Note: This is part of a series. You can read part one and part two here.

It is not a far stretch of the imagination to see that Australia is well and truly in the spotlight of Islamic extremists. The world is dealing with a very dangerous threat and Australia is certainly not immune. Homegrown radicalisation is something that has gained considerable momentum since the Islamic State became a global name synonymous with terror. The reach of the group extends far beyond the physical land that they are in control of, and their war has taken on a digital paradigm with no comparable precedent. They are successfully spreading their message and recruiting people an entire world away to join them in their murderous campaign.

Over 200 Australians have left the relative comfort and safety of Australia to travel to a world plagued by the suffering and devastation one would expect after four continuous years of civil war. For every Australian that leaves, there are several who do not, but could still be classified as active Islamic State sympathisers. Every Australian that returns from the conflict brings with them a level of experience and expertise that is simply unattainable outside of our defence force.

So what do we do about it?

The question is one of genuine concern and something that is dominating the Australian political, social, and religious landscapes. There is obviously no silver-bullet solution to the incredibly complex issue of homegrown radicalisation; it is something that requires a layered approach to ensure the best possible chances of countering the online rhetoric of groups like the Islamic State. First, developing an understanding of how someone becomes “digitally radicalized” is necessary in order to prescribe workable strategies. Each step of this radicalisation process then needs to be analysed with the implementation of strategies aimed at countering each of these categories and sub-categories.

The strategy would ultimately follow the defence-in-depth (DiD) approach, which is used in all effective security applications. The defence-in-depth principle represents a systematic, highly integrated approach to the physical security of people and assets. Any single measure only forms part of an overall protection strategy; the entire concept of defence-in-depth rests on the notion that a shortfall in one protection layer will not lead to a wider, more serious failure in the entire system.

Utilising this method would ultimately provide progressive safety nets to stop an individual from moving further toward becoming completely radicalised. If one layer fails to stop the radicalisation process, then hopefully subsequent layers will. The idea is to ultimately create strategies to disparage the terrorist propaganda that is leading vulnerable individuals down this extremist path.

Let me analyse this further from a more familiar perspective. The selection processes for special operations forces around the world do an effective job of removing those who are wedded to nothing other than the idea of joining their ranks. Special operations selection is designed to purge those who have simply romanticised this type of service without fully considering the demands that go with it. They are designed to force people to acknowledge their decision with absolutely no room for uncertainty or doubt. Essentially, selection is designed to leave only the most motivated, committed, and capable of individuals standing at the end. De-radicalisation strategies can be based on logic not too dissimilar to this process, and I’ll explain why.

Using this approach and reflecting on my own selection course, I was so dedicated to achieving my goal that there was absolutely nothing other than physical injury that was going to stop me from becoming a qualified commando. Everyone in my course may have initially believed that they had this mindset going into it, but this was only true for those who passed and eventually made it into the regiment. Even though injuries claimed the dreams of some, there were a large number of candidates who withdrew at their own request based on the physiological and psychological demands of the course. These demands ultimately exceeded their motivation once they were faced with the reality of what selection and life as a special operations soldier was all about.