There is very little academic evidence to suggest that parents play a key role in radicalisation.
It is encouraging that Boris Johnson is engaging with the complex ideas of radicalisation and extremism, but he has bumbled into the debate with some unhelpful statements and confusing suggestions that children at risk of radicalisation from their parents should be taken away by the social services.
There is very little academic evidence to suggest that parents play a key role in radicalisation. Very often, radicalisation is a form of rebellion in response to an identity crisis or feelings of helplessness in the face of unanswered grievances. Charismatic recruiters are important, but the evidence suggests these are not found within the family; they are more often from other social groups. A focus on families is simply the wrong priority on this occasion.
Changing the law to enable intervention when children are merely at risk of radicalisation is dangerous territory and could risk further alienating various groups. The tongue-in-cheek Twitter response to Boris’s comments yesterday was the hashtag #signsofaradicalbaby, which, though harmless, demonstrates the widespread view that politicians are out of touch with Muslim communities, and intent on exacerbating the perceived ‘war on Islam’.
Moreover, taking children away from parents could in fact fuel an identity crisis. If anything, we see an important positive role for parents, schools and other role models to play in preventing radicalisation.
To prevent radicalisation among children, we can improve education in schools and raise awareness of extremism. A good way to do this may be to further build messages of tolerance, pluralism and the rule of law into civic education and citizenship classes.
Boris Johnson’s point concerning ‘fatal squeamishness about intervening in the behaviour of a “protected group”’ is nonetheless valid. The law must be fairly and equally applied to all members of society, both in terms of protection and in terms of prosecution.
Failure to do this for Muslim communities, for example, feeds into Islamist narratives that Muslims are unfairly targeted by the authorities, and may further destroy community support for the powers-that-be.
Likewise, this conforms to far-right narratives that Muslims are afforded special treatment, which also breeds community resentment.
If children are vulnerable and their parents have committed a crime, then this will be dealt with by the social services as standard. We must ensure that the law is correctly applied, rather than develop new illiberal laws to target a straw man, incorrectly manufactured at a time of raised emotions in the wake of the sentencing of Lee Rigby’s killers.
If there is clear evidence for radicalisation, as Boris mentions at the beginning but seems to lose thereafter, then there are already measures in place. Non-violent extremism must be challenged, but not through illiberal legislation that is likely to do more harm than good.
Avoiding the singling out of certain groups, and upholding the absolute immutability of the equal application of the law to all, as enshrined in Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is an important place to start.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.