Committee on Terrorism
Terrorist attacks are regularly occurring on European soil. In addition to defence-related issues, concerns linked to the religious radicalisation of the people behind the assaults are emerging. What measures can the European Union take in order to fight radicalisation, in particular among the youth?
Chairpersons : Eléonore Varale (FR) and Hugo Lestournelle (FR)
“I had this force inside driving me and telling me ‘You are right. If you do it all properly, it will be fine.’” “What is my country doing for all these children being dragged into it?” These two quotes come from the movie Heaven will wait of Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar1 which tells the story of a French girl heading down the road to Islamist indoctrination and which gives an insight into what it is to be brainwashed radicalised. With the recent terrorist attacks all over Europe, the concern about religious radicalisation and extremism has become an essential issue the European Union has to deal with.
Terrorism uses violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby brings about a particular political objective. Terrorism has been practiced by political organizations with both rightist and leftist objectives, by nationalistic and religious groups, by revolutionaries, and even by state institutions such as armies, intelligence services, and police.
It is crucial to look at the profiles of radicalised people. More investigation and research has been carried out in this field in the past few years. In France a processing file to identify radicalised people has been set up by a decree in March 2015. Today, it gathers almost 160 000 profiles. This database gives an overview of radicalisation across the country. The most affected departments are the most densely populated, notably the region of Île-de-France.2
It is striking how many young people are willing to join organizations such as the Islamic State and fight jihad in Syria. The age of people joining such organisations has dropped sharply, with 13, 14 or 15-year-olds already involved.
Research on the role of education in radicalisation prevention has produced a series of findings on the general contextual features of the education environment, which should provide conditions for free expression, as well as the possibility to challenge and discuss ideas. Therefore, some people claim that school activities (within and outside of the curriculum) should respond to the crisis of youth identity and build resistance as well as resilience to various types of extremism, which corrupt one’s mindset.3
A quarter of the 11,500 radicalised people in France are women. It is estimated that 300 of the 700 French radicals in the combat zones are women.4 This phenomenon challenges the conventional representation of women who not being part of radical movements leading to violence. What is more, we should be aware that violent extremism is not limited to the margins of society. Studies have documented the considerable range of social backgrounds represented among foreign fighters from Europe who joined jihadist organisations in Syria and Iraq.
As the European Commission points out, many terrorists planning attacks on European soil are themselves Europeans. Such attacks cause more than loss of life and economic damage, they also divide European communities and give rise to increasingly reactionary and extremist views in other parts of society. This contributes to perpetuating a vicious circle of radicalisation, aggression, and violent responses.
It is well known that a significant component in the process of radicalisation are social
media. Social networks have become important channels for hate speech and calls for violence, elements that in the past remained confined to limited audiences of peers and in-groups. According to the European Commission, schools should address these challenges and provide alternative and more convincing narratives than those promoted by extremist organisations. However, social media are not only the root of evil as they are also used to raise awareness and to mobilize against radicalisation. For instance, the French government created two accounts “Stop Djihadisme” on Twitter and Facebook which aim to share counter-speeches to dismantle the jihadist propaganda and to rebuild “our common values.”5 Every day, different types of messages are written, including legal reminders, information of the military improvements, victims’ testimonies and evidence of manipulation.
It is also crucial to bear in mind that there is a real threat coming from lone actors who might be inspired by right-wing ideology but do not necessarily have a close connection with extremist groups, as an attack on a British Labour MP in June 2016 demonstrated. According to Europol, based on this attack and various physical assaults against politicians that happened across the EU, public figures, political parties, civic action groups and media that take a critical view of right-wing extremism, or advocate pro-migration policies, have to be considered as potential targets of right-wing extremist agitation.6
All in all, radicalisation and violent extremism represent a very complex phenomenon,
which mostly affects young people, using new social media as its main means to spread hate speech. At both national and European level, there have been initiatives like the French website “Stop Djihadisme” which is dedicated to the prevention and fight against radicalisation and the creation of the European Radicalisation Awareness Network.7 The EU does have a few tools at its disposal that could be used to fight radicalisation processes, including economic, diplomatic, judicial and cultural tools.
The EU firmly believes in eradicating terrorism at its source. Therefore, preventing terrorist attacks by addressing and stopping terrorist radicalisation and recruitment is a priority for the EU, as outlined in the EU Internal Security Strategy in Action.8 Radicalisation in this sense is understood as a complex phenomenon of people embracing radical ideology that could lead to the commitment of terrorist acts.
Since 2005, work in this field has been guided by the EU Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment. While recognising EU States’ authority as security-providers, the strategy contains standards and measures that aim at preventing terrorist radicalisation and recruitment, grouped under three key areas:
- to disrupt the activities of individuals and networks that draw people into terrorism,
- to ensure that voices of mainstream opinion prevail over those of extremism,
- to promote security, justice, democracy and opportunities for all more vigorously.9
The EU has also established a Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN)10 to provide a platform for discussing the phenomenon of radicalisation and to assist EU and national level policy-makers in gathering expertise and identifying and exchanging good practices in the field of prevention. Members of RAN include researchers, social workers, religious leaders, youth leaders, policemen and others working in vulnerable communities.
- Ideology: A system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.
- Islamism: Islamic revivalist movement, often characterized by moral conservatism and the attempt to implement Islamic values in all spheres of life.
- Jihad: today, understood as a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty. In a purely linguistic sense, the word “ jihad” means struggling or striving and does not imply violence.
- Radicalisation: Believing or expressing the belief that there should be a great or extreme social or political change, usually leading to intolerance and refusal of dialogue.
- Social Media: online communication channels dedicated to community-based input,
interaction, content-sharing and collaboration.
- Terrorism: the use of violence and threats, especially against civilians, to intimidate or coerce, in the pursuit of political aims.
- Violent extremism: Violent extremism is the beliefs and actions of people who support or use violence to achieve ideological, religious or political goals. This includes terrorism and other forms of politically motivated and communal violence.
1. Heaven will wait by Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar, 2016, https://en.unifrance.org/movie/42065/heavenwill-wait
2. S. Selow, La carte de France de radicalisation, Le Monde, March 3, 2017, http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2017/03/03/la-carte-de-france-de-la-radicalisation_5088552_3224.html
3. Radicalisation research – Gap Analysis, December 2016, RAN, https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/docs/pages/201612_radicalisation_research_gap_analysis_en.pdf
4. Radicalisation djihadiste : les jeunes filles prises pour cible, Stop djihadisme, 2017, http://www.stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr/radicalisation/traiter-radicalisation/radicalisation-djihadiste-jeunes-filles-prises-cible
5. Lutter contre la propagande djihadiste sur Internet, Stop Djihadisme, 2017, http://www.stop-djihadisme.gouv.fr/que-faire/relayer-contre-discours/lutter-contre-propagande-djihadiste-internet
6. EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, Europol, 2017, https://www.europol.europa.eu/tesat/2017/trends.html
7. See key actors.
8. Radicalisation, European Commission, March 4, 2018, https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/crisis-and-terrorism/radicalisation_en
10. Introducing RAN – Europe’s Radicalisation Awareness Network, RANCoE, October 13, 2016, https://youtu.be/Z8Vy7wxQ-ik