Australia’s preferences for hard counter terrorism measures over soft is in striking contrast to the political rhetoric and funding committed in recent years. The introduction of anti-terrorism laws indicate that Australia is in pursuit of quick counter terrorism solutions, leaving the underlying problems unresolved, namely implementing ‘deradicalisation’ programs in our penal systems.
International attacks claimed by Islamic State have substantially increased public social fears of Islamic extremism and home-grown terrorism, making all efforts to deter the extremist threat a political and social priority. And yet, a national or even state rehabilitation program that specifically targets this problem in our custody has not previously been, nor currently is, operational.
The discussions date back to 2010 with the White Paper “Securing Australia, Protecting Community’, and the establishment of the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Unit in the Attorney Generals Department, where they sought to invest $9.7million to initiativesand programs designed to target extremism. It was identified and included in this strategy that supporting rehabilitation and ‘deradicalisation’ programs in our Correctional Services was a key element to reducing the Australian extremist threat.
Further and significant funding was later announced in August 2014 for a counter terrorism (CT) package worth $630million and within that, $13.4million was allocated to a CVE strategy that focused on programs and initiatives to tackle ‘resilience’ and ‘radicalisation’, specifically - ‘deradicalisation’ programs.
The Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, followed on from this at the renowned Malaysian International Conference on “Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism” (January 2016) and said:
Prisons are another priority area for the Australian Government. Australia has a small but increasing number of prisoners showing signs of radicalisation. Recognising this, the government has funded a number of programmes in Australian prisons to address the problem.
Then why are ‘deradicalisation programs’ still not evident, when the actions, words and more importantly, the million-dollar funding commitments from the Australian Government for the past seven years maintain that prison radicalisation is a serious threat that needs to be tackled and that they will, indeed, address it?
‘Deradicalisation programs’ attempt to disengage or redirect convicted terrorists of their militant and sectarian views of Islamic violent extremism. They aim to mitigate the potential threat whilst terrorists are detained, and when due to be released back into society.
Deradicalisation is broadly considered to be a tool that supports counter terrorism strategies, however the methodology lacks support globally, and subsequently generates mostly haphazard approaches. This is largely a result of ‘deradicalisation programs’ not receiving sustained efforts to measure their impact, but more importantly it is because the concept of ‘deradicalisation’ lacks genuine belief and therefore stagnates its development.
For instance, Professor Boaz Ganor from the International Policy for Counter Terrorism said:
I don’t believe in deradicalisation in general terms because once those people have been radicalised, it is practically impossible to uproot those ideas in their heads.
If it is cognitively assumed that a person can go from A to B, why is it not plausible that a person has the potential to reverse their thinking, or alternatively ‘disengage’ from the violence; the latter is arguably considered, to be more of a viable option in academic circles. Both options are worth pursuing, and regardless of the probability of success, a defeatist perspective towards ‘deradicalisation’ is irresponsible considering the current growing problem.
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