Senior Policy Advisor. European Foundation for Democracy. Co-chair of the European Commission’s Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) Communication and Narratives (C&N) Working Group
The 8th Euromed Survey conducted by the European Institute of the Mediterranean touches upon a number of important and complex issues related to violent extremism in the EuroMediterranean region, including the question of the context and drivers through which violent extremism can prosper. Echoing some of the results, this article looks into propaganda as a tool of extremist ideologies and how to counter it.
What is Propaganda?
Propaganda, as a tool of extremist ideologies, aims to generate and promote a world view that reduces the complexity of life to a simple black and white picture. This structured attempt to reform the cognitive (and emotional) perceptions of a target audience to initiate an action in the interest of the propagandist has probably been a part of every political or religious conflict (Jowett, 2012).
In 1622, when the Catholic Church professionalised its missionary work to counter the progress of the Protestants, the body responsible for this important endeavour was called “Sacra Congregatio de propaganda fide”, which gave the name to what since then has been called propaganda. Over the conflict of what true Christianity is, Catholics regarded propaganda as something positive, while Protestants saw it as a tool of the enemy (Bussmer, 2013).
Propaganda, in the form of recruitment messaging, generally follows the pattern of diagnosis (what is wrong), prognosis (what needs to be done) and rationale (who should do it and why) (Wilson, 1973). The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS/Daesh), for example, follows the same principle: diagnosis (Islam/Sunni Muslims are under attack), prognosis (fight/create the Caliphate) and rationale (help however you can).
The IS then uses sub-narratives for every target group they want to reach (Neumann, 2015). Adventure-seeking young men were promised a future as heroes who are fighting for a just cause and who would be rewarded, amongst other things, with wives and sex slaves. Medical doctors and engineers were lured in by the call to helping fellow Sunni Muslims in need and to being part of the creation of the perfect Islamic utopian society, the Caliphate. Young women were promised an important role by becoming the wives of the “lions of the Caliphate” and securing its future by raising their “cubs” (Winter, 2015).
How Does Propaganda Work?
Extremist propaganda often has clear-cut messages that promise clarity, relevance and meaning in addition to emotional and social benefits, such as belonging to a new family or brotherhood/sisterhood. For propaganda to increase its chances of success, it needs to be close to an already existing (perceived) truth of the targeted audience. 180-degree conversions happen but very rarely.Weiterlesen »
Alexander Ritzmann addressed the EuroMeSCo Annual Conference in Barcelona on 1-2 June. The conference gathered senior policymakers and researchers to discuss violent extremism in the Euro-Mediterranean region, its manifestations, drivers, impact and how it can be curbed.
Club de Madrid: „Alexander Ritzmann, has answered our PVE questionaire.
In it, he stresses the need for a critical evaluation of hard security measures implemented in the last years as they might be having a counterproductive effect. In this Q&A he also advocates for prevention policies and programmes and new narratives in all levels “highlighting role models and positive stories of citizens who achieved something while coming from difficult backgrounds”.
Club de Madrid: Why is now more important than ever to put the emphasis in the prevention agenda to tackle the violent extremism threat?
Alexander Ritzmann: Hard security measures like police investigations and arrests, surveillance by intelligence agencies and military engagement in different conflict zones, are still the preferred means to implement security policies in the EU.
A critical evaluation of these important, yet one-sided approaches shows, however, that none of the security risks related to radicalization and terrorism have been significantly reduced in the last 15 years. In some cases, this focus on hard measures might even have fostered radicalization.
By James Crisp | EurActiv.com
Terrorism is not new to Europe, despite the recent Islamic State inspired attacks that have rocked France and Germany, Alexander Ritzmann has said. The terror and radicalisation expert said it was vital that the outrages did not lead to policy decisions confusing migration with terrorism ahead of crunch elections in Germany and France next year.
