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Defeat al Qaeda by removing its "cool" image
LONDON (Reuters) - The way to beat al Qaeda and stop Islamist groups gaining recruits to violent causes is to remove their "cool" image and make fun of terrorists instead, according to a major international study published on Friday.
The two-year study by the British think-tank Demos concluded that the notion of "cool jihad" was more important in seducing young Muslims to violence than radical preachers, the foreign policy of Western governments, or their social background.
Those who became interested in terrorism had more in common with subversive groups such as street gangs and soccer hooligans than with Muslims who held radical views but rejected violence, the Demos report said.
"Young people are drawn to radical causes, and to rebellion against authority," said Jamie Bartlett, one of the report's co-authors.
"For most radical young Muslims, this takes the form of protest, argument and learning, but for a minority, al Qaeda might seem a 'cool' gang to join, even though the truth is its members are ignorant and incompetent."
The study, which focused on Canada but also looked at Britain, Denmark, France and the Netherlands, involved examining profiles of 58 "homegrown" convicted terrorists from seven cells across Canada and Europe, and interviews with 20 "radicals."
Its aim was to understand why some radicalized Muslims became involved in al Qaeda-inspired violence while others, who shared similar views, did not.
Violent radicals tended to have a poor understanding of Islam, were less likely to have been brought up in religious homes, were less likely to have studied at university and less likely to have been involved in political protest, the study said.
What made them unique was a loathing of Western society and culture.
The authors argued that it was possible for people to read radical texts, be vocally opposed to Western foreign policy, believe in Sharia law, and support the principle of Afghan and Iraqi Muslims fighting coalition troops, while denouncing al Qaeda-inspired terrorism.
The report said governments and security services needed to make that distinction as targeting the wrong people bred resentment, and argued they should allow radical views to be aired, debated and renounced.
Authorities should not use the slogan "Islam is peace" as it did not work and radical preachers should be permitted, although those espousing violence, or religious or racial hatred should be dealt with.
The authors advocated using satire and pointing out militants' incompetence to remove whatever glamour al Qaeda held, and suggested creating a U.S. Peace Corps-style program allowing Muslims to do volunteer work in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Terrorist activity amounts, all too often, to teenage kicks that kill," Bartlett said.
"The trick for Western governments is to welcome non-violent forms of radicalism -- indeed to provide opportunities for young Muslims to engage in exciting, "radical' activities such as overseas volunteering -- while maintaining a zero-tolerance attitude to violence and terrorism."
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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