The independent Commission for Countering Extremism published four peer-reviewed academic papers on Islamism and Sikh extremism, including the work of GSPIA Professor Michael Kenney.
The papers cover the mainstreaming of Islamism in Britain, the banned al-Muhajiroun group, and changes in Sikh activism in the UK.
Academic papers have been a key component of the UK’s national conversation on extremism, and the academic research it has commissioned has helped to inform its study on extremism.
The Commission has published evidence and analysis throughout the summer, building up to the landmark report which was released today, making recommendations to the Home Secretary on extremism.
Kenney’s paper, “What is to be Done about al-Muhajiroun? Containing the Emigrants in a Democratic Society,” is a summary of his recent book The Islamic State in Britain: Radicalization and Resilience in an Activist Network (Cambridge University Press, 2018).
His research draws from extensive field research with activists on the streets of London, providing the first ethnographic study of a European network implicated in terrorist attacks and sending fighters to the Islamic State. It won the 2019 Best Book Award, awarded by the Political Networks Section of the American Political Science Association.
His paper explains the network’s ideological struggle and the challenges facing British authorities in stopping it. Rather than increasing police powers to combat groups like al-Muhajiroun, the government should empower local communities and former activists who reject the network’s ideology.
"It explains the network's ideological struggle and adaptable activism, why people join and leave, and the challenges facing British authorities in trying to stop it," Kenney said. "The paper debunks some misunderstandings about the activist network. Hopefully, it will help policymakers and the public better understand it and radicalization into violent extremism more broadly."
Kenney said the paper highlights the policy implications of his research. It suggests that rather than increasing police powers and passing more laws to combat groups like al-Muhajiroun, the British government should instead empower local communities and former activists who reject the networks ideology. He also argues that Britain and other Western democracies can manage the risk of al-Muhajiroun and other like-minded groups without sacrificing the political rights and civil liberties that are essential to their societies.
Sara Khan, Lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism, thanked academic terrorist experts like Kenney for contributing their research to help inform the report.
“Today I argue, we can, and must, do more – starting with a new clarity and purpose to work to counter hateful extremism. The papers on Islamism and Sikh activism bring to life the many issues we have heard through our evidence gathering and engagement," Khan said. "They include clear examples of the democratic debate we must protect but also the hateful extremism we must recognize and challenge. I am calling for a whole society response built on stronger leadership, deeper understanding and innovative interventions.”
Kenney is GSPIA’s Director of International Affairs, a scholar at the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, and an affiliate scholar at the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security.