Alexander Ritzmann is Senior Advisor to the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels. He chairs the Communication and Narratives Working Group at the European Commission’s Radicalisation Awareness Network and teaches on terrorism at Potsdam University. Ritzmann was a member of the Berlin State Parliament, overseeing the state police and intelligence agency. He spoke to EurActiv.com News Editor James Crisp yesterday (26 July) after the terrorist attacks in Nice, Würzburg, and Ansbach but before the attack in Rouen (26 July).
Could the recent attacks in Germany have an impact on the country’s asylum policy?
There is a perception that the attacks are linked to the welcoming of refugees to Germany. But it is the job of policymakers and the media to help the population understand the difference. If there are 500,000 Syrian refugees and one of them stabs someone that is not something that policy should be dealing with. It is a crime and it should be investigated by the police. And, by the way, the average Syrian refugee commits fewer crimes than the average German citizen.
There is of course the potential for radicalisation and for sectarian violence. The refugees bring the conflict with them. Right now everyone is focused on settling and surviving but I am absolutely sure the conflict in Syria will come back to people. Already, they do not trust other Syrian refugees, they will ask where they come from, for example. When you talk to them, they could have family and friends who have been tortured or murdered by someone in the next room belonging to the same group. We work with Syrians on overcoming these sectarian divisions.
There’s also potential for radicalisation in the future if the government doesn’t work with the right institutions. There are some very conservative organisations in Germany with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, people who would rather build parallel societies than integrate. But the government wants to work with organisations, even if those are mentioned in domestic intelligence reports as having Muslim Brotherhood ties, being part of political Islam. And these organisations can become partly government funded, which can lead to uncomfortable headlines in the future.Weiterlesen »
In this article, published in the German daily Der Tagesspiegel, I advocate for putting Hezbollah as a whole on the EU terrorist list due to its proven record as a terrorist organisation and the fact that all decisions, political or military/terrorism related, are being made in its leadership Shura Council. Since Hezbollah is also a significant political actor in Lebanon, unofficial negotiations can still take place and the ban could be adjusted in case Hezbollah would stop its terrorist activities.
Der Tagesspiegel (Causa), 02.Juni 2016, Alexander Ritzmann
Die Hisbollah ist eine komplexe Organisation. Anfang der 1980er Jahre entsandte der iranische Revolutionsführer Ayatollah Khomeini Imame und Revolutionstruppen in den Libanon, um seine Form des schiitischen Gottesstaates über den Iran hinaus zu verbreiten. Seit dem hat sich die Hisbollah (übersetzt: „Partei Gottes“) von einer religiös/politischen Miliz zu einer Art Staat im Staate Libanon entwickelt. In den mehrheitlich schiitischen Gebieten des Landes betreibt die Hisbollah Krankenhäuser und Schulen, sie baut Straßen und Häuser und sie kontrolliert die öffentliche Ordnung durch eigene Sicherheitsdienste. Die „Partei Gottes“ tritt auch zu Wahlen an, beteiligt sich an Regierungen und spielt vor allem hinter den Kulissen eine gewichtige Rolle in der libanesischen Innenpolitik.
Die Hisbollah positioniert sich als Widerstandsorganisation gegen Israel und US-amerikanischen Einfluss, als Vertreter der historisch benachteiligten Schiiten im Libanon und als Repräsentantin des iranischen Regimes. Mit ihren eigenen Sicherheitsdiensten und paramilitärischen Einheiten wurden in der Vergangenheit vor allem Israel und innenpolitische Konkurrenten bekämpft. Die Hisbollah unterstützt jedoch auch bedingungslos das (pro-iranische) syrische Assad-Regime im Kampf gegen Rebellen, die wiederum von anderen arabischen Staaten unterstützt werden. Der regionale Konflikt zwischen Saudi Arabien und dem Iran spielt hier eine gewichtige Rolle. In diesem Kontext hat die Liga der Arabischen Staaten die Hisbollah im März dieses Jahres als Terrororganisation klassifiziert.Weiterlesen »