According to the EU’s legal framework, the role of communities in preventing and countering violent extremism has always been pivotal for European Institutions.
Proof of this can be found in the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council in 2010, called “The EU Internal Security Strategy in Action: Five steps towards a more secure Europe” where this involvement is clearly stressed.
When defining the strategic objectives, Objective number 2, “Prevent terrorism and address radicalization and recruitment”, identifies its first action as: “Empower communities to prevent radicalization and recruitment”.
To do so, the EC envisaged the creation of the Radicalization Awareness Network in 2011 and incentivized the cooperation between local authorities, civil society organizations, and affected communities at a national and regional level.
Therefore, there is an explicit call from the EU institutions to the Member States to enhance this cooperation and boost the affected communities´ involvement in terms of preventing violent extremism and radicalization.
A different issue is posed by how Member States are dealing with this requirement. In this case, the first question to be answered is: Is there a real and effective involvement of the affected communities in the prevention of radicalization, led by the national and regional authorities in the EU’s scope?
A first look at the different plans and actions of the Member States regarding the prevention of radicalization, shows that if in most national legal texts there is a mention of the necessary collaboration with affected communities, their involvement in the design and implementation of the radicalization prevention policies are scarce.
The mention of “communities”, regardless of the good intentions of the agencies in charge of designing these plans, can sometimes have a stigmatizing effect, confusing their real role as an interested party or stakeholder in a radicalization prevention policy, by considering them as mere “targets” of the policy.
In this way, radicalization prevention policies sometimes prevent communities from assuming the role of a “team member”, that can successfully develop the design, implementation, and evaluation of radicalization prevention policies, generating two counterproductive effects:
- Encouraging the rejection and distrust of the targeted communities, increasing the feeling of being stigmatized and persecuted.
2. Not taking advantage of the necessary and crucial role of the communities, civil society Organizations (CSOs), and Community Based Organizations (CBOs), to ensure the success of these policies.
- Anyway, the benefits of this involvement and collaboration of the communities in the prevention of radicalization policies are undisputable.
Therefore, it is also possible to distinguish two types of benefits depending on the recipient of this collaboration.
On the one hand, the benefits for the members of the community, who can witness how the existing polarization is reduced and mitigated. In addition, the sense of belonging to the group among its members increases (a factor that is extremely important as it is one of the main factors that triggers radicalization processes). Finally, this involvement increases the abilities of its members to detect radicalization processes and individuals who seek to radicalize others.
On the other hand, we must highlight the benefits for the local or national authorities that promote this sort of collaboration and community involvement, and see how the effectiveness of their radicalization prevention policies increases. Briefly, we can cite the following:
- Credibility: Policies designed and implemented exclusively by local authorities usually suffer from the mistrust of the target audience. The involvement of the communities and the CSOs and CBOs related to them increases the credibility of the prevention campaigns among their recipients. This aspect is even more important in policies that are focused on the de-radicalization of individuals.
- Implication of credible voices: any radicalization prevention plan or action must involve the appropriate messengers to transmit the appropriate message or narrative. The credibility and empathy of these messengers is thus crucial. Therefore, it is necessary that these credible voices belong to the affected communities or that they are perfectly recognizable individuals that are respected by them. The collaboration of between communities and CBOs for the identification and collaboration of these messengers is therefore essential.
- Use of their own networks: the collaboration between the communities and the related CSOs and CBOs promotes the dissemination and effectiveness of these actions, by using their own platforms or networks that are already being used to spread other programs and initiatives. Likewise, it will facilitate access to individuals who, otherwise, would have been impervious to these policies, because of their distrust of the authority in charge of enacting these policies.
- Knowledge of the communities and individuals to whom these policies are directed at. The success of any social policy, and even more, policies for the prevention of radicalization, lies in the deep understanding of its target or beneficiaries. This understanding will be key for the drafting and identification of the message, messenger, channels to use, and possible support and intervention measures. This knowledge can only come from the active involvement of representatives of the community and their CBOs, who can provide it first-hand.
