Skip to main content

David Cameron’s approach to counter-radicalisation is flawed, simplistic and dangerous – Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly

Dr Charlotte Heath-KellyDr Charlotte Heath-Kelly is from the Institute of Advanced Study within the Department of Politics and International Studies at The University of Warwick.

Ahead of a speech by the Prime Minister today (Friday 19 June) in which he is expected to warn of the dangers posed by those who "quietly condone" extremist ideology, she said:

“The Government's counter-radicalisation strategy has been through numerous iterations since 2005, but has always been forged against a comprehensive disregard for academic research on political violence. There is no competent and methodologically sound research to support the idea of 'ideological grooming' which supposedly preys on 'vulnerability' and causes people to join IS. Instead academic research on terrorism, from the 1970s until now, highlights the extremely complex web of factors which play roles in causation. In short, it is extremely complicated to model the reasons and factors which lead people to adopt violence or to join clandestine organisations. There is no one 'path'.

“What we know for certain is that there is no simplistic process known as radicalisation. We know that British citizens who travel to Syria and Iraq buy copies of 'Islam for Dummies' and 'the Quran for Dummies' before they travel, indicating an ignorance of religious doctrine - and suggesting political grievance motivates them, not 'ideological grooming'. We also know that MI5, the government's security service, found (in a report later leaked) that religious identity is a protective shield which stops people engaging with groups like IS - rather than encourages them. And we know that people released from IS captivity report that the group engaged them in long political discussions, not religious ones. This is a political organisation formed in the wake of the US & UK invasion of Iraq, with leaders drawn from the secular Ba'ath party of the deposed Saddam Hussein.

“All these complexities regarding the relationship between ideas and action are ignored in the UK PREVENT strategy. But a growing consensus is emerging in academic research to suggest that extreme ideas are used to justify behaviours, post-hoc, rather than motivate them. Ideology is an explanation for action, not a cause. Ideology itself is not dangerous. It is, and has always been, a 'frame' which lends coherence to pre-existing political grievances. As a result, the government's policy is flawed, simplistic and dangerous - given that it attempts to police thought in a modern liberal democracy to no end.”

Note to Editors:

Dr Heath-Kelly has recently edited a book, alongside Lee Jarvis and Chris Baker-Beall: ‘Counter-Radicalisation: Critical Perspectives’. (Abingdon, Routledge, 2014)

Issued by Lee Page, Communications Manager at The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255. Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221. Email:


Lee Page

Communications Manager, University of Warwick

Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255

Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221