PVE and population concentrations

This was sent to me by a friend, but I thought it was worth adding to the general debate … particularly given that we spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the foreign end of this global war against terrorism and it might be nice to focus on home once in a while. And related to the ‘home’ end of events, is the question of how to police the extremism or Jihadism problem. Over the last eight years there has been the suggestion by some security experts and demographers that the concentration of particular populations can be a soft indicator for ‘chance of terrorism’. This appears to be challenged by the following, which has been presented to the House of Commons:

“There is no evidence to link areas that have a high proportion of Muslim inhabitants with terrorism. In their book ‘Sleepwalking to Segregation?’ Challenging Myths About Race and Migration (pp.107-8), Nissa Finney and Ludi Simpson analyse the data for the districts of origin of Muslims charged with terrorist offences. They write:

If ‘segregated areas’, where there are the largest concentrations of Muslims, were hotbeds of terrorism … then one would expect more to be charged in these areas. Seventeen of those charged in the period August 2004 to October 2006 were residents of Bradford, Luton, Newham or Wandsworth, four of the seven most Muslim districts where 18% of the population is Muslim. But just as many lived in other areas; for example, 16 lived in districts with on average only 1% Muslims, coming from Breckland in Norfolk, Doncaster, Bournemouth, Reigate in Surrey, Bexley, Brighton and Hove, Aylesbury Vale and Greenwich. The only set of districts where more Muslims were charged than others was those with the second-lowest concentrations, including Crawley, Lambeth, Wycombe andManchester. (My bold) So, Muslims living in highest concentration Muslim areas are not more likely to be terrorists than Muslims living in any other type of area. There is no reason to link particular levels of concentration with terrorism.

From: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmcomloc/memo/previoex/uc0702.htm

So, what we have – therefore – is a needle in a haystack problem. The structural causes are not sufficient, and we are into a question of individual psychologies and circumstances. Or are we??


11 thoughts on “PVE and population concentrations

  1. It’s perhaps worth noting the very small numbers involved – it’s surely hard to generalize from such a small population, when only a handful of additional arrests will skew the data dramatically one way or the other.

    Second: I think of radicalisation as a small group phenomenon, not an individual one, or one involving whole communities. I imagine there are a fair few angry young Muslims whose broad attitudes make them susceptible to radicalization, but who fortunately don’t find themselves in situations in which small-group attitude change occurs.

    So, perhaps I’d be less secure in my identity, or at least more acutely aware of it, if I were a distinct minority in an overwhelmingly alien culture. That might make me more susceptible to the siren call of radical youngsters with a strong sense of their own, glamorous, identity. That might be more the case in High Wycombe or Gloucester than in the heartland of Muslim Britain.

    Meanwhile, you still can’t beat Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam for a great account of radicalisation, I reckon…

    PS – you’re right: nice to talk about something else for a bit!

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  2. Rob Dover says:

    I suppose the thing that struck me was this notion – present in NI and Sri Lanka (and I’m sure many others) – where there is an acquiescent (sp?) or supportive supply line in the community which provides the necessary support (moral, logistic, alibis etc) to allow the very small hard-core group to carry out their attack(s). It is in this sort of tranche that a community-wide analysis could (and should?) be made.

    I haven’t read Buruma – but Nasiri’s book is a good (if not problematic) account, whilst Le Carré’s latest doesn’t really give much feel for this problem, which is odd.

  3. I haven’t seen the data, but surely that analysis would point to there being a higher percentage chance of muslims being radicalised in areas where they are smaller in number with regards to the general population? I mean, when areas with a large population of muslims are producing the same amount of arrested suspects as areas with a low population, then surely the latter will have a greater proportion of radicalised to un-radicalised people? (I’m assuming that 18% of the population size of bradford and newham is vastly greater than 1% of Bexley and Grenwich)

  4. I, too, wondered about the small numbers and how that could ‘skew’ the data? Although, you can’t argue with some numbers – if the study had found that all the subjects were from one area, for instance.

    Other factors to consider (which may have been discussed in the paper):

    1. Family structure and disposition (attitudes toward the larger culture)
    2. Peer groups
    3. On-line “life”, so to speak
    4. Travel abroad
    5. How long have people lived in said areas? Raised there, moved there, at what age did they relocate?
    6. Where do relatives live and how often did they contact said relatives?