- Better Risk Management associated with the prevention of radicalization policy. The identification of risks or errors during the implementation of these policies is crucial to ensure their success and/or improvement. The involvement of communities and CBOs, that have a first-hand knowledge of their evolution among the target population, will facilitate this identification and possible subsequent corrections.
How to boost the involvement of the community and civil society?
In general terms, there are several steps that need to be considered by local authorities to increase or improve this involvement. Briefly, these include:
- Needs Assessment: Identify the needs and weakness of the radicalization prevention plan (or action) and the areas which will require the support or the collaboration of a CSO, CBO or community.
- Identification of the CSO, CBO or community leaders working in the field, their strengths and their weaknesses, and their suitability to be involved in the radicalization prevention plan.
- Prioritization of these CSOs, CBOs or community leaders, in adherence to the fundamental objectives of the prevention plan.
- Drafting of the Action Plan, identifying different types of collaboration and partnership that will be maintained with the different CSOs, CBOs and communities involved in the Prevention Plan, and the stage at which their involvement will be more appropriate for both parties. Transparency will be key to ensure the success and sustainability of these partnerships.
- Supporting and training for organizations and communities involved in the Action Plan, financial and institutional support for innovative approaches. In this case, it is important to mention the great work carried out by RAN through its Civil Society Empowerment Program, which, as is mentioned on their site “empowers different CSOs to provide effective alternatives to the messages coming from violent extremists and terrorists, as well as ideas that counter extremist and terrorist propaganda. They deliver workshops in different MS to provide these CSOs with the tools and the know-how necessary to effectively act in internet.”
- Evaluation and monitoring of the partnerships, reinforcing the transparency of the bi-directional communication-based relationship.
Regardless of the channels used, we must not forget that the involvement of the CSOs and CBOs in radicalization prevention policies is aimed at engaging the community.
Therefore, there are several guidelines designed by different organizations to promote community engagement. One example of these guidelines is the list of Lessons Learned from the RAN, which is available on its website.
When dealing with community engagement in terms of radicalization prevention there are three key stakeholders that must be taken into consideration by the working line of CSOs and CBOs.
- Families: The role of families is essential to understand the radicalization processes and to detect and avoid possible present and future cases. Therefore, the objective should be to forge a relationship of mutual trust, where family needs are addressed and the feeling of risk and scrutiny is avoided. The collaboration of CBO in this regard is often very useful.
- Police: local police officers will detect the first signs of radicalization and will be provided with direct information from members of the community. The specific training of these officials, the setting of a personal contact point in the agency and the strengthening of bidirectional relationships with the families, writing up specific protocols to share the information, will be key to ensure the cooperation of the families and the community.
- Youth: We must not forget that youth is the real target of the extremist and radical movements in Europe. Therefore, its involvement is even more necessary to understand and face the phenomena in the proper way.
Perhaps the first step to achieve this youth engagement is through the promotion of their own organizations, where young people feel represented and identified, where they can defend and pursue their own interests, address their own problems and concerns, and become relevant members of the “adult” society.
- Achieving this identification is even more important in the European context and among the young population with a migrant background, since one of the main realities that they must face is the existence of a hybrid identity, which can hardly be represented through external organizations with their own agendas.
Student activism can be key in this sense, where academic and institutional support can be a great asset for the associative movement.
As we can see, there are several possibilities open to us, as well as different models that have proven to be very useful in the European Union.
In any case, Member States are the ones tasked with envisaging and encouraging this community engagement in the prevention of radicalization policies. Finally, the proper implementation at the local level will always require a political willingness accompanied by a budgetary, organizational, and multi-agency forecast by local authorities.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council The EU Internal Security Strategy in Action: Five steps towards a more secure Europe
“Civil Society Empowerment Program.” Radicalization Awareness Network: https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/networks/radicalisation_awareness_network/civil-society-empowerment-programme_en
“Ten lessons learnt on Community Engagement.” Radicalization Awareness Network:
“Investigation, Prosecution and Adjudication of Foreign Terrorist Fighter Cases.” UNODC, June 2018:
RAN Collection of Approaches and Practices. Preventing Radicalisation to Terrorism and Violent Extremism. Community engagement and empowerment:
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