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civil society

There is new research out by Dr Matthew Goodwin based on the leaked BNP membership list. Published in the journal Party Politics, it looks at the areas in England that contain larger clusters of BNP members.
To summarise some of its key findings (and heavily paraphrasing a summary by Matthew himself):
  • The local authorities that contain the highest number of members include Pendle, Burnley, Melton, Charnwood and Barnsley.
  • Key regional areas of ‘membership strength’ are Yorkshire, and the Midlands
  • Far right members tend to concentrate most heavily in areas that are urban, characterised by economic insecurity and where average education levels are low. Far right membership is particularly likely in areas where there are large numbers of residents employed in the manufacturing sector. For every one unit increase in wards of those who are employed in manufacturing, there is a 43% increase in membership (while controlling for other social and economic conditions). The results also suggest that long-term unemployment is not a key driver of far right membership, but rather it is citizens who are employed and in financial precarious positions that are the most susceptible to join far right groups
  • In terms of ethnic diversity, the findings confirm those of earlier studies: membership is correlated with the presence of large Muslim communities in the local area. This is consistent with findings on far right voting, and suggests that perceived threats from culturally distinct and economically deprived Muslim communities is an important factor to explaining support for the far right. However – and also consistent with work on far right voting – it finds that the presence of non-Muslim Asians has no significant impact on membership while membership is lower in areas where there are large numbers of Black British citizens. At broad level, this is further evidence that anti-Muslim prejudice has become a key driver of support for the far right, and that simply describing these groups as ‘anti-immigrant’ glosses a more nuanced picture.
  • Membership is significantly higher in local authorities where the BNP succeeded in winning a council seat, and has established local branches since 2000. While the BNP is now in decline, this suggests that where the far right is active and establishes a local presence its recruitment efforts are more successful
  • There is evidence of a ‘legacy effect’ – membership of the contemporary far right is significantly higher (17% higher) in local authorities where the old National Front (NF) was active in the 1970s, and while holding other social, economic and political factors constant. This would suggest that the modern far right has continued to draw on older networks of supporters within specific areas of the country, and that specific local areas in England are providing a context that is more favourable than others toward anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim campaigns. It might also suggest that areas where the far right is currently most active (for example the EDL), are likely to provide favourable conditions for the far right over coming decades.
This is a great piece of research and essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the far right in England.
Matthew also wrote a piece for ISD on the rise of the far right in Europe a few months ago, which can be downloaded from our website.

My interest in security was sparked when I was at university and my beloved uncle Phil was kidnapped in Colombia. Suddenly, I was thrust into a world of private security companies and response consultants, and felt like an extra on a Hollywood movie set. It led me to ask a few basic questions: who had taken him? Why would they want him? How would we get him back? And, importantly, what could be done to help others who might suffer the same anguish as his family did for 7 long months?

I now dedicate part of my life to the final challenge – running a small charity called Hostage UK, which supports the families of hostages during a kidnap and the family and hostage post-release. We offer pastoral care, put the families in touch with others who have been through the same experience, provide them with any professional support they might need, and offer advice and guidance on how best they can cope with their experience.

When I am not running Hostage UK, I am Research and Policy Director at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. There, I oversee our work on extremism and counter-terrorism, where – amongst other things – we have recently launched the Against Violent Extremism Network (AVE) to bring together former extremists with the survivors of violent extremist attacks to work to counter radicalization and help reintegrate extremists looking to leave their movements.

I have been reflecting on where these two worlds collide, and it strikes me that there are lessons to be learned from the reintegration of hostages and former extremists back into their family environments. I am not seeking to make light of the experiences of hostages, or draw parallels between their suffering and the choices of extremists. But if we look at the specific challenge of reintegration, there are some parallels. Here are five lessons that those looking to reintegrate former extremists could learn from our work at Hostage UK.

First, both the hostage and the family experience extreme forms of trauma. Hostages always say that their family experiences more stress than they do, because they always have the luxury of knowing whether they are alive or dead. When the hostage is released, the family is often not in a position to support fully, because they are in need of support themselves.

Second, the hostage and the family go through different experiences, and this can mean that they feel estranged from one another when the hostage returns.

Third, while the hostage has been away, the family has inevitably moved on. It is so often the main breadwinner who has been taken, and in their absence their wife (it is usually a female partner at home) has assumed the position of head of household, taken on responsibility for finances, and usurped the hostage’s role within the family. This can make reintegration difficult, as the hostage will not be able simply to slot back in and might feel excluded. It is mainly for this reason that there can be higher than average incidences of divorce post-release.

