The UNA Coventry Branch, Coventry University, West Midlands Counter-Terrorism Unit and Coventry City Council held a Counter-Terrorism Conference in the Council House on 14 March 2018. This conference had two aims:
1) To help young people recognise when they are being radicalised and how to avoid it by listening to the stories of two ex-extremists, Shahid Butt and Ivan Humble.
2) To give young people the opportunity to have a conversation with a panel of experts about radicalisation and counter-terrorism.
The conference attracted attention from local TV and newspapers. The video below shows the report broadcast on BBC Midlands Today.
The Coventry Observer published an extensive report on the Conference on 25 March. It is available here. In this report, Councillor Abdul Khan, deputy leader for Coventry City Council, is reported as saying that it was encouraging that so many people had helped organise the event. He said: “We need honest conversations involving people from a wide range of backgrounds. It’s important that we can build on our reputation for positive community relations. I’m pleased that we were able to host the event at the Council House.”
Presentations by Ex-extremists
The first part of the conference aimed at explaining how radicalisation happens, how to recognise and avoid it. Shahid Butt talked about why he fought in Bosnia and Ivan Humble described his experience of being an organiser for the English Defence League.
Question and Answer Session
The second part of the conference allowed the audience to address any issues they had in a debate with a panel of local experts including Geoff Thomas who works for Coventry City Council to implement the Prevent duty, Tracy Cullis, Director of Student Services at Coventry University who has the duty to implement the Prevent Strategy within the University, Shahid Butt, Ivan Humble and Dipak Patel, Detective Sergeant from the West Midlands Counter-terrorism Unit.
The panel was chaired by Joel Busher, Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations of Coventry University. He has led research on the interpretation and implementation of the Prevent duty in schools and colleges. This research gave rise in 2017 to the first major public report on this topic.
The aim of this session was to exchange points of views between the panel and the audience, to improve mutual understanding and explore ways to reduce tensions that can arise.
Listen to the Question and Answer Session
Click here to hear a recording lasting 1 hour 16 minutes.
Delegates Feedback to Conference Evaluation Questions
The following includes all comments received, some of which were identical.
What is the most memorable thing that you learned at the conference?
- Life experience of the individuals.
- The shift of these people in their lives.
- The perspective of an ex-EDL member.
- Speakers were very experienced.
- Reference to MI5 research – Muslims who are well-versed in their faith are less likely to be involved in terrorism. 98% of those who go to conflict zones do so out of compassion to support people not to fight.
- Different categories of “extremists” – not all of them want to fight, there are some who just want to provide aid.
- The fact that there are Muslims who struggle to prevent the radicalisation of their fellows.
- The disconnect former “extremists” felt from their local community and services which set them on their path.
- How Prevent works within schools.
- Experience of past extremists.
- The combination of the panel speakers was really good.
- That prevent has improved and started addressing far-right extremism.
Which part of the conference did you find most useful?
- Personal testimonies of two speakers.
- Life experience.
- Information about Prevent – how it works, crucial role of labelling.
- The life experience of the speaker who fought in Bosnia and Afghanistan.
- The discussion.
- Question & Answers to the panel.
- The Q&A which allowed me to explore the tools and, lack of, resources in place in Coventry University rolling over Prevent.
- The discussion regarding the concept of identity and extremism.
- Panel discussion was really insightful and engaging.
- Getting perspectives from academics, law enforcement, ex-extremists and local government on the same questions.
- Engagement from the audience.
Which part was the least interesting?
- It was all interesting.
- When the panel rambled on.
How could we improve future conferences?
- More time to network and talk.
- Chance to break into small groups.
- Some discussion about underlying needs that are or are not met in being a terrorist.
- By inviting victims of radicalisation to explain what they went through.
- Inviting young people to participate.
- More time.
- Great order of programme.
- It could be of benefit for more safeguarding leads to be in attendance.
- A great value to these staff to listen to this opinion and experience.
- Broaden the scope – more experts, longer session (maybe a full day conference) as this is a really current and pressing issue.
- A theme, question, presentation to guide the content and conversation a bit more.
Any other Counter-Terrorism specialist input we should provide?
- This should be available on campus, with wider student participation, not just those who are researching or have taken it as their work remit.
- More panelists eg MI5
- I would still like to know more about post-deradicalisation initiatives under Prevent.
- Look at counter-radicalisation policy in other countries.
- Projects held by families who lost their sons to radicalisation for example : Mothers For Life (http://www.mothersforlife.org/en/about-us) ; project ruled by students ; Words Heal The World (http://www.wordshealtheworld.com/).
Would you recommend a similar conference to your friends?
- Don’t know.
- Yes, to senior staff at college setting.
Any other comments about the conference?
- Need to continue this work.
- Extremely useful and needs to be repeated from time to time.
- Great confidence after attending. Refreshments.
- I left at 14:40.
- It was well organised.