In the current political climate, the expectation placed on parents in counter terrorism policy has been raised, and they are now expected to directly report their own children, who have either gone missing or have returned from a war zone and are suspected of being involved in terrorist activity abroad.
Approximately 7,000 nationals of Western countries are believed to be fighting in conflict zones and out of the 800 believed to be from the UK, 300 are thought to have returned home.
Recent research by academics at Birmingham City University concludes that counter terrorism strategies themselves are further alienating communities from the police and are, as a result, ineffective.
Counter Terrorism policy has shifted towards policing home-grown terrorists in the wake of the July 7 bombings. The Prevent Strategy, which was introduced in 2005, sought to avert individuals from exposure to extremism as well as instil British values and democratic ideals to counter the radicalisation process. This has led to a situation where the police have worked closely with some of the members of the Muslim community over the years. But, to the report’s authors, this partnership doesn’t seem to be working. “For a partnership to exist, there needs to be a level of trust and confidence between both parties” it states.
The research for the report was carried out using focus groups in Birmingham, a city which has been a focus of radicalisation in the media. There was the Trojan Horse scandal in early 2014, where allegations of influencing the national curriculum with “Islamist” ideas were made against governors and staff at 20 Birmingham schools, which turned out not to be true. A few years earlier, Project Champion in 2010, involved the use of surveillance cameras by West Midlands Police to monitor Muslim community homes, claiming they were targeting criminals, without consultation.
The research highlights how problematic is to ask parents to look for signs of radicalsation in their own children. Such an approach paints a whole community as “suspect”, failing to understand, as well as undermining, individual family dynamics. One parent told researchers that he would not report his own child because “that’s not what parents do”.
So when it came to reporting their own children, parents were hesitant.
One parent told the study: “I would normally have told them (the police) and have done so in the past, but I don’t trust them at all. This is the police making my children hate me.”
Another parent said: “I would speak to him and me and my son have a good relationship and we get on well. I don’t spy on him but agree as parents we should show our children the positive image of Islam and not fight with terrorists. My son trusts me.”
In some cases, parents’ attitudes went beyond a lack of trust to actual fear of wrongful arrest. One parent said: “We need to educate them not to travel there in the first place. If I told the police they would then arrest me and my children.”
The erosion of civil liberties and democratic rights has been an increasing concern in counter terrorism policy. According to the report, the very policies that could lead to foreign fighters becoming stateless or which criminalise youngsters on return, before they have been tried in court, could feed further mistrust and alienation.
The parents involved in the study showed concern about a lack of support for families of British Nationals, who in some cases are under 16, returning from Syria, and who may have been traumatised by what they had witnessed.
The report points to the possibilities of rehabilitation of foreign terrorist fighters, which involves a process of disengagement and de-radicalisation that uses education and faith-based initiatives, rather than a discourse of suspicion and over-emphasis on a lack of British Values.