Understanding extremism: What are the real dangers?

Talk September 14, 2011 7:00 PM


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When reports began coming in of the bombing in Oslo on 22 July the general consensus among experts appeared to be that the attack had all the hallmarks of Islamic extremism.

It was only when news came through of a gunman on Utøya that it began to become clear that something quite different was taking place in Norway.

As we mark the ten year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, we will be examining the extent of our understanding of extremism.

Anders Behring Breivik has since been deemed a "mad man" by many commentators, who refuse to make a connection between his actions and the ideas of rightwing commentators cited in his manifesto.

For this event, in association with BBC Arabic, we will be investigating extremism in the 21st century and the process of radicalisation of groups and individuals.  

What impact has the "war on terror" and other counter terrorism strategies had? Is there any truth in the suggestion that post 9/11 policy and rhetoric has fuelled not only Islamic extremism but the far right? And have we become so concerned with Islamic extremism that we’ve become blinkered to the threats from the far right?

We will be bringing together a panel of experts to discuss whether in the past decade we have seen a rise of rightwing and Islamic extremism. 

Chaired by Margaret Gilmore, Senior Research Fellow with RUSI ((Royal United Services Institute) analysing United Kingdom Public Policy on National Security and Resilience. Formerly BBC Senior Home Affairs Correspondent and co-author of The Terrorist Hunters, a definitive account of the terrorist threat to the UK in the past five years.


Dr Christina Hellmich, lecturer in International Relations at the University of Reading. She is a specialist in Middle East politics working in Yemen, with a particular research interest in political Islam and global terrorism. Her recent book, Al-Qaeda: From global network to local franchise (Zed 2011), examines the key sources that inform the present understanding of al-Qaeda.

Ghaffar Hussain, director of Training and Consultancy at the Quilliam Foundation; organising and delivering radicalisation awareness training, providing strategic consultancy for a wide range of public and private organisations and co-ordinating outreach efforts to a wide variety of individuals and groups. He is author of A Brief History of Islamism.

Dr Matthew Feldman, senior lecturer in 20th century history at the University of Northampton, and an editor of Wiley-Blackwell’s online journal Compass: Political Religions. He directs Northampton’s Radicalism and New Media research network, and co-edits Continuum Books; new monograph series, Historicising Modernism. He has published various publications on fascist ideology, wartime propaganda and far-right extremism since World War One. He acts as an expert witness on cases against the contemporary radical right in Europe and the US. He is currently researching Ezra Pound’s links to Italian Fascism; the nature of extreme right-wing ‘lone wolf’ terrorism in the 21st century, and the postwar evolution of fascist ideology and practice since 1945.

Hugo MacPherson, formerly manager of the MPower Youth Project which entered communities and schools to counter radicalisation as part of the government’s Prevent programme. Recently he was part of a UK team sent to the Middle East to advise on effective youth engagement policy during the Arab Spring. An Arabic speaker and formerly a producer on Al Jazeera, he has made films on youth in Beirut and Damascus and on football fanatics in Cairo.