The religious extremism we should really worry about is online

Radical groups on the web pose a much greater threat than any 'Trojan Horse'

Share

For the first time in a while, everyone seems to agree that we need to tackle non-violent extremism. This week Parliament reached rare consensus on its importance, something that came on the back of the Ofsted investigation into 21 Birmingham schools over the “Trojan Horse” allegations.

Certainly, we have much to be optimistic about. However, there is one area vulnerable to extremist content that is not receiving anywhere near enough attention: the internet.

We cannot hope to effectively counter extremism if we just focus on schools, universities and prisons: we need to take this online as well.

Governments and the media have, in recent years, begun targeting the online and social media usage by Islamist extremist groups across the Middle East and Africa.

And boy, do they use social media: in the last month alone, Boko Haram in Nigeria has released video after video justifying the recent kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls; the social media accounts of ISIS fighters have unapologetically glorified graphic images of conflict while promoting martyrdom; and al-Shabaab, the group responsible for the Westgate Mall attacks in Kenya, have been tweeting .

The British and French governments have taken a strong stance against “extremist content” online when addressing their approach to tackling extremism.

A key finding of our latest report is that the vast majority, if not all, of radicalised individuals come into contact with extremist ideology through offline interactions before reaching online extremist content.

Chance explorations on search engines do not “accidentally” lead users to extremist websites. This challenges the popular discourse about so-called “lone wolf” actors becoming radicalised solely through the internet.

The first point of contact for radicalisation is almost always a personal one. Prisons and universities, for example, tend to be easily and regularly infiltrated by radical groups, who use them as forums to propagate their ideas.

It is after the first point of contact in places like these that an individual, questioning themselves and the world around them, finds themselves with a launching point from which to go online and become further submerged in extremism.

The internet cannot and must not be blamed as the source of radicalisation. However, once you know where to look, the internet provides an immeasurably large platform for content consumption and interaction with like-minded individuals.

It can often be a slippery slope, with one video of Western soldiers committing war crimes leading to the next, forming a self-created echo-chamber into which very few alternative narratives can penetrate.

These are easily formed because as most Islamist extremist material consists of wholly legal educational videos, they are not eligible for censorship in a democratic environment. The fact that they woefully distort the Islamic scripture and the scholarship that surrounds it matters not.

We need to make a distinction between “terrorist material” and “extremist content”. While the former has clear legal definitions and comprehensive legislation, the latter is a grey area, open to interpretation and firmly in the realm of ideas.

At Quilliam, we don’t refute the government’s right to protect citizens against unambiguously illegal content like that which incites violence, disseminates hate speech or openly supports a terrorist organisation.

However, we need to recognise two things. Firstly, that extremist content often simply does not break the law; and secondly, that negative measures, such as censorship, filtering or blocking, will never solve the problem of radicalisation.

Quillam's latest report, Jihad Trending: A Comprehensive Analysis of Online Extremism and How to Counter It, is available to read online now.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there