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The War of Words with Terrorism: An Assessment of Three Approaches to Pursue and Prevent

Discussions on Policy

The Journal of Conflict & Security LawJournal abstract

Terrorism speech content presents multiple dangers for liberal democracies, including the mechanics of attacks, the fostering of motivation to become involved in terrorist incitements and the censoring process which can threaten cherished values or drain state resources. This article will explore these dangers in the contexts of three identified responses in the war of words with terrorism. First, attempts are made to impose criminal laws. However, the limited number of prosecutions suggests ineffectiveness, arising from practical problems of evidence-gathering and transnationality. Prosecutions also encounter principled (human rights) objections. The second, more prevalent and sustainable, approach involves administrative controls, as reflected in police Internet referral units and by private sector denunciation mechanisms. These interventions can handle a high volume of traffic. But within corporatist arrangements, we must question whose interests are being served and the fairness of the process. In an ideal speech situation, the fostering of convincing messages against terrorism would be a preferable approach. Paradoxically, a full debate about values may arise in this third approach through the advent of countering violent extremism (CVE) programmes. These programmes are viewed simplistically by some as repressive. However, CVE programmes could become a platform for the public debate of issues around violent extremism rather than its crude censure.

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