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.
On 22nd March 2017, the anniversary of the 2016 Brussels attacks provided an occasion to discuss measures to prevent similar tragedies: the European Policy Centre (EPC), in partnership with the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD) and the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) presented the final publication of The challenges of jihadist radicalisation in Europe and beyond, a research and event project.
Alexander speaks starting minute 33.
Today’s anniversary of the terror attacks in Brussels on 22 March 2016 provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on the challenge posed by jihadist radicalisation and the need for effective prevention policies across Europe, write Alexander Ritzmann and Andrea Frontini.
Decades of research on the root-causes of terrorism have produced inconclusive results. Radicalisation, a dramatic change in thinking and behaviour leading to (violent) extremism, is best described as an individual pathway, with medical doctors and engineers joining terrorist groups, along with petty criminals and poor and uneducated people. Most extremists are young men, although the number and role of women in terrorism has increased in recent years, including among those leaving to Syria and Iraq.
This puts policy makers in Europe under severe pressure. Where should thin public budgets be allocated to tackle this challenge? Should it be in better schools and education, more social workers and integration programmes, further sports and recreational activities for vulnerable youth, or bigger police, intelligence and surveillance?
While all these policy fields are important, priorities must be identified, based on which policies promise the best return for the short and longer-term security of citizens and societies at large.
We shouldn’t forget the importance of empowering educators in the fight against radicalisation, argue Alexandra Korn and Alexander Ritzmann.
In schools across the EU, teachers are increasingly facing challenges of integrating students from different cultural backgrounds. Discussions and disagreements linked to political events at home and overseas occasionally meld with broader patriarchal traditions in the classroom.
This interplay increasingly impacts on everyday school life and can jeopardise a pupil’s learning success.
At the same time, issues such as the role of patriarchal traditions and conservative or extremist interpretations of religion (especially Islamism and Salafism) in a 21st century liberal democracy, can be emotionally charged and quickly lead to a sense among educators of being overwhelmed.
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.
Propaganda, the art of twisting information to make it fit your interests or ideology, always plays a role. Extremists are often attracted by the clear cut messages that can give simple meaning to an otherwise complex life. Extremist narratives aim to generate a world view where everything is black and white, where one is either in or out of a group. And they promise emotional and social benefits such as belonging to a new family or brotherhood in the fight for a supposedly just cause.
Propaganda is effective when it is close to a perceived truth of the targeted audience. Ideology, whether for white supremacists or Islamists, plays a key role in legitimising the strategies and actions of the extremists which would otherwise simply be criminal acts. In some cases, ideology makes the difference between someone committing suicide or driving a truck into a group of people.
On 29th November, EFD Executive Director and Chairman of RAN Communications and Narratives (C&N) Working Group, Alexander Ritzmann, was among a group of policy experts speaking at the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee’s Pubic Hearing on preventing and countering radicalisation and violent extremism.