Homegrown radicalization is one of the major threats for Europe. The phenomenon has been deeply investigated,but there's still lot of work to do. The expert Fernando Reinares, explained what we know and what we miss in countering violent radicalization.

Homegrown radicalization has gradually become one of the major threats for Europe. Experts and authorities have deeply investigated on the phenomenon, trying to understand the causes and processes that lead individuals into terrorism. A lot has been discovered, but there is still lot of work to do. During the kick off event presenting the MINDb4ACT project in Brussels, Fernando Reinares, Director of the Elcano Royal Istitute’s Global Terrorism Programme, illustrated what we know and what we still have to understand about violent radicalization and countering radicalization.

 

The issue of countering violent radicalization is a relatively recent one. Before the attacks in Madrid (2004) and in London (2005), violent radicalization was not in the political agenda and neither it was defined as a social problem. Although a counter-terrorism policy already existed in the European Union during the 70s, 80s and 90s, it did not take into account the particular dimension of dealing violent radicalization and neither the reproduction of such a phenomenon. It was only after 2005, when the first attack carried out by individual bord and raised in the country (homegrown terrorism) was perpetrated, that radicalization and counter-radicalization became socially defined problems and entered in the European states agenda. Before 2005, European Union member states thought that the policy efforts adopted were enough to contain the phenomenon of terrorism, but “that was just an illusion,” says Fernando Reinares. Since then, awareness raised on the phenomenon and experts started investigating on the topic discovering some important elements.

First, a general comprehension of violent radicalization leading to terrorism has been achieved understanding it as “the process whereby people end by adopting extremist attitudes and believes that justify the use of violence and in particular the use of terrorism. A process eventually leading some or many among them to actual involvement in terrorist activities (from collaboration of sort kind to actual participation on attacks and execution)”, according to Mr. Reinares. Violent radicalization leading to terrorism may affect individuals in the frame of very different socio-political movements and ideologies (e.g. left-wing, right-wing, nationalists). However, “very few will deny that in the European Union today the main and the most serious threat comes from jihadist terrorism,” and that, therefore, the core problem today refers to second generations, decedents from immigrants coming from predominantly Muslim countries and who adopts salafi-jihadist ideologies mostly exposed to Al-Qaeda or to the organisation so-called Islamic State.

Second, the phenomenon of violent radicalization leading to terrorism really depends on the context and it widely differ from country to country. However, such variations are not attributable to counter violent radicalization policies and programs, but rather to the composition of the Muslim community. In countries where there are centuries of Muslim population, such as Bulgaria, or where the Muslim population is made by predominately first generation of migrants, the levels of radicalization are considerably lower than in the countries where the vast majority of Muslims are second and third generation (i.e. France, UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium). It is not by accident that up to the Barcelona attacks, all jihadist attacks in Europe since 2013 took place in 6 out of 8 countries most seriously affected by Muslim population inside the European Union countries.

Moreover, due to the complexity and diversity of the phenomenon it is impossible to find one and only reason why people get radicalized. However, evidences show that violent radicalization in Europe is not very much linked to social integration, rather on other two factors: ideology and networks. Within the Muslim population, in fact, there are salafi-jihadist who share non-salafis jihadists basic beliefs and views of religion and the world, segregating people and preventing them to interact with the surrounding society in order to not being contaminate by others. Within the Muslim community, therefore, attitudes, ideas and beliefs are offered to susceptible individuals by means of propaganda online or, very often, by agents of radicalization. Indeed, lot of individuals who radicalize do so because they were friends or they had any sort of kinship/friendship with already radicalized people.

Although our knowledge on the phenomenon is developing, there is still a lot to do and know. One of the reasons for the EU Member States to still find very challenging to design effective counter violent radicalization effort is the lack of empirical evidences from which such policies are to be developed. Most studies on the subject of radicalization are still based on anecdotal information or opinions, perhaps small number of cases, and just a very small percentage of those studies are based on a systematic collection of empirical data. Indeed, the Elcano Royal Institute is among the very few think tanks providing data supported analysis on who is radicalized, which are the conditions and factors affecting the process of radicalization and how radicalization lead to actual terrorist involvement to cases.

If the knowledge about the phenomenon is limited, the knowledge about how to tackle this phenomenon is even more limited. It is necessary to add a radicalization prevention dimension as support of the Members States counter terrorism policies. “In the middle and long term further action is needed, addressing the factors above-mentioned and in order to prevent the Muslim community social alienation or stigmatization. Due to the complexity and diversity of the phenomenon, a collective task is needed involving also actors that are not into security fields, such as teachers, social workers, local authorities and victims of terrorism. Moreover, the efforts should be local and very specific to areas: schools, media and the Internet, refugee camps and prisons. Moreover, de-radicalization programs must be taken into place”, says Fernando Reinares.

From all these needs comes the MINDb4ACT project, a multi-partner and multi-country project that aims at developing skills and opportunities to create innovative, ethical and effective actions to tackle violent radicalization leading to terrorism in five specific contexts: schools, prisons, immigration and refugee centres, cities, the Internet and media.