Chair: Martin Gill

Ashton Kingdon – PhD Candidate at University of Southampton
Tochukwu Omenma – Senior Lecturer at University of Nigeria Nsukka
Kumar Ramakrishna – Head of International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

Key points

Ashton Kingdon is currently conducting interdisciplinary research (including criminology, history and computer science) into different forms of radicalisation, adopting a range of research methods. She has included a focus on the role of technology highlighting for example some of the limitations of using technical solutions such as AI in response to radiclaisation. You will hear Ashton discuss nationalism and the emergence of Donald Trump, neo Nazism, the rise in profile of conspirator radicalisation, the growing threat of male supremacism. The pandemic inspired extremism as people lost jobs and anti government sentiments grew, incidents such as George Floyd fuelled the flames of discontent, censorship often seen as unjust and climate change provided impetus from other directions; collectively these influences rendered people more influenced by extremism narratives. The internet and social media platforms provide a common means of spreading propaganda and the key is to disrupt that process of engagement. But there is more to it that just that. She gives the example of neo Nazis, which she has researched where engagement is facilitated by long held beliefs perhaps enshrined from early influences. The family has a role to play too.

Kumar Ramakrishna starts by noting the very different forms of extremism evident in Asia. Just for example while once upon a time there was a focus on Islamic extremism, now other religions witness similar trends, including Hinduism. In thinking about the foci for good responses he refers to strong legislative frameworks, effective community and other partnerships, well-resourced policing, and importantly public education not least on the behavioural indicators for extremism, the first signs are more likely to be noticed by family and friends and the initial stages of radicalisation are the key points to intervene.  You will hear Kumar discuss the impact of the pandemic both operationally and ideologically. It provided an opportunity to blame some groups and the isolation caused by the pandemic made radicalisation easier. The process of having a grievance, sensing an injustice, attributing a target mark the first three key stages and each merits a specific response. Interestingly one of the biggest challenges is the role of influencers such as clerics who help create a climate of intolerance, via hate speech, that is difficult to sanction. They justify their actions as one of a craftsman selling knives and not being responsible for how they are used. 

Tochkuwu Omenma discusses extremism specifically in Africa which, he argues, is different to other parts of the world. He discusses the high levels of poverty, the similarly endemic nature of corruption, the commonplace practice of state repression (where Government is operated on a top down model when the reverse is needed), the deep rooted anger against government, and given all this invites us to wonder then how big extremism is. He suggests that as many as 90% of Africans are radicalised, but that most, at present anyway, would not use force. But that can change. The situation was already difficult before the pandemic, the lockdowns have made things worse as the blame game for adversity has gathered pace. Tochukwu also highlights the key role of the family in encouraging extremism and therefore with the potential to suppress it, as he says, ‘family is big in Africa’. Online radicalisation is a massive problem, especially amongst the young, while the infiltration by extremists of government and military does nothing to inspire trust in the authorities.

The three panellists each approached this topic from different perspectives highlighting that radicalisation is different around the world, with different causes and different solutions. Endemic societal problems though are key, poverty and injustice breed discontent. The state has a responsibility to respond of course but the roles of friends and families are priorities too. No wonder they should promote the importance of public education.

Martin Gill
10th June, 2021

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