Different forms of extremism appear to have certain common points. Do these commonalities affect the practice? An interview with Maximilian Ruf (VPN) explores this topic.

Extremist ideologies have mostly been treated separately by media, experts and politicians. Though, researchers have recently started exploring existing synergies among forms of extremism. Especially, studies focused on the dynamics between the far-right and Islamist extremists, as it is the case of Dr. Julia Ebner who, in her book “The rage” (2017), shows clear links between the two extremists’ stories and concludes that the two strands of extremism feed off one another.

Generally speaking, “among different forms of extremism there are certain overlaps to work on as, for example, the human kind of problems, human dynamics as well as mechanisms that drive many people into extremist ideologies and extremist organisations or groups”, states Maximiliam Ruf, Researcher at Violence Prevention Network (VPN), interviewed by MINDb4ACT.

With regard to the right-wing and Islamist extremist ideologies, some of the key common elements concern, firstly, the aim to reduce the complexity of the society we live in, which drives to the conceptualization of “the other” as the enemy: both extremist phenomena question the current status quo and make propaganda defending themselves against each other’s enemy, evoking a war based on the dichotomous world view “us vs. them”. Secondly, a very conservative image of women prevails in both extremist ideologies. Moreover, conspiracy theories based on anti-Semitism are widespread in both right-wing extremism and Islamism. Particularly, the conspiracy of a “Jewish world” is well received in both ideologies.

Do these findings have any implication for the practice? To a certain extent, interdependencies among extremist ideologies help in the fight against radicalisation, as “practitioners can build on already existing prevention work”, argues Ruf. This is likely for counter measures regarding based-line extremists but not for ideologues and leading features.

For instance, common practices that work with different forms of ideologies mainly refer to socio-pedagogical work. Persons susceptible to any kind of extremism should be equipped at best with critical thinking and reflection skills, which enable them to remain resilient on their personal crisis, being able to react and act independently from ideologues. Considering that by analysing individuals known to have radicalised, researchers have identified three categories of factors that potentially increase susceptibility to radicalisation (i.e. push and pull and personal factors); working with people in order to build psychological resilience can hinder their susceptibility to extremist ideas. As a matter of facts, VPN views the taking of individual and social responsibility as a “central element without which a society is unable to exist within the framework of democratic and pluralistic structures.”

However, “a total transferability among practices is unlikely”, believes the researcher Maximilian Ruf. Similar statements are made by the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), which claims that specifically far-right extremists need to be tackled with a different approach to that used for other forms of extremism.

Depending on the respective ideology, the worldview of extremists is conditioned by different assumptions and values. “In order to work properly in this context, it is required to know the ideology, extremists’ arguments, believes and logic,” says Ruf. This should always be taken into account when designing a prevention or counter measure, as it gives credibility to the practice itself.