BRITISH Muslims will suffer the most from “jihadist terrorism” because of revenge attacks from the far right, the director of a leading centre for radicalisation has said.
The movement in France, which has recently seen a resurgence, has already politically exploited the terrorist attack in Paris for its own purposes, Professor Peter Neumann from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College has claimed.
Neumann made the remarks at a conference on violent radicalisation and terrorism on Monday (19), at Queen Mary University of London. The terrorism expert, who founded the centre in 2008, said his greatest concern was a backlash from the far right.
He was speaking two weeks after gunmen brought bloodshed to Paris, killing staff at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, police officers and hostages in a Jewish supermarket.
“In France, you have these terrorist attacks coming at a point in its political history where you have a resurgent far right which already has potentially politically exploited these attacks for its own purposes,” Neumann said.
“As a result, you then have an even more deeply polarised society which is perhaps making minorities even more alienated, thereby driving radicalisation even further. That is my true concern about terrorism. That’s why I believe the people who will suffer most from jihadist terrorism in Britain is ultimately British Muslims.”
Fiyaz Mughal, the founder and director of Faith Matters, which works to reduce extremism, said reprisal attacks had taken place across France following the killings. This included a boar’s head and entrails being left outside a prayer room with a note reading ‘next time it will be one of your heads’.
He added his group had spoken to Muslim parents in Britain whose children felt unhappy about going to school because of discussions about the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Hate crimes against Muslims in the UK were being carried out by children as young as 10, according to data from Faith Matters. Islamaphobic rhetoric helps to create a counter culture among disillusioned youngsters who are vulnerable to becoming radicalised, Mughal said.
Around 600 Britons are estimated by UK authorities to have travelled to Syria to fight alongside Islamic State (IS) militants. However, Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said in November he believed the number was closer to 2,000.
Changing role of women in conflict
The internet has been an equaliser for women, enabling them to participate in the jihadist movement for the first time during a conflict, Neumann said.
“It is wrong to assume that women are entirely passive and they are only going there [to Syria] to have babies. The women we are observing are as vocal and as engaged and, in some cases, frustrated about the fact they are not allowed to do more, so it is a fallacy to assume that women are soft.
“It is wrong to assume that just because they are women, they are somewhat emotional and not as committed as the men are. I can remember when I started studying this, the only women were typically married to fighters and their involvement was through that connection.”
ISCR has identified a group of around 30 female Britons who have travelled to northern Syria. A number of them have been acting as IS recruiters or praising the Charlie Hebdo killings on social media and encouraging more bloodshed, including the beheadings of westerners.
“This is the first conflict in which we have seen a significant number of female participation in the jihadist movement. That used to be very rare. With that movement, with the ideology it has, it’s not like if you are a single woman you can turn up to a meeting and participate.
“Where it has changed is the internet has allowed women to participate, talk to people and to get involved in the scene a lot more than it was possible before. It has really been an equaliser for women,” Neumann said.
The threat of terrorist attacks in the West from “failed fighters and fanboys” should also not be ignored, Neumann added. IS puts out propaganda in all European languages through its extensive social media campaign.
“People who have not gone to Syria, but who may have wanted to, who are active on social media and are supporters of IS should not be overlooked,” he said.
The event was chaired by Kamaldeep Bhui, a professor of cultural psychiatry and epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London, who has explored at length the link between mental health and radicalisation.