According to one of the most senior Muslim police officers, we should be observing children as young as five and looking to monitor and detect the earliest signs of anti-western sentiment. What does this mean in practice? Well according, to Scotland Yard commander Mak Chishty, it's when children aged five have voiced opposition to marking Christmas, and potentially have shown 'subtle' changes in behaviour. So if you are a Muslim parent, this means behaviour such as shunning certain shops, such as Marks & Spencer, which could be because the store is sometimes 'mistakenly perceived to be Jewish-owned'. For commander Chishty, this means family and friends should also be intervening much earlier, watching out for, yes you guessed it, 'subtle' signs, unexplained changes, which could also include sudden 'negative attitudes towards alcohol, social occasions and western clothing'.
I do agree with the points raised by commander Chishty, that Isis are increasingly using a social media war to target and recruit would be impressionable people to their cause. However, sadly commander Chishty, has missed the point about the causes of radicalisation and the complexities surrounding it. For example, how does a Muslim parent distinguish between a child's personal habits, with actual signs of radicalisation? For instance, if a child say's; "Dad, I hate wearing jeans and I really want to wear my salvar kameez today. Are we to say this is a 'subtle' change towards radicalisation?"
According to Chishty, however, it's in the "private space", where Muslims need to intervene earlier. This according to Chishty is "...anything from walking down the road, looking at a mobile, to someone in a bedroom surfing the net, to someone in a shisha cafe talking about things." He goes further and adds that radicalisation may include not shopping at M&S because; "maybe they're just fed up with the store...or maybe there is hatred for the store". Indeed, many people may not want to shop at Marks & Spencer's, for whatever reason, but does that actually mean, we are witnessing the beginning of a radical extremist. What if they simply prefer Primark?
Radicalisation is a complex phenomenon and there is no single pathway to it. Instead there are some common factors within the environment that can lead to trigger points that mean some people are more susceptible than others to being radicalised. This could include abnormal behaviour from certain individuals who are seeking an identity and a sense of belonging. However, these triggers, I would argue are not the ones Commander Chishty is advocating. My research has shown that identity and belonging are some of those key factors towards a pathway of radicalisation. They are not the only causes!
Other studies, have shown that radicalisation can be seen as a social movement and social progression. This concept, uses societal causal factors to describe how people are influenced by violent actors that use different modes of recruitment tactics such as personal meetings, social activism, and online indoctrination. Commander Chishty remarks on radicalisation, sadly fail to actually tackle the 'root' causes that lead to someone being vulnerable to radicalisation in the first instance. It is clear that socio-economic and cultural factors do play a role in determining who becomes radicalised. Therefore, one of the important points of radicalisation, is the process from naive and vulnerable individual's to would be terrorists. Whether this is because people feel a sense of isolation which leads to resentment, anger and eventually wanting to re-enact violent acts of terrorism or potential grievances they hold. A recent study, has also highlighted how factors of depression and social isolation are a means to making some people more vulnerable to radicalisation then others.
Radicalisation is a problem for us all, not one that simply means we can shift the blame at Muslims, for not doing enough. Clearly, Muslims who don't wish to shop at Marks & Spencer should not be viewed in the prism of counter-terrorism. They are instead personal choices that everyone should be entitled to make, within a free and democratic society. Whatever the personal choice people make, we need to be careful to ensure that we don't start becoming the eyes and ears for counter-terrorism policing in our own homes. Otherwise, we risk creating a polarised society that is built on a lack of trust and only fuels a McCarthyite witch-hunt against Muslims.