Dr. Michael Privot, Director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) answers a few questions concerning the nexus between radicalization and racism and the European strategies to fight it.
S.B. What is the European Network Against Racism and how does it work?
M.P. The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) is a pan-European anti-racism network that combines advocacy for racial equality and facilitating cooperation among civil society anti-racism actors in Europe. ENAR advocates for improved legislation, policy and practice against racism in EU member states. With over 150 civil society member organizations across the European states, ENAR seeks to build a broad and powerful coalition of actors committed to an anti-racist vision of European society. Our main areas of work are:
– Equality data collection: ENAR is calling for equality data collection to measure discrimination and ensure equality in outcome .
– Racist crime: ENAR is calling for better enforcement of existing legislation against racist crime – to ensure they are reported, recorded and sanctioned.
– Employment: We are advocating for the removal of labor market barriers affecting ethnic and religious minorities, including migrants.
– Migration: ENAR is calling on the EU to focus on inclusion of migrants, including their right to security and non-discrimination.
– Security and policing: ENAR is calling for the inclusion of human rights safeguards and independent oversight mechanisms in EU and national counter-terrorism laws.
– ENAR focuses on specific forms of racism faced by Roma, people of African descent and Black Europeans, Muslims and Jews. We are calling for specific national action plans against racism which specifically address Anti-gypsyism, Afrophobia, Islamophobia and Antisemitism.
S.B. How would you describe the nexus between racism and radicalization?
M.P. First it is important to recognize the existence and impact of different types of radicalization, including far-right violence, and their impact on ethnic and religious minorities. Second, when we talk about radicalization, we mean the radicalization potentially leading to violence, not the fact of being radical in general.
Unfortunately, most ongoing discussions at the EU level mainly focus on preventing and countering the radicalization of Muslims, especially the young, and their enrolment in jihadist organizations. Other forms of radicalization have slipped under the political and media radar, misleading the broader public into thinking that there are no other forms of violence today in European societies, although yearly Europol reports consistently show that the majority of terrorist plots and attacks in Europe are orchestrated by nationalist groups. As a result, counter-terrorism measures, preventive surveillance and other restrictions are having a disproportionate impact on ethnic and religious minorities that fit certain general profiles. European Muslims, for instance, are subjected to greater scrutiny, which in turn increases their stigmatization by the general public.
Furthermore, beyond the surface of the religious narrative used in jihadist radicalization, there is little attention paid to multiple causes of this phenomenon, in particular the feeling of disenfranchisement, of perceived socio-political exclusion from the mainstream, which actually is very similar to what comes out of the narratives of violent extreme-right radicals. This disenfranchisement, not feeling one has a respected voice at the table of the democratic national conversation, can mesh with the impact of the financial and economic crisis on ethnic and religious minorities. These elements are cornerstones of the propaganda of Islamic State (IS), aimed at luring young Europeans into extreme violence.
“Radicalization” is mostly seen from a religious perspective, which contributes to bringing important distortions into policymaking: there is no consideration for political inclusion measures for disenfranchised publics (and in particular youth) from all backgrounds, which in turn usually translates into increasing abstention when there are elections. There has also been little consideration for the economic and social factors as well as racial and religious discrimination, which would require much deeper reforms. The feeling of exclusion from the social fabric, without any perspective of a better future, increasingly contributes to attracting individuals despairing of any chance of a better future towards ideologies and groups rejecting our societies and promoting radical violence, whether jihadist organizations, far-right movements, or others.
This is why there needs to be more long-term social investment in rebuilding the collective social contract – democratic inclusion, but also employment, education, housing, health, everything that contributes to inclusive and resilient societies offering a dignified future for all their members. In addition, all marginalized groups, including ethnic minority communities, should be included in every step of the design and implementation of counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization policies.
S.B. What is your opinion about the development of this nexus? Is it stronger than in the past?
M.P. This nexus is stronger than in the past due to the societal focus on Muslims and migrants as “troublemakers” in European societies, overshadowing all other forms of socio-political exclusion, because they have been construed, first in far-right then in more mainstream narratives, as the “Other”, those who “cannot be integrated”, the “perfect enemy” to “our” never defined “values”.