    Okay, I know, I could go on and on and the paper was addressing one specific hypothesis, and not the other things that I bring up. As someone raised in a small, predominantly white town in the US Midwest, the subject interests me. It’s a common source of debate on inline SA diasporan websites, or at least, it is in my experience; which part of the country is it “better” to be a minority? People tend to defend their own upbringings, which kind of makes sense. I think a lot of successful, er, integration (is integration a bad word these days? I can never keep up with the correct lingo) has to do with family attitudes, actually. Attitudes toward the larger culture, toward the child and his or her level of “Westernization,” etc, and even the parents own feelings of comfort, or lack of it, in the immigrant situation. Is this making sense?

    Dunno the literature or the UK cultural angle, though.

  5. Oh, and I like the comment about ‘glamorization’ above. Glamor is important to young people, isn’t it? Well, it’s important to more than young people or marketing ads wouldn’t work.

  6. Tom Wein says:

    Thomas Hegghammer has done some interesting similar analyses in profiling Saudi Arabian AQAP members, with a slightly larger (though still problematically small) data set.

    Rob, I think your comment slightly puts the cart before the horse – supply lines are mostly important *after* radicalization, in assessing the likelihood of executing a successful attack (though a very rational potential radical could, I suppose, base their decision on their eventual likelihood of success).

    I haven’t, admittedly, read Finney & Simpson’s analysis, but it seems to me that assessing the proportion of Muslims at the city level for some places (such as Bradford) and at the town level for other places is slightly flawed. Presumably the hypothesis is actually ‘Muslims who are surrounded by other Muslims become more radical’ (or to put it more palatably, ‘people who do not experience other cultures or diversity become more radical’). This therefore ought to be analyzed at a ‘community’ level, which is only very roughly achieved by analyzing it at an ‘urban settlement’ level. The overall proportion of Muslims in the town doesn’t tell you how often they interacted with non-Muslims. Did they ever leave their neighborhood? What are the transport links like? Did they play for the local football team or for one further away?

    Given the small numbers involved, it should be perfectly possible to build up decent biographies of each to get this information.

  7. davidbfpo says:

    Having read the written submissions to the House of Commons Select Committee on DCLG ‘Prevent’ enquiry this input from demography stood out as potentially undermining many of the assumptions in ‘Prevent’ i.e. urban areas with a high Muslim population.

    For the list of all the submissions click use: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmcomloc/memo/previoex/contents.htm

    The overwhelming majority are critical, in fact many suggest scrapping the current model of ‘Prevent’ and one pointedly comments ‘Would any of this have stopped the 7/7 bombers? I think not’ (sorry a long day’s reading and did not note which submission it was in).

    A Muslim group’s submission contended that radicalisation, which often had little religious input, was easier in smaller Muslim communities where community knowledge and the ability to challenge such ideas was less likely than say a large city.

    Is it easier in a small Muslim community who are unaware of radicalisation, let alone the covert plotting of an act of terrorism, for those involved to be detected or missed? Given, as others have commented, there are few examples of public information identifying persons who pose a threat. The Ibrahim case in Bristol is the most cited example of public help, actually the local mosque drawing the police’s attention to concern over him.


    That’ll do for now.

    I try to keep in mind radicalisation is dependent on two factors: causation and motivation. Many can be angry, say over Gaza, but few are motivated to protest, can donate to charities instead and even fewer opt for violence.

  8. thanks for the shout out David!

    With regards the numbers, they seem far too small to be usefully deployed in such an analytical way (unless as Madhu points out they all turn out to be in the same place). I think the biggest take-away from this is that the problem is small, and that while the radicalizing backdrop (as in the general drivers which appear to drive people to get involved in terrorism), there still remains something missing in our analysis of where the problematic X factor lies.

  9. davidbfpo says:

    Yes the numbers arrested and charged are small. I am not sure what the total figures for those arrested, but they are published annually. I expect the number charged is very small, although the conviction rate is high and often with guilty pleas.

    For a variety of reasons, by the institutions and the press, far more publicity is given to the numbers under surveillance for example.

    Indeed some will claim it is the tiny number of the ‘usual suspects’ that remain the focus, except when newcomers suddenly appear – hopefully before launching an attack.

    We know there are multiple factors involved in the causation and motivation, so the search for the ‘X factor’ remains. That is why the failure of Prevent is so stark to outsiders (see the ICSR blogsite).

  10. Pingback: progress in the arsehole theory of terrorism « Alternate Seat of TYR

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