is to say that these young men are products of society. They are made in Britain. And it is the fissures and the cleavages of society that permit young men to fall through the gaps. As austerity deepens and as insecurity in relation to the future of Britain and its populations continues to heighten, the vulnerabilities in relation to the potential for young people to be drawn into extremism will only grow. No deradicalisation intervention can succeed without the appreciation of the wider social contexts in which radicals are made. And it is this lack of awareness and misdirection, in some cases fuelling confusion and misalignment with respect to what to do in such situations, that leads to attacks against academics, think-tankers and policymakers who seemingly get it wrong every time. The fact of the matter is that while thinkers spend the time and energy to work through an argument, it is in the hands of policymakers to introduce laws to make the difference. However, too many political actors play politics with people’s lives. They would rather engage in populist overtones in the pursuit of power. Combined with a certain media, in particular, at the behest of the billionaire press barons, an intractable situation leads to more harm than good.
Terrorism, while a social construction, is also primarily a function of the lived experience facing groups and individuals with particular gripes and grievances that for various reasons cannot be met through the democratic process. This is why there will always be terrorism and extremism in societies that necessarily include groups with interests that conflict in a hierarchical social structure with those at the bottom of the social ladder, with some that have already fallen through the cracks of criminality, most at risk. They are so because of their vulnerabilities, not because of their inherent tendencies. Amman’s shooting in the middle of a London street by undercover police officers was in many ways distressing. The perpetrator was a hugely disturbed young man who had been thoroughly let down by a whole host of actors. In prison for distributing terrorist propaganda, with a history of petty crime, he was thrown into the heady mix of Belmarsh prison, and then released halfway through his sentence with little or no support. In fact, in many ways, due to the permanent mark on his record, and his pariah status as a former inmate, his psychological and emotional well-being would have been in even more of a vulnerable state but with no one to act in support.
Radicalisation and deradicalisation, extremism and counter-extremism, terrorism and counter-terrorism are all subjective and highly contested concepts. While we can argue about what they mean in reality and the implications they raise for a social world in which people find themselves, young men face all the vulnerabilities of life but with little or no focus on their needs, wants and wishes in a fractured, atomised and hugely polarised world. Theirs is a malaise that grows insidiously but blindly for far too many lest we revisit the scene of a young, dead Muslim man on the streets of Britain the next time an event such as this south London attack happens all over again.
The 19 February 2020 horrific attack on two Shisha bars by a far-right extremist in Germany led to several questions relating to concerns around motivation, activation and implication. It was the third attack by far-right extremists in nine months – this one by far the deadliest.
In many respects, eugenics is making a comeback. Increasingly, politicians across Western Europe are feeling comfortable with expressing sentiments that would ordinarily be defined as racist. These views espouse the idea that there is the inherent difference between particular racial categories, with the white category at the top of this tree. Invariably, it places people of a darker skin at the bottom of this hierarchy. The historical attempts behind these efforts were to maintain the status quo concerning slavery and later colonialism, but it subsequently developed into the concept of scientific racism, the zenith of which was the Nazi Holocaust. The policy of elimination targeting Jews, communists, leftists, homosexuals and all others who would reject the values of the Third Reich is attributed solely to Hitler. The reality is that similar sentiments were not uncommon in North America and elsewhere in Europe where eugenics was being seriously considered, and pursed, in august academic and research institutions.
In mid-February 2020, the British government moved quickly to dismiss Andrew Sabisky who had been appointed in response to calls for ‘weirdos and misfits’ to join the heart of government by the neoliberal, libertarian chef advisor of the prime minister, Dominic Cummings. It emerged that Sabisky posted racist messages online, with some of his writing confirming that he viewed particular minority groups as somehow inferior and undesirable, including where depopulation through sterilisation would be seen as a viable policy. This was no aberration, however. Numerous Conservative party politicians have been accused of Islamophobia, which is akin to racism. The current Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described minorities as ‘piccaninnies’ bearing ‘watermelon smiles’. It is also well-documented that President Donald Trump favours the ideas of eugenics, even applying it to his marital relations, suggesting that in mating with Eastern European stock, he would be producing superior children. All of this suggests the normalisation of racism and a particular logic of white supremacism.
For what is currently known about the incident in Hanau, A 43-year-old German man shot and killed nine people while injuring five others in two shisha bars. Most were Turkish and Kurdish men and women, with a Bosnian, Bulgarian and Romanian in the mix. He later returned to his home, first shooting his mother before committing suicide. This suggests a combination of problems relating to ideas of the self and the other, and the internalisation of a particular kind of racism that pertains to the view the white groups are superior but they are under threat due to growing minority populations in particular urban centres, with their respective high birth rates and in-marrying. The motivations of this particular man were to prevent the dilutions of whiteness, as he saw it. But it is also clear that the assailant had particular mental health issues, something that is also significant amongst Islamist extremist actors. But the emphasis on reporting in the media is on ideology and religion when it comes to Islamist terrorists. The emphasis is less on ideology and more on mental health or other personal matters for far-right aggressors. This is a fundamental failure of reporting, especially in the mainstream press, although the reality is that with more and more examples – Breivik in Norway in 2011 and Tarrant in New Zealand in 2019 – it is now impossible to ignore what is palpably clear and apparent. The Hanau attacker, Tobias Rathjen, published a manifesto citing fear of immigrants and disdain towards women.
