Lecture Speaker: Peter Knoope
Peter Knoope is Director of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague. Until mid 2009, he was Deputy Director of the Policy and Strategy Department of the Dutch National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism (NCTb). The NCTb was established in 2005, following the terrorist attacks in Madrid of 11 March 2004 and the killing of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, and is responsible for the development and coordination of the government wide counter-terrorism strategy in the Netherlands. He was involved in the development of the NCTb from its inception and was responsible for the coordination between the Dutch government’s national and international counter-terrorism policy.
In his lecture, Peter Knoope discussed the motivational factors – real, perceived, or politically-manipulated – behind joining an armed conflict or attending a training camp abroad. The motivational factors can be as varied as the situation facing an individual in their state of residence, such as collective exclusion (economic, social or cultural), occupation, suppression, or bad governance, to financial promises, coercion and intimidation by those already involved in the conflict.
Mr Knoope detailed the various nationalities of non-Syrians who are fighting in Syria, and demonstrated that the fear of European citizens joining the fray is somewhat alarmist when looking at the available information. When comparing the numbers of European citizens, with other foreign fighters currently in Syria, the vast majority come from neighbouring countries and North Africa, with only a handful from European nations.
It was noted that media coverage is very important in attracting foreign fighters to a conflict. A conflict with very little media coverage, such as Mali, generally has a low number of foreign fighters, whereas Syria, which from the very beginning has had a great deal of media coverage and youtube coverage, has a huge number of foreign fighters. Amateur clips on youtube and international media attention work to increase visibility and help in forming a comprehensive narrative of the conflict to attract foreign fighters.
The importance of engagement and negotiations was highlighted in working to deter individuals from joining these armed groups. The use of a counter-narrative as a deterrence tool can be particularly effective – the US State Department uses a counter-narrative approach to expose weaknesses and delegitimise constructed narratives by joining chat rooms aimed to recruit violent extremists. In line with the previous lecture by Chris Maccabe, Peter Knoope stressed dialogue and engagement with all parties, even ‘terrorists’, as key in attempting to resolve conflict and counter extremism.