Day two of the seminar on religious violence was, to my mind, dominated by the immense courage of Feriha Peracha (above). She runs a deradicalisation school in the Swat valley, Pakistan. Her stories of trauma and violence amongst kids are as bleak as it is possible to imagine, and then some. An NPR piece here tells more, though Dr Peracha insisted ending on an optimistic note: kids can be re-integrated.
Listening to her was to be reminded that hidden by the horrors that emerge almost daily from Pakistan there work individuals of substantial bravery and compassion, a source of hope.
Next spoke Russell Razzaque, the London psychiatrist who has been very involved in advising on the Prevent strategy.
The potential for terrorism here is very different from the actuality in Pakistan. And, in fact, if there is one message coming out very clearly from the seminar it is that apparently similar activities, like suicide bombing, are really enormously disparate phenomena. Poverty may play a major role, or none at all. Education, religion and political ideology similarly.
The problem in the UK might, though, be summed up in a word: alienation. It seems to emerge particularly amongst second generation immigrant communities. Young Muslim men are exploited often at college or university, where radical groups offer them acceptance when before they had felt rejection, and purpose when before they had felt lost.
Of course, it is only a tiny fraction of lads who are radicalised. Most, like Dr Razzaque himself whilst training as a medic, become aware of the radicalisation groups and recognise their view of the world as ridiculous.
Some of Razzaque’s aside comments struck me as not so frequently discussed. He thought that young Muslims with no religious education are particularly vulnerable as they have no knowledge against which to judge the extreme interpretations of the Koran taught by radicals. He also thought that British attitudes to alcohol might play a part in the problem the UK has seen. There is virtually no social activity that young people engage in that does not involve alcohol, often in quantity. This can cause great problems for Muslims, compounding feelings of exclusion.
Razzaque ended optimistically too, believing that the Arab spring undermines radical ideology. It shows Muslims around the Mediterranean rallying to national and democratic causes, the precise opposite of Al-Qaeda goals. Moreover, such groups have, so far, been notable by their absence. They seem irrelevant – though writing on the morning when Libya is falling to partly unknown groups, caution seems wise. More hangs on the outcomes of the Arab spring even than the future of the countries directly involved.