Surprising consensus

by | Jan 19, 2008

You’d think that Shami Chakrabarti and David Omand would disagree on quite a lot. But they don’t. Here at the Fabian Society conference, Shami actually begins her talk by recommending that we all read David’s published papers. Later, David comes up with four suggestions for a model political response to terrorism, with Shami nodding next to him:

1) First do no harm

2) Be capable of showing – through actions as well as words – that the narrative of Islamists is flawed

3) Be positive about what we believe in

4) Tackle the question of identity, and invest in building strong senses of identity at the local level

What David, Shami and Sadiq Khan really all emphasise above all is that the key battle in counter-terrorism is all about narrative, influence, and who gets to frame the debate in people’s minds.

In the discussion, I observe that fourth generation warfare and counter-insurgency theorists have learned a lot about influence since 2002 – and that while one of the principal lessons they’ve internalised is that you never, ever want to end up perceived as Goliath against your opponent’s David, that seems to be the trap that we’re continually blundering into in the domestic context.

David Omand has already underlined that the real risk from terrorism is to societies, rather than individuals. If he’s right (as I think he is), then we need to ask ourselves – in the context of increasing detention without charge to 28 or 42 days, for instance – whether our theory of security is at odds with our theory of influence. Home Office minister Tony McNulty says he agrees with me: “it’s all about the politics”, he says. Hard to square that with the policy he’s responsible for.


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

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