In trying to understand how far-right extremists become motivated, there has been much emphasis in the recent past on the idea of lone-wolf extremists. That is individuals who operate at the fringes of society, but effectively on their own. It is now clear that many of these attackers have an online presence, which allows them to develop their ideological perspectives as well as learn of methods and processes concerning attacks. But while this radicalisation occurs online, real-world connectivity is nevertheless important to understand. It is clear that we live in an era where racism towards minorities, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment targeting a particular category of a minority that is already facing a host of social, cultural and political pressures, has become the new normal. This racism fuels the fire of right ideologies of white supremacism, cultural superiority and notions of exclusivity which is seemingly threatened by the realities of migration and the settlement of minorities. Politicians in the Global North are routinely demonising such groups for political gain, but it is clear that those at the very fringes of society are mobilising these sentiments into far more sinister outcomes. It reflects on the individuals who face the consequences of rapid transformations to the local economy and society, and who are invariably men who no longer receive the trappings of advantage associated with their gender. It also reflects on an ideology that receives broad acceptance elsewhere in social life. There will be many in Europe, who are increasingly becoming worried by these recent developments, where random Muslims are seemingly targeted, whether it is shisha bars or praying in mosques. These people are being pursued because it fulfils an existing agenda driven by hatred, intolerance and racism. While Muslims are naturally going to be fearful about these issues, the vast majority will carry on regardless.
In understanding what is happening concerning far-right attacks against Muslims, three factors remain. First, these far-right attackers are finding fuel for their ideological predilections from the machinations of mainstream society and politics. Second, the counterterrorism and counter-extremism policy frameworks that currently receive considerable attention across the Global North are ill-equipped to deal with the growing threat of far-right extremism because so much attention was historically placed on the idea that the most sinister forms of extremism are only of the Islamist kind. Third, the reporting on these issues remain skewed, biased or is entirely invisible. It is wholly incumbent upon observers to report on matters fairly and obsequiously. Only then will this topic get the wider recognition it deserves. And that it will encourage those working in this field to understand that extremism and terrorism among different actors share common characteristics. And that, as societies, if we concentrate on those social development concerns for all, then there is a real chance of eliminating the threat of terrorism for all because it is clear that there are patterns of reciprocal extremism in the current climate, and to break this vicious cycle, a focus on local area community development concerns and issues of social inclusion remain paramount.
It is clear from recent events that there remains a concern regarding Islamist extremism, but far-right extremism is becoming a more virulent threat than ever. When the perpetrators are ostensibly Muslim, a focus on ideology and religion fixates pundits and policymakers but when it is a majority white man implicated, attention is placed on mental health, individual questions of psychology and upbringing, while regarding these cases as aberrations. It reflects the multiple roles played by racism in this entire landscape. Young Muslims face the challenges of Islamophobic anti-Muslim sentiment on a persistent basis, and yet it is the very few who respond to the challenges of their real-world existence with violence in the name of some higher purpose. Far-right extremists are motivated by a hateful ideology, while their white privilege is never threatened in reality, even if it is perceived as such. For many, they are unable to cope with a radically changing globalised world and the impact it has on their local lived experiences. Leading politicians speak out against attacks on Muslims in the lamest of ways while making all the political capital they can when the attack is carried out by an Islamist extremist. The media over-report Islamist attacks while under-reporting far-right acts of terrorism. Policymakers are only now beginning to catch up with the menace that far-right extremism has become. Thus, there are numerous biases operating at various levels, including how aspects of counter-terrorism, counter-extremism and de-radicalisation thinking and training are heavily skewed towards the Islamist threat but it is often formulated and delivered by individuals with no real appreciation of the reality of people’s lives on the ground. UK ministries are still dominated by an Oxbridge-trained civil service, which has no connection to the world it wishes to preside over, especially that which is affected by extremism, radicalisation and terrorism. Critical and activist left-leaning Muslim or non-Muslim voices are often rendered invisible – for if one criticises the policy and processes of government, in some circles, one is branded as part of the problem itself. Muslims who are quick to cede to the dominant diktat, even promoting it as a career strategy, reap rewards.
Today’s world of ongoing Islamist and far-right extremism, while concentrated in urban areas, affecting young men in particular, where ideology is a mask for perceptions of failings in relation to the self, is fraught with numerous challenges. Populism, authoritarianism and protectionism go hand in hand with widening socio-economic inequalities and the democratic deficit that is being felt particularly by men. In this climate, as the challenges far outweigh the opportunities, and where racism continues to reinvent itself unabated, matters will only get worse before they get better.