Health care approach to prevention of violent radicalisation and terrorism
Professor Raqibul Mohammad Anwar

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Violent radicalisation is sweeping the globe with direct and grave consequences on human health culminating in deaths, grievous physical injuries and disastrous psycho-social trauma. Such radicalisation is a social and psychological process, which is follwed by recruitment and training, by which an individual becomes increasingly committed to politically motivated violence, especially against civilians. Terrorism is an extension of violent radicalisation with the intent to instil widespread fear.

The mainstay of the prevention of such radicalisation has until recently been the counter-radicalisation component of the criminal justice system. It is becoming obvious that only the criminal justice system approach is not sufficient to prevent terrorism and violent radicalisation with the emergence of this new breed of terrorism. In order to have a greater impact on prevention, public health or health care approaches can be used. The science and art of promoting and protecting health and well-being, preventing injury to health and prolonging life through organised efforts from society has to be incorporated as evidence from the success of the “Aarhus Model” in Denmark (mentioned in Dhaka Tribune, July 18 2016) that may be regarded as a component of the public health approach to prevention of terrorism.

On July 1, home grown terrorists who were born and bred in Bangladesh committed the atrocities in the merciless attack in Gulshan. Violence committed by extremists in the country in the recent past have gradually but rapidly conformed with the contemporary faddish terrorism, a distinct phenomenon increasingly being recognised globally subsequent to extremist suicide attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London 2005, and is different from any other form of extremism the world has seen before.

This new form of terrorism seems to be cultus, excessively violent, viciously spiteful and though scattered, appears to function across the global dimension, being more fluid, dispersed and unpredictable than previous terrorist threats. They appear to be conducted largely by autonomous groups operating locally, outside large scale institutional training and recruitment, but sharing ethnically and racially ideological affinity. These networked ideological “self-starter cells” represents a distinct phenomenon and a dramatic departure from previously practised methods of extremism.

However, this newly established radicalised extremism has nothing to do with religion and not only causes death and serious harm to life, it is in fact, designed to destabilise our way of life with uncertainty and fear. The groups that claim responsibility selectively invoke religious rhetoric to justify politically motivated violence but they do not represent Muslim populations as the majority of the victims globally are in fact Muslim civilians.

Direct effects of such terrorism have multitude of cataclysmic effects on the physical, social and psychological health of individuals and the community. The effective methods of stopping violent radicalisation and terrorism involve process of disengagement, de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation. The understanding of the motivations of terrorists and the pathways that lead to violent radicalisation have largely adopted a criminal justice system framework, a strategy by gathering intelligence and facilitating the prosecution of anyone thought to be associated with terrorism, guilty of terrorist acts, or in possession of materials that might assist terrorism. The criminal justice system approach relies exclusively on the legal system in dealing with crimes and attempts at preventing terrorism by criminal intelligence and prosecution. Eventually, the criminal justice system stigmatise and alienate a particular community or communities, impeding prevention.

The public health or health care approach adds to the prevention strategies directed at violent radicalisation and terrorism. It is predominantly population-based and emphasises in collective responsibility for health and health protection, and recognizes underlying socio-economic and wider determinants of education, equality, housing, employment, lifestyles, family and the community’s negative influence which have adverse effects on health and the well-being of populations and harmonious effects on the risks of radicalisation. The approach emphasises partnerships with all those who contribute to the health of the population and involves epidemiological, psychological and sociological programmes and interventions.

Individuals, particularly young people facing transitions in education, family and religion, struggling with social isolation and exclusion and exposed to hardship of unemployment singly or in combination of the those may become vulnerable to recruitment by the preachers of terrorism. Susceptible individuals confronted with grievances about religious, social and political discrimination, with the feeling of anger or alienation often become emotionally defenceless. It is not so hard for them to be indoctrinated if their portentous mental state and their quest for spiritual guidance coalesce.

It is extremely important that family, social, and educational institutions’ support is readily made available to young and vulnerable people, to make them feel like an integral part of the community, they receive guidance and mentorship from parents and teachers in matters like moderate religious teaching and that, they should have easy access to religious leadership that can equip one with legitimate religious perspectives. The greater community requires readily available political and social institutions imparting trust, confidence of safety and security. They must be able to have trust in law enforcing authorities without which, the greater community would fail to cooperate and communicate potential threats to those authorities. If the approach adopted by the law enforcing agencies is inconsistent, biased and frankly unreliable, the community will not only hesitate to cooperate with the agencies but they would actively hide potential terrorist threats lest they themselves become victims by those authorities. The greater community should also have access to democratic means for negotiating needs and opinions.

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Professor Raqibul Mohammad Anwar

 Professor Raqibul Mohammad Anwar is a Colorectal Surgeon at Bart’s and The Royal London Hospital, Ambassador and Convener of Examinations, The Royal College of Surgeons of England, Colonel, UK Armed Forces (RAMC), and President and CEO of RAHETID (RA Hospital, Education and Training Institute Dhaka)