‘New identities’ needed to help deradicalise would-be terrorists, experts say

That disconnection was key to bringing them back into mainstream society, Professor Louis said, through working with family members and friends, community groups, authorities and experts.

“The question is, what are the turning points that have led people to be able to walk away?” Professor Louis said.

“One of the interesting points is how much diversity there is, both in getting into [radicalisation] and then exiting.”

The links between gendered violence and radicalisation were also being explored in ways that brought to light countless new research questions, Professor Louis said.

“Violence, when you look at it on the ground, is very gendered and there’s this very disproportionate ratio of men to women, whether that’s in the white supremist or the Muslim community,” she said.

“A lot of people would say, well it’s norms and so on, but … really drilling down into the experience of young men who are at risk … there’s a lot of knowledge about angry young men and how they can be helped.”

Young extremists would often demonstrate risk factors such as drug and alcohol abuse, anger and aggression, disconnection from school and isolation from family, she said.

Professor Louis said simply stopping someone in their tracks wasn’t enough, but there was a need for a more nuanced and whole-of-community approach that also included a close look at the question of gender.

Establishing the background motivation for a person to move toward radicalisation, whether it’s a family influence, personal trauma, religion or other reasons, could help remove their violent identity and replace it with an identity that has a purpose and role in society.

Professor Louis said supporting and empowering families who were concerned about a radicalised family member was also key to helping that person find a way out.

“The exit, if you like, from terror is not just into a vaccuum, it’s really about other identities,” she said.

“When you frame it like that, it’s ‘what are the options for these young people to contribute and have a different life’?

“These issues rise for all kinds of criminals – gang members, someone that’s engaged in violent crime, perpetrators of intimate partner violence – they have to have an alternative as well.

“It’s not just about trying to stop the old, violent identity, it’s also about that new identity.

“That’s a very rich way of looking at it and provides a connection that we can all sink our teeth into, as psychologists and criminologists and different people.”

Mental health intervention programs, family support, police and community support were all key to breaking down barriers that might prevent angry young people from having a meaningful and positive role in society, and push them closer to extremism.

Other aspects of radicalisation the conference will look at on Sunday include the increasing power of online radicalisation, the “negative feedback loops” where one group feeds on another into increasingly extremist views, and right-wing extremism.

The conference has a number of public discussions and events until Monday.

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