“SAFIRE” is a €3.6 million project funded under the European Security Research Programme, to which the EC is contributing €3 million. The project promises a “Scientific Approach to Fighting Radical Extremism” and has the goal of “improv[ing] fundamental understanding of radicalization processes and us[ing] this knowledge to develop principles to improve (the implementation) of interventions designed to prevent, halt and reverse radicalization”.

The SAFIRE consortium is led by the Dutch military research institute TNO and includes the RAND Corporation, the Israeli International Counter-Terrorism Academy (ICSA, which promises “to adapt the ‘Israeli Operational Philosophy’ to the most vulnerable of venues and complicated of local problems”), Compagnie Européenne d’Intelligence Stratégique (CEIS, the Strategic Intelligence Company, France), Bridge 129 (an Italian security company), several academics from Utrecht and Amsterdam, and the Instituut voor Multiculturele ontwikkeling (Dutch Institute for Multicultural Affairs).

According to the EC contract:

SAFIRE will develop a process model of radicalization, describing the process from moderation to extremism, based on a non-linear dynamic systems approach and a typology of radical groups. This is an innovative approach that has not been explicitly applied to this area up until now. Principles regarding interventions will be developed in close concert with the models, and will be applied in a longitudinal, empirical study. Important aspects of radicalization that will also be addressed are: the relationship between national culture and radicalization, radicalization on the Internet, and defining observable indicators of the radicalization process…

The results of this project will increase the understanding of both conceptual aspects of radicalization (e.g. the psycho-social dynamics of radical groups and individuals), and practical characteristics and modus operandi of radical groups (e.g. recruitment techniques).

The envisaged end-users are “policy makers, researchers in the field of radicalization and professionals who work with high-risk individuals”.

Leaving aside the wisdom of asking an industry dependent upon an ever-widening circle of threat to look at such a controversial and politically charged topic, several observations can be made about some of the alarming developments in the field of counter-radicalisation to date.

First, substantive research into the UK’s ‘Prevent’ programme, which was endorsed by the Joint UK Parliamentary Committee on Communities and Local Government, has highlighted the way in which the new ‘radicalisation’  agenda has been translated into the old doctrine of mass surveillance of ‘suspect communities’ by establishing “one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain”. See “Spooked: How not to prevent violent extremism”.

Second, the European Union has already adopted a far-reaching ‘radicalisation and recruitment programme’, including a detailed Action Plan, which it has kept secret. In the absence of precise information about how the EU intends to combat radicalisation, and in light of the experience of the Prevent programme, it is very difficult for civil society (which the UN has recognised as a vital actor in terms of counter-radicalisation) to have any confidence in its actions.

Third, as reported in last week’s Guardian, the EU has now tacitly extended its radicalisation programme to include political activists labelled as “Extreme right/left, Islamist, nationalist or anti-globalisation”, prompting outrage from MEPs. See Intensive surveillance of “violent radicalisation” extended to embrace suspected “radicals” from across the political spectrum.

Fourth, the premise of countering radicalisation on the internet has already led to widespread and entirely unregulated police surveillance of internet users, such as the EUROPOL “Check the web” programme.

As the Institute of Race Relations’ ‘Spooked’ report suggests, approaching radicalisation as a process in which people pass through some kind of prism from ‘liberal’ to ‘extremist’ (or indeed back the other way) is inherently problematic because:

the terms ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ are at times defined in practice by the degree  to which [people] support or oppose central government”.

And as the report concludes:

“in democratic societies, genuine trust can only come from the bottom up. So long as the government persists in a programme of imposing on its own citizens an ideological war over ‘values’ that is backed up with an elaborate web of surveillance, that trust will not be forthcoming. And those on the receiving end of such a programme will remain ‘spooked’ by fear, alienation and suspicion”.