A counter-terrorism expert at the Australian National University has described Tony Abbott’s “Team Australia” campaign as counter-productive and called on the government to prioritise community based programs to deradicalise supporters of Islamic State.
Dr Clarke Jones, a visiting fellow who worked on national security programs with the federal government for 15 years, said greater efforts must be made to understand why some Australians support IS and to develop new role models for those who do.
According to Attorney-General George Brandis, there are around 60 Australians directly involved in the current conflict in Syria and Iraq with dozens more supportive of their cause.
“IS may have been able to lure them to wanting to join but the factors that have got them to that point are often underlying social issues here in Australia that can be addressed,” Dr Jones said.
“If you are talking to these people you’ve got to address some of the reasons why they feel disenfranchised in the first place.”
He said the term Team Australia had proved “counter-productive” as a decradicalistion tool as it was confusing and reinforced the sense of marginalisation felt by those likely to support IS.
“The government is going to have to more transparent in explaining to the public why they have been introducing new national security legislation,” he said.
Dr Jones, who is detailing his research at a public lecture in the ANU on Thursday, said authorities need to develop more sophisticated engagement programs with families and community groups to address grievances.
“The government has to knuckle down and dedicate funds to interventionist programs and be more willing to embrace and understand the motivations some may have for supporting IS, which are not always religious,” he said.
Dr Jones said the most immediate task of any community based program would be to develop new role models and social identities for those who feel marginalised.
“Sporting programs and coming into contact with coaches and senior players who can become role models is important if they are still in a relationship stage,” he said.
“New employment and educational opportunities can also give those at risk new role models and social groupings.”
Dr Jones said community based programs were less effective when individuals had been radicalised over a long period of time or from a young age, such as the child of Sydney based jihadi Khaled Sharrouf who reportedly posed with a decapitated head in August.
“In Australia, those who have become more hardened radicals need to be removed from social media influences and that’s a critical thing as it removes all contact to the social group who often led to their radicalisation in the first place,” he said.
Dr Jones said the 60 Australians fighting with IS in Iraq and Syria could play a critical role in deradicalisation programs in Australia provided they had become disillusioned while fighting overseas.
“Those who have joined terrorist groups like IS could be some of the greatest assets in preventing terrorism,” he said.
“They might not like what they see when fighting overseas, and disengage from supporting organisations like IS. In carefully constructed programs, these returnees could prove useful if encouraged to dissuade others from supporting IS.”