Fourth, the hostage may have experienced things during their captivity that they do not wish to share with their families due to a sense of shame and an inability to communicate. This only increases the sense of division between them and their family members.

Fifth, there is so often a reluctance on the part of both the former hostage and their family to accept that they might need help and support.

Applying these lessons across former hostages and former extremists may not be entirely intuitive. But it is vital to acknowledge that extremism – like kidnapping – is a human crime with a human solution, of which families must be a part. It is vital that these lessons are learned.

For more information about Hostage UK, visit our website.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue launched a new report on Friday on the way Muslims are covered in the media in the UK and Germany. It was sparked by concerns that the growth of specialist media – especially that aimed specifically at Muslims – could lead towards the development of parallel media societies. It involved focus groups with journalists in both mainstream and specialist/Muslim media, focus groups with media consumers (Muslims and non-Muslims), and a survey of media consumers in the UK and Germany.

The key findings were:

  • There is no such thing as a parallel media society in terms of news and current affairs coverage. Both Muslims and Muslims still rely on a small number of mainstream media outlets for their news, and consumer roughly the same amount of current affairs from specialist outlets.
  • Muslims rarely consume media on the basis of their religion or as a religious community – but they do, like other groups, rely on it for languages, diaspora links, and special interests.
  • The Internet and social media are important for all groups, especially as a go to place to check media coverage from other sources.
  • All groups believe that coverage of Muslims in the media is negative and stereotyped, but especially in Germany and among Muslims. Consumers were easily able to recall negative news stories about Muslims, but not positive ones.
  • Journalists accepted that this negative portrayal was disproportionate to the balance of reality – but didn’t on the whole recognise that their own organisations were guilty of negative portrayal.
  • Media consumers also feel that Muslims are underrepresented in the media, both in front of and behind the camera.
  • There was broad agreement that the media – amongst other things – has an impact on community relations on the ground. It impacts on the perceptions of Muslims, relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, and sometimes real life events are affected.
  • There is a need for critical media consumption – and also critical media production. This was recognised by both consumers and producers alike.
  • But overall, most people felt that the media has the potential to have an enormously positive effect on community relations.

The research will be published along with a policy brief with detailed policy and practical recommendations in the next month or so. A further discussion event will be held in Germany in May. Get in touch if you would like more information about this project.

The Norweigan Central Evaluation Commission has published its review into police handling of the violent attacks of 22 July 2011 in Norway, which resulted in 77 deaths and many injuries. The English translation of the summary can be found here.

The main findings and recommendations are:

  • Notification by red alert: The police need to review and improve their alert system.
  • Situation reporting: The police need to improve situation reporting skills, focusing on verifying information, making sure the information is relevant for the superior lead, and highlighting information that is new since the last situation report.
  • Organisation, direction and coordination: There is mixed capability from area to area to respond to an event of this kind, and some areas had not updated their response plans. There is a need to consider introducing requirements as to minimum police staffing and skills, and there should be more attention on district-to-district peer support. The police needs to introduce a nation-wide emergency communications system due to communications problems experienced during the event, and several other IT and communications systems should be revamped. Police need to provide more training in incident management. There was good coordination between police and other partners on the ground. Overall, the Commission finds that the police carried out their duties as promptly as possible under the circumstances.
  • Management of evacuees and family/friends: Family and friends have been positive about the support they received from police in the immediate aftermath of the event, and centres for evacuees and family/friends were rapidly set up. But confusion was caused because several hotline numbers were released, people were confused about which one to use, and cooperation with the public health services caused frustration.
  • Public relations: There was confusion about which police district was handling press and media enquiries, and the Commission recommends that where more than one police district is affected by an incident the National Police Directorate should play a greater role in coordination. More user-friendly software is needed for posting information on the public police website, and insufficient attention was devoted to public relations challenges in the restoration-of-normality phase.
  • Health and safety: The Commission recommends that local Health and Safety plans be developed further.

I have co-written a piece in a new report about the ‘new radical right’ in Europe, which analyses latest trends among violent and non-violent right wing movements. There are excellent pieces by Vidhya Ramalingam from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Dr Matthew Goodwin of Nottingham University. The piece I have co-written pulls out some of the key policy recommendations.

Here is a paper I wrote outlining the role of civil society in tackling radicalisation. As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it’s important to continue striving for better government-civil society cooperation if we are to be effective in our responses to terrorism. The paper includes a series of case studies of projects and initiatives that seek to embody this kind of partnership approach.

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