Recently, there has been an increase in reported cases of members of the armed forces or police being found to have engaged in racism or extremism.
Historically, the security forces — in this piece, referring collectively to the military and police — have had a complicated relationship with minority communities. Whilst this is a general phenomenon in most countries, as the security forces by default enforce the policies of the majority government, this is especially true in the UK, with an apparent surge in news reports of members of the armed forces or Met Police being found to have committed racial discrimination or misogyny, or have strong extremist beliefs.
Such an issue is only likely to make the mutual mistrust worse.
So, why does this problem exist, and what can we do about it?
Firstly, it is worth emphasising that, whilst extremism is a problem in the security forces, it is not a problem that is exclusive to that sector — more that, for understandable reasons, it receives much more attention.
That said, it is concerning that vetting processes do not seem to have picked up of these beliefs or vulnerabilities during recruitment, regardless whether such beliefs were already in place before the application process or were developed after time in the role — the latter of which would raise a number of serious questions about counterextremism and safeguarding policies.
We need to determine the root causes and make sure such beliefs aren’t even adopted to begin with.
Those who have racist or far-right extremist beliefs tend to be strongly in favour of the status quo, strong national security policies, and state-controlled institutions. This could give such individuals a natural predilection for seeking to embark upon a career in the police or armed forces.
However, peaceful, tolerant people also have strong motivations for wanting to join the security forces, so the discussion must go deeper than this.
The extended lockdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has potentially left many vulnerable individuals becoming further isolated from mainstream society and finding ‘solace’ in extremist and terrorist groups as a result.
Such individuals may therefore see joining the police as a way of ‘belonging’ to a ‘family’ or ‘tight-knit group’, and finding ‘meaning’ in life — Benjamin Hannam, who recently became “the first serving British officer to be convicted of a terrorism offence”, is an example of this.
In other words, without adequate safeguarding measures and education, the same motivations for joining a noble cause of keeping citizens safe can be the same motivations that leave a person extremely vulnerable to radicalisation. The combination of these two phenomena produces an extremely dangerous risk of extremist officers becoming recruitment agents within our police or armed forces.
There are a number of steps that must be taken to strengthen our security forces and the safety and wellbeing of our society as a whole.
Clearly, there is a need to reform the Met Police vetting process to prevent the ease with which Hannam lied about his beliefs by ticking a different box on a form.
Albeit written in response to the January insurrection in the US, an article published by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) emphasises that an effective counterterrorism strategy requires adequate government capacity and a tailored approach that takes account of specific personal characteristics and vulnerabilities.
Related to this is the need to adopt a gendered approach to counterextremism that takes account of the role of misogyny in terrorism and gendered differences in radicalisation, and therefore goes beyond a superficial narrative of division and ‘us’ versus ‘them’.
At JAN Trust, counterextremism is one of our main focus areas, particularly the need to take a holistic approach to safeguarding our vulnerable minority communities against radicalisation and hate. Recognising the need to educate as many people as possible on the dangers of extremism, we have created two pioneering initiatives: Web Guardians™ empowers mothers to protect their children and communities against online dangers, and Another Way Forward™ galvanises a whole generation of young women and girls to take an active interest in campaigning against hate and extremism. To find out more, please do go to our websites.
To support our vital work against extremism in the UK, please considering donating and following all of our social media channels. Together, we can make a society that is united and tolerant of all groups, and a national security system that upholds the diverse values that make our country what it is.