Solve home-grown terrorism with ‘quit smoking’ methods, says Queen Mary study

A rising number of terrorist attacks by ‘home-grown’ radicals could be prevented—by using public health strategies such as campaigns to quit smoking.

That’s the view by researchers in London’s East End who are calling for a re-think on the current approach for tackling terrorism which they claim has failed.

Using the criminal justice system may even have even increased membership of terrorist groups by alienating those most vulnerable to radicalisation, the study at Queen Mary University of London’s Whitechapel campus has found.

Current counter-terrorism action has stigmatised and alienated Muslim groups by treating them as ‘under suspicion’—pushing many towards extremist groups, according to the research published today (Tues) in BMC Medicine.

Instead, researchers suggest using a ‘public health’ approach to steer whole groups away from radicalisation—like campaigns to quit smoking and to stop youngsters carrying knives.

“Home-grown terrorists are rare, so trying to identify them is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” warns Kam Bhui, Professor of Cultural Psychiatry at Queen Mary’s. “It means lots of innocent people have been marginalised.

“But using a public health approach means we can work with a large group to make radicalisation less likely.

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“It doesn’t condone terrorism, but aims to understand how people become radicalised and provides new tactics for preventing terrorists attacks.”

Youngsters are particularly vulnerable to radicalisation when going through times of change such as migration, switching schools, going to university or just going through adolescence—that’s when extremist groups offer a sense of belonging, the study suggests.

Instead, these youngsters could be helped to integrate and take part in the mainstream political process.

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