The government isn’t investing enough in prevention programmes to counteract jihadism, writes Bibi van Ginkel.
The recent terrorist attack in Brussels seems to have acted as something of a wake-up call for politicians. Suddenly alarm bells were ringing everywhere. But experts have been sounding the alarm for much longer. In an on-the-spot decision, the cabinet has decided to earmark €25m to support the fight on terrorism. Coming on the heels of a €23m cutback and another €45m budget cut for the AIVD, it’s unlikely to make much of a difference.
But that is not the whole story. Over the years, subsequent governments have all but abolished prevention programmes to stop radicalisation, while efforts to come up with a proper analysis of the underlying problem have been half-hearted.
Recently the Clingendael Institute published the Clingendael Strategic Monitor 2014: A world order balancing on the Brink, which looks, among other things, at trends and developments concerning terrorist threats. It gauges international experts’ views on the terrorist dangers that will dominate the headlines in five to 10 years and the developments and circumstances they think may influence these trends.
Without exception, the experts are predicting a rise in the number of jihadists travelling to Syria. This means internal and external safety issues will become inextricably linked. The potential danger posed by jihadists returning from Syria should be an issue of great concern to governments, including the Dutch government.
Things could get worse. History shows that every conflict must come to an end and the Syrian conflict will not be an exception. What Syria’s future will look like is uncertain but it raises the question of what the thousands of foreign fighters who are pouring into the country will do next.
It’s very likely that many will leave Syria and travel to other conflicted areas. There are plenty to choose from. There is extremist jihadist activity in North, East and West Africa. Central Asia is another vulnerable region and the so-called ‘Stans’ (the countries in and around the Caucasus mountains) have shown a slow and steady increase in wahabism, a potential breeding ground for violent extremism.
The appeal of travelling to Syria will lessen once the conflict ends but the foreign fighters will possibly be scattered to other countries or regions, much like the bomblets of an exploding cluster bomb.
As a consequence the ties that bind the various terrorist movements will become ever closer which could create a much bigger zone of instability. This makes combating terrorism even more difficult. Authorities are already struggling to get a complete picture of radicalism and the recruitment and preparatory activities of potential jihadists.
The travel guide for violent extremist youngster will list more destinations with every new edition. With it comes the added danger of returning jihadists with violent intentions.
€25m may sound a lot but it will be a drop in the ocean if nothing is done to intensify prevention programmes here and abroad and efforts are made to synchronise counter measures and improve international cooperation.
Bibi van Ginkel is a Senior research Fellow at Clingendael Institute. She focuses on legal aspects of combating terrorism in both a national and an international context. She also a fellow at the International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT) in The Hague.
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