AMONG all the stifling jargon and discombobulating acronyms employed by the Probation Service and its support programmes to deal with terrorist offenders, there is one word that is studiously avoided. The specialists in extremist psychologies will talk of narcissism and status anxiety, of cultural deracination and personal anger; but they will not talk of faith. The fear of misinterpretation — and, in particular, of being charged with Islamophobia — prevents the experts invoking that quality that galvanises all religious people, for good and ill. The power to move mountains and blow up buildings.
There was thus a sense of incompleteness to the discussions aired in File on 4 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week). The murder by Usman Khan last year of two people on London Bridge has forced the Government to reconsider its policy on early release of terrorist offenders, and those involved in rehabilitation programmes to undergo painful self-assessment. Whether it be Healthy Identity Intervention (HII), or Desistance and Disengagement Programme (DDP), or any of the multifarious ways in which extremists bent on violence are coaxed out of their beliefs, on
the evidence of this programme it seems clear that the common resources of liberal psychology — such as virtuous role-models, theological re-education, and psychoanalysis — are not working.
There is good, bad, and ugly news here. The good news is that the reoffending rate for terrorists is only three per cent. The bad is that HII, DDP, and the rest do not appear to make any difference to who reoffends and who does not. And the ugly is that, if your three per cent includes the likes of Khan, then it is still too high a percentage.
Two witnesses interviewed here gave bracing assessments of the reality behind these programmes. Sam Walker, an inmate of HM Prison Whitemoor, said that prison was fertile ground for radicalisation. And “Sarah”, a probation officer in the DDP programme, was in no doubt that the determined fundamentalist could play the system.
Such is faith: among many other qualities, it bestows tenacity and guile. The story of the Scottish Covenanters, as told by Melvyn Bragg’s guests on In Our Time (Radio 4, Thursday of last week), proves as much. Despite the conviction implied by their rhetoric, the Covenanters were not averse to political machination. No matter that you have called his father a heretic and his mother a whore: if alliance with Charles II is politically expedient, then so be it.
Professor Roger Mason was sufficiently empathetic with the religious sensibilities of his subjects to exclaim that he, too, would be outraged by the Laudian requirement to kneel before the eucharistic host. Indeed, without such empathy, one might regard this whole period of Prayer Book rioting and liturgy-inspired violence as the behaviour of a society gone utterly demented.