Academics, police officers, probation officers, psychologists and local and central government staff were present at a conference on hate crime and extremism at Middlesex University recently.
The event, organised by Forensic Psychological Services, highlighted the latest research and policy relating to hate crime and to extremism and provided a platform for delegates to share and discuss knowledge.
The conference began with a few words from Michael Driscoll, vice chancellor of Middlesex University, who talked about the importance of studying hate crime and the need to build strong partnerships between different agencies.
He noted that Middlesex has conducted innovative research in each of these fields particularly in partnership with community groups to get greater insight. But he added a lot more needs to be done to understand these issues.
Keynote speaker Tore Bjørgo, from the Norwegian Police University College, talked about disengagement from extremist groups by individuals and groups.
“There is no silver bullet. Promoting individual and collective disengagement from terrorism can only be one element within a comprehensive policy against terrorism,” he said.
He said the buzzword “de-radicalisation”, used by many governments, is problematic because it mixed “behaviour with values and attitudes.”
“Young people do not join these groups because they hold racists views, they join cause of other reasons – protection, excitement, getting new friends or a family member is with the group…only a few have ideological motives,“ said Bjørgo.
He added that in political dimensions the ideological concept is often “overplayed.”
Bjørgo detailed how individuals and groups disengaged from terrorist activity, either because of disillusionment; with the group’s goals, methods or leadership - which he called “push factors.” Or, more commonly, an amnesty or political settlement - coined “pull factors.”
Earlier in the day, Paul Iganski from Lancaster University looked at hate crime and the kind of person that engages in such behaviour.
He presented findings from ongoing work being conducted for the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), a network of European NGOs. Within that work, the far right, neo-Nazi, ultra nationalist groups and their members are seen as being responsible for most of the racist violence in the continent. Over half of the NGOs in Europe provided that perspective.
But some NGOs say the focus on the “far-right turns the spotlight away from everyday perpetrators.” These people are not necessarily violent, nor different from others but have prejudices bubbling underneath that surface in opportune moments, said Iganski.
It was a view shared by Shadd Maruna, from Queen’s University in Belfast, who said a lot of people that carry out hate crime are “people like us.”
“We always have the need to project the offender as this ‘other’ rather than looking within, and working with communities is the key message from today,” he added.
Basia Spalek, from University of Birmingham, talked about counter terrorism and the part communities play in that.
“The notion of community tends to be overlooked and marginalised in a lot of studies that look at terrorism and counter terrorism. Community is an important notion to prevent terrorism,” said Spalek.
She added that government and security should take a “community focussed, as opposed to community targeted, approach.”
Community targeted approach ignores consent from communities, is driven by political agendas and fosters distrust between communities and the security. Community focused approach is about community consent and cultivates trust and participation with security and government, she said.
She also touched on the point made by Paul Iganski about wider prejudice in society and blamed the securitisation of certain communities in the UK for fomenting intolerance.
“The securitised agenda that views certain Muslim identities as problematic feeds into wider societal prejudices and helps sustain the wider social structure that enables hate crime to flourish,” she said.
In the afternoon, there was a plenary panel session, which included Joanna Perry from the Crown Prosecution Service, Pat Conway from the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, Sarah Isal from the think-tank Runnymede Trust and Debbie Gupta from the government’s counter radicalisation programme “Prevent”.
Throughout the day, there were various workshops in progress for the delegates to take part. Four workshops focussed on radicalisation and four on hate crime.