If migrants and Muslims, or persons perceived as such, are now at the center of the storm, this narrative and what it entails in terms of increased securitization of our societies has a ripple effect on other ethnic and religious minorities in Europe (black people, Roma) and on the broader criminalization of social movements. This has been seen over the last few years in France – eco-activists arrested around the COP21 in 2015 or more recently high rates of arrests of “yellow vests” protesters, under the same set of anti-terror laws.
The effect on our societies is wide-ranging, but as is it entering into force slowly and in a highly emotional context, under the guise of bringing back safety and security, many people are compromising their fundamental freedoms rather wishfully. In such a context, ethnic and religious minorities are like a canary in a coalmine: their situation is a warning sign of the deliquescence of fundamental rights and freedoms.
So, while in factual terms, the situation might look like it is improving, the perception of the increased tightness of the nexus has become predominant among European ethnic and religious minorities, probably also due to the constant finger pointing at individuals perceived to be Muslim every time violence happens that seems to be generated by people or groups claiming to act in the name of Islam.
S.B. Can radicalization and racism be addressed through the same counter-narratives?
M.P. Yes, definitely, but this is not what we see. Many narratives are just reinforcing “us” vs “them”, offering further breeding ground for groups like IS who are actually perfectly at ease with such a world view. There are narratives that would foster the development of a common horizon, of a better future to which everyone could contribute and have a fair share from its benefits, where people could have an equal say, or at least have their concerns heard and taken into account , even if it’s about not feeling loved and respected enough, not being seen as a valuable contributor to societal well-being, and so on. Such narratives would contribute to massively shifting the conversation and reducing frustrations linked to a perceived increasing exclusion from many walks of life, with a growing number of people sinking into poverty.
Provided, that is, the narratives are followed up by concrete measures positively impacting on people’s lives, such as substantial salary increase (10-15%), accessible quality housing at lower costs, education, health, and a real decrease in general poverty over a span of a few years, not one achieved by tweaking poverty indicators, as has happened in the past. As such, powerful narratives articulating vision and action would respond to many of the concerns of the “yellow vests” as well as those of young people choosing jihadist ideology and modes of operation to fight the very same society that turns its back on them in the same way.
S.B. You monitor the restrictions on human rights that result or could result from current counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization measures, as well as their impact on groups at risk of racism, including Muslims, people of African descent, migrants, or people perceived to be from these groups. Are those communities involved in your activity? Who are your reliable partners?
M.P. ENAR has a number of member organizations in different countries who are led by minority communities themselves. Several of them work on monitoring the impact of counter-terrorism / radicalization measures on communities and are doing awareness raising and / or advocacy work in this area. Some of the most active ENAR member organizations and anti-racism organizations in this field include Collective Against Islamophobia and Comité Justice et Libertés in France; Collective Against Islamophobia in Belgium; and Just West Yorkshire, Tell Mama, and Hope not Hate in the United Kingdom. We also work in coalition with civil society organizations working more broadly on human rights, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Justice Initiative.
ENAR has also recently published a toolkit which aims to provide tools and methodologies for civil society organizations and activists in the European Union to document the discriminatory impact of counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization measures on communities at risk of racism, whether directly or indirectly.
S.B. ENAR is currently involved in the EU-wide research project Dialogue about Radicalization and Equality. Could you describe this project and its outputs?
M.P. The Dialogue about Radicalization and Equality (DARE) project is a pan-European project covering 13 countries which investigates young people’s encounters with agents of radicalization, how they receive and respond to those calls, and how they make choices about the paths they take. It aims to broaden understanding of radicalization, demonstrating that it is not located in any one religion or community alone, and to explore the effects of radicalization on society.
DARE focuses on people aged between 12 and 30, as they are a key target of recruiters and existing research suggests they may be particularly receptive to radicalism. It approaches young people neither as victims nor perpetrators of radicalization, but as engaged, reflexive, and often passionate social actors who seek information they can trust as they navigate a world in which calls to radicalization are numerous.
The focus is on environments where radicalization messages are found rather than terrorist events or individuals. By observing everyday encounters, researchers are able to study people who hold radical ideas without becoming extremists. This helps to understand what pushes others across the threshold into violence. Perhaps most importantly, this social approach allows the researchers to map and understand the everyday strategies already used to challenge radicalization and to recognize the potential for people to influence their peers positively.
Outputs will include an extensive review of knowledge in three areas: the historical context of current patterns of radicalization; European, national and regional counter-radicalization and de-radicalization policies and interventions; and how sustained inequalities impact upon radicalization.
