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Migration and Home Affairs

The role of victims in preventing radicalisation

While it is important to pay tribute to the victims of terrorism and remind ourselves of the impact of acts of terrorism on individuals, families and communities, we must also consider the constructive and positive role that victims can have in preventing radicalisation and future acts of terrorism.

Some of the most incredible work being done in schools, prisons and other forums to build resilience against terrorism is by those who have experienced at first hand the brutal acts of violent extremists. Their voices have a credibility and authenticity that’s hard to question.

In the United Kingdom, the brother of a man executed by Daesh – which was broadcast as propaganda on YouTube - speaks with quiet conviction in colleges and community centres. He has devoted his time to build bridges between communities and talks about the importance of dialogue and understanding. It’s become his life’s mission – a necessary form of catharsis.

In Finland, a young businessman of North African heritage talks about how he intervened to stop a terrorist stabbing a defenceless woman in a public square in Turku. Bravely, he chased after the assailant, who stabbed and injured his shoulder. He re-lives that moment and tries to make sense of how this youth became a terrorist.

These are not just stories. And they are not simply intended to shock. They take the audience – an individual or group – to a moment in time and pose some fundamental questions about the nature of terrorism in its rawest terms. Whether they can deflect somebody already on the path to being radicalised is open to question. But they can certainly plant seeds of doubt and strengthen communal resilience.

Victims are not there to be wheeled out. How they are approached and handled requires a huge amount of sensitivity and an underlying strategic approach. It’s critical that no further harm is caused to those affected by terrorism and that their words land in the right way.

And when a voice indicates that they have no further wish to be active in a PVE/CVE context, then their wishes must be absolutely respected. They may feel that their point has been made and now it’s time to pick up the pieces of their life. Victims must be allowed to transition out of victimhood.

In a world where terrorism is forever lurking in the wings, victims can bring a message of hope, strength and unity. As we have seen in the response to terror attacks by Daesh and other groups – people can display a huge capacity for compassion attending vigils and pouring out on to the streets to reject the message of hatred.

They are also prepared to hear the voices of those who have suffered directly. And those voices can be an effective constant reminder of what terrorism does as the memory and impact of horrific incidents inevitably fade in the public consciousness.

Written by the Remembrance of Victims of Terrorism Working Group