Satire and ridicule can help win the fight against al-Qaeda by stripping it of its glamour and mystique, argues a team of British researchers.
Beating the Islamist movement is as much about winning the battle of ideas and undermining al-Qaeda's counter-culture cachet as it is about conventional anti-terrorism operations, said the report.
"Terrorism must be defeated through the deliberate 'toxification' of the al-Qaeda brand; not by making it seem dangerous, but by exposing it as dumb," Jamie Bartlett, one of the report's authors, told AFP.
"Al-Qaeda has to be ridiculed as the equivalent of a middle-aged dad at a school disco: enthusiastic, incompetent and excruciatingly uncool."
Dr Bartlett, together with Jonathan Birdwell and Michael King, published The edge of violence, a radical approach of extremism on the website of the London-based think tank Demos. The report summarised two years of work in Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and the Netherlands, which included interviews with 58 people convicted of terror-related offences and with 20 radical, but non-violent Muslims.
Researchers also interviewed 70 Muslims in Canada and 75 local and national experts.
"An increasingly important part of al-Qaeda's appeal in the West is its dangerous, romantic and counter-cultural characteristics," said an executive summary of the report.
"Young Muslims are drawn, like young people throughout the ages, to excitement, rebellion and a desire to be cool," Dr Bartlett, who heads up the extremism and violence department at Demos, told AFP.
"But like every anti-establishment movement before it, al-Qaeda has become cool, with Mr bin Laden cast as the new Che," he added.
One could not deny that ideology was important to some of al-Qaeda terrorists, he said.
So while it was important for the police and intelligence agencies to continue their battle against al-Qaeda, other tactics also had an important role to play.
Part of the battle was to strip the movement of its glamour and mystique, said the report. Messages "from a range of organisations, should stress that most al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists are in fact incompetent, narcissistic, irreligious".
The idea was to demystify terrorist lives and deaths, said Dr Bartlett.
"The average day in the life of an Islamic extremist is similar to that of a petty criminal: tedious, lonely and punctuated by fear."
Satire was another powerful tool, the report added, noting that it had been used effectively against both the Ku Klux Klan and the British Fascist party in the 1930s. Satire, however, was not a job for the authorities, but for others in society, it added.
Fighting al-Qaeda was not about preventing angry young Muslims from rebelling, but about finding ways to channel a natural sense of subversion and radicalism into non-violent areas, the report argued. It also recommended a liberal approach to fighting al-Qaeda's ideology, exposing it to debate rather than suppressing it, but being sure to provide effective counter-arguments.
"The threat of violent radicalisation can never be 'solved' or completely neutralised; it can only be managed," the report warned.