The project will also generate new empirical research in offline and online milieus designed to understand media-assisted self-radicalization; radicalization in Islamist milieus; and radicalization in anti-Islam extreme right milieus.
Finally the project will also integrate research data with policy and intervention and maximize societal impact and reach. This will include producing policy briefs for targeted audiences on the basis of research findings. It will also bring researchers, civic organizations and activists working in counter radicalization together in a dialogue to share experiences and best practice across Europe and to develop, pilot and evaluate two counter-radicalization educational toolkits.
S.B. Would you be able to identify some best practices that the European Union or their members have been implementing?
Manchester City Council in the United Kingdom has been working with Greater Manchester Police, local councils, the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation and communities to build an understanding of local community concerns relating to extremism, radicalization and terrorism. This led to a series of community discussions, a published report on Rethinking Radicalization and the implementation of an accredited program of training in Radical Dialogue for community representatives concerned with countering extremism and building resilient and cohesive communities.
This program, and its participants, have since fed into the development of the RADEQUAL Campaign and community network, which builds community resilience and empowers voluntary and community sector organizations and communities to come together to challenge hate, prejudice and extremism.
The ‘Aarhus Model’ in Denmark aims to prevent radicalization by working with at-risk citizens to improve their possibilities for inclusion in society and to help them develop better life skills. The specific intervention depends on the situation. For example, counselling parents or at-risk youth themselves, mentoring programs or parent networks. Regardless of the intervention, the aim is to include these at-risk youth in society again as active, participating citizens.
The “rien à faire, rien à perdre” project (nothing to do, nothing to lose) is an educational project in Belgium which aims to work on the concept of “violent radicalization” with various audiences – both young people and adults – based on the life stories of girls and boys directly concerned by the issue. These young people put their identity journeys into words before illustrating them in pictures. The educational material includes short videos of the young people concerned and an educational pack on how to use to the different tools.
S.B. What is your outlook concerning European radicalization and racism patterns?
M.P. For now, we are not extremely optimistic in the short term. There is a long battle ahead that needs to happen on multiple fronts. If we take radicalization and racism as two symptoms of broader societal issues, there will be no magic wands. Instead we need a massive reinvestment that only public policies have the power to ensure, should decision makers understand that it is a priority and decide to sacrifice some of the ideological mantras upon which most of them have built their careers, such as “the private sector is better performing”, “everyone is responsible for their own destiny”, “we don’t have the resources for such policies”, “the market will solve it all”, and so on.
Understanding that, in their respective discursive clusters, Viktor Orban’s and Al-Baghdadi’s successes are deeply connected to the same root-causes would help EU and national decision makers make a leap forward in devising appropriate solutions. At the same time, we need to address the democratic deficit of our societies, starting by acknowledging that in most of our modern democracies our decision making systems have been elaborated by and for a limited bourgeoisie between one and two centuries ago, when only a limited number of people could even read and write. Today, European populations have never been, throughout history, educated to such an unprecedented level. Yet most of the key decisions are never debated collectively. People are not offered proper information to make informed decisions, under the guise of representation. In most countries, the per capita ratio of MPs has drastically decreased, bringing traditional representative systems to the limits of what they can actually be used for.
So no wonder millions of people in every country feel they are left on the side of the road. The dominant narrative is that everyone has the same right to participate and contribute, but this is a comfortable fiction for elected representatives and factually not true for an increasing number of people.
I spend lots of time on this conversation, because political disaffiliation is one of the most important root causes of the current phenomena we are witnessing, from self-exclusion from societal conversations to outright terrorist violence. Functioning democracies would cater for a better re-articulation of collective priorities (which forms of contributions and redistributions); for better checks and balances between competing interests and the common good, and for better, broader and improved contribution in decision making.
And obviously, this is a discussion that few decision makers are willing to have, starting with the President of the European Commission, who has repeatedly affirmed that no functioning treaty of the EU is open to renegotiation, which is per se a blatant denial of democracy. At a time when many are calling for sacred religious texts such as the Bible or the Qur’an to be subject to the amendment and suppression of so-called problematic verses, it appears that secular legal texts, supposedly stemming from the will of the people, are beyond discussion. In a way, beyond democracy, sacred themselves. That discursive register is similar to the one used by IS. And coming from the hinterland of democracy as I do, this gives me many more shivers than Islamic State’s toxic narratives.