ON Friday a man called Usman Khan carried out a murderous terrorist knife attack on London Bridge.
Khan, whose mug shot shows a face that only a mother would love, had conspired with eight other men in 2010 for the offence of preparing for acts of terrorism.
The men were inspired by the terrorist organisation, Al-Qaeda.
Initially, Khan had received an indeterminate sentence which he appealed and received a 16-year sentence instead, to be followed by a five-year licence period.
He was to serve eight years before he could appear before the parole board.
In fixing the term, Lord Justice Leveson who has regrettably been the misplaced target for public outrage at Khan’s freedom, had said, “There is no doubt that anyone convicted of this type of offence could legitimately be considered dangerous...There is an argument for concluding that anyone convicted of such an offence should be incentivised to demonstrate that he can safely be released; such a decision is then better left to the parole board for consideration proximate in time to the date when release become possible...”
We do not know how Khan was able to show his parole board that it was probably safe to release him but clearly they came to the wrong conclusion.
In a way, this news item ties in with one I read recently about our Minister of National Security holding talks with international agencies about the post-ISIS fate of about 1,000 people who are apparently seeking to return to these shores. The fact that some of them may have been born in the war theatre or may have spent most of their lives in a war zone must make this task incredibly difficult and dangerous.
If we are to judge from the applicants who are seeking to return to other countries, it seems that it is unrealistic to expect regret or repentance. A terrorist who has been radicalised to the extent where any kind of violence of the kind we have witnessed from groups such as these believes that what he or she is doing is right and reasonable.
Can we deprogramme the minds of such people? Is deprogramming aimed at radicalisation or radicalisation which is used to justify criminality? How do we deprogramme children without knowing what they have endured?
It is hoped that we have a realistic programme with deep inputs from properly trained psychologists and psychiatrists for these returnees. It must be one which allows us to appreciate the economic, racial, legal, religious and family influences which led to their radicalisation or that of their parents in the first place.
An article in the Salus Journal by Jason-Leigh Streigher gives an excellent analysis of the multiple factors which come into play when deciding the methodology for turning radicals away from violence. The author refers to them as “push” and “pull” factors.
The push factor includes situations where the individual attracted to a terrorist group stays because his/her ideological position is subsumed by the collective anger and frustration of the group. However, activities of the group, may cause a push away if the recruit sees that he has been lied to or manipulated. Push factors also include society’s disapproval of radicalisation for a criminal purpose and of course criminal prosecution.
An interesting illustration in the article of the “pull” factor was that of the Black September Organisation. In the 1970s this was the military arm of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). The unit was made up of hardened dedicated men. When the PLO changed political direction, the question arose as to how these men could be reprogrammed. The approach taken by Yasser Arafat, the legendary leader of the PLO, and his advisers was to give the men a reason to live as opposed to a reason to die.
As part of their disengagement they were given a choice of the most beautiful brides, they were compensated when they married and when they had children. They were given housing with mod-cons and employment in fields of work which had nothing to do with violence. More importantly, the PLO continued to test them to ensure that they would not re-engage.
Of course, it sounds too good to be true. These men may have given up terrorist activities but may have continued to be violent in their homes and communities. We do not know. We also do not know how these methods would work in a post 9/11 world where terrorists who have faced atrocities like water-boarding would react to what seems to be fairly mundane pull factors.
There have been attempts in other countries to put de-radicalisation programmes in place but not with much success. It seems to me that as a national community we must be clued in as to what our programme entails. This is not only to be able to protect ourselves and our loved ones from becoming victims of terrorist activity but also to allow us to spot its development in our homes, workplaces, and indeed in any group where we may be engaging in social or cultural work.
Sophia K Chote SC is an Independent Senator