Sarri Singer, Director, Strength to Strength, Attends Conference in Brussels March 3, 2015


EU working conference: TerRa Terrorism and Radicalisation, Evidence based policy  Brussels 3rd March 2015 Husa President Park Boulevard du Roi Albert II 44 1000 Brussels Belgium

TERRA is a European project supported by the European Commission DG Home Affairs. The objective of TERRA is to reinforce the positive role victims and former terrorists can play in relation to the prevention of radicalisation and  providing practical guidance to specific target groups. Target groups and beneficiaries include victims, (potential) terrorists, EU member states and frontline-workers in the field of law-enforcement, rehabilitation, teaching, welfare and social workers, journalists, policy makers, and religious leaders..

The conference was opened by Magda Rooze – TERRA co-ordinator. During her address, Ms. Rooze spoke about how we can understand radicalisation, what makes people want to carry out violent attacks and how we can better form de-radicalisation initiatives. She carried on by introducing TERRA – a European programme, funded by the European Commission DG Home Affairs, whose focus is prevention of radicalisation.

Ms. Rooze also spoke about why TERRA has been effective – its work is based on a needs assessment given by identified target groups, which allows it to produce evidence-based products. TERRA also has an international advisory board, a Europe-wide network of experts and a support network of formers and victims. Ms Rooze also stressed the urgency of programmes such as TERRA in light of the events over the past year in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen. The products that TERRA hopes to produce are:  Train-the-trainers programme, lesson material for schools, support for victims and former extremists in de-radicalization process, and evidence based policy advice.

Following Ms. Rooze’s opening address, the participants were shown a TERRA film including personal testimonials of victims/survivors of terrorism, former extremists and professionals.  Then followed a panel discussion chaired by Gavin Rees featuring participants of TERRA I and counter-extremism practitioners. Rees talked a little about the video and the power that such testimonies have on people. He then introduced the panel by asking them to say a little about their engagement in the field.

Max Boon facilitates formers and victims in Indonesia to talk about their experience. He also gives victims of terrorism a face, especially to communities at risk, and tries to humanize both sides of the equation.

Maajid Nawaz works with schools, colleges, Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. He encourages them to talk about experiences with extremism, consequences and transition by sharing stories and motivations for joining/leaving. 

Sarri Singer works with victims of terrorism, giving them a voice, and helps children, families, adults move forward as a unit, not just as individuals. 

Morten Hjornholm works with people who have been indicted with terrorism charges (in prison and in probation) on a one to one basis. He is also crime prevention professional and advisor to Copenhagen municipality. 

Billy McCurrie has a desire to speak to the young and the vulnerable, as well as to share pitfalls of ‘getting involved’ and its consequences. He does school and prisons outreach to talk about experiences, but is concentrated on low level crime only. 

Soren Lerche studied own path to radicalization. He has been mentor at a school since 2007, and uses individuals who had also departed extremist ideologies as a resource. His work is on group level and is meant to assist people to be part of the solution. He also focuses on present motivations to leave gangs/groups.

After the introductions, Rees asked Boon, Ms. Singer, McCurrie and Nawaz to talk about their experience of working with schools. They all agreed that one of the best way to counter extremist views in children is through engagement to empower young people with knowledge and encourage communications between children and parents from an early age as well as critical thinking skills. Young children are inquisitive and curious, as evidenced by their engagement in the discussions during the program, so answering their questions and giving them an idea of what extremism really is could prevent them from joining.

Ms. Singer also pointed out that the trend of radicalization on college campuses and among older students is also worrying and there is an urgent need to bring this discussion out into the open in educational institutions too. Rees then asked what formers can do to prevent violent extremism. Nawaz, Ms. Singer and Hjornholm all agreed that one way is to make the individual feel comfortable, able to doubt his assertions, and make them feel part of the solution. Alternatives must be presented. Nawaz also pointed out that on a macro level, there is a need to be forceful in the dismissal of certain values, as opposes to the micro level, where empathy and understanding must be presented. He also talked about the roles each person holds in the process – a prime minister, for example, cannot be empathetic towards the guy in prison who is pro-terrorism. The intervention provider’s role is not to go into a prison to condemn an attack, but to humanize the ‘other’, clarifying that terrorism is not the only way to address perceived injustices.

Rees asked Ms. Singer to talk about it from the perspective of her work with victims of violence and people who volunteered. Ms. Singer said that credibility is central to her work and she tries to keep politics out of it and focuses more on the human side of terrorism. Otherwise, not all victims are going to be open to this kind of discussion.

Following the panel, Professor Alex Schmid, Dutch scholar in Terrorism Studies and former Officer-in-Charge of the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the United Nations, discussed ‘State of the art evidence on radicalisation and de-radicalisation’ followed by a discussion on 'The way forward' led by Jonathan Russell, Political Liaison Officer Quillliam Foundation.

Finally, six working groups consisting of the over 100 participants of the conference were set up to determine needs assessment for European government policy. The working groups were chaired by the partners of TERRA II, with minutes taken by students of Roosevelt Academy who also interview the representatives of the European Member States.

To view the TerRa film please click here https://vimeo.com/120414089 or visit the TerRa website at http://www.terra-net.eu/index.php