Saturday, 26 September 2015

Researchers distance themselves from government brochure

While the rest of the country was attacking a brochure produced by the government to help schools identify young people who might be becoming radicalised, an Adelaide freelance journalist took his questions to the researchers whose work sits behind the offending literature.

Royce Kurmelovs today published in Vice magazine a story about the researchers behind the brochure, who are keen to distance themselves from it. Kurmelovs spoke with one of the researchers, Professor Luke Howie, deputy director of Monash University's Global Terrorism Research Centre. He also spoke with Dr Anne Aly from Curtin University, who also works in the field.

Howie told Kurmelovs: "When we talk about violent extremism, we're talking about people trying to kill people. I've never thought of someone like Karen in that way. I personally have never equated someone like Karen with extremism," he said. "If anyone took away from that report that environmental activism is in the same bucket as ISIS that would be a real problem."

And Aly told him: "History has told us that profiles don't work," she said. "The problem that I have with giving individual cases like that out of context is that I could give you 100 different cases and they'll all be different. There is no singular pathway to extremism. There is no model because they are all different. So having these case studies could backfire."

When I spoke to Kurmelovs on Twitter I suggested that the brochure appeared to be a bit of "sexing up" of the research for ideological purposes but he demurred. "I'm not so certain," he wrote. "If anything I feel it's a very conservative interpretation of many years of research.

"And I imagine in the eyes of the authors they made a real effort to balanced," Kurmelovs continued.

But the timing of the release was problematic. "[I]t came at a time just after Abbott attempted to declare [war] on green groups with the lawfare thing. Awkward context."

Awkward is the right word, I thought to myself. I said to Kurmelovs that the way the researchers and authors behind it were running for cover reminded me of David Kelly, the British weapons expert whose reports had been manipulated by the British government in order to justify going to war against Iraq. Kelly suicided in 2003.

"Judging by the hashtag most [people] have already made up their minds [about] the motives for the offending case study," I wrote.

"And rightly so, really," wrote Kurmelovs. "Putting any sort of profile out to the community like that is useless and potentially harmful."

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