Alberto Pagani is member of the Italian House of Representatives (Camera dei Deputati, lit. “Chamber of Deputies”) for the Democratic Party.
An expert on radicalization and intelligence, he authored the book Manuale di Intelligence e Servizi Segreti (“Handbook of Intelligence and Secret Services”).
Sara Brzuszkiewicz: What are current levels of radicalization in Italy and what trends can be identified?
Alberto Pagani: We need to distinguish two forms of radicalization.
Any distortion of any ideology or religion produces fundamentalist currents, since the sooner or the later someone will start to preach the need to go back to the fundamentals in order to retrieve the pure meaning.
Islam is six centuries younger than Christianity, but if we look back at the Middle Ages, we can find Christian fundamentalist approaches.
However, we could say that someone like the Franciscans are fundamentalists, because they want the Church to go back to the frugal example of Christ, yet they are definitely not violent.
Similarly, within Islam, there are individuals who experience their faith in a fundamentalist and radical way without embracing violence. On the other side, there are individuals who believe first and foremost in violence and embrace a given religious current to justify their own violent worldview.
I do not think that in Italy now the first form of radicalization is on the rise. On the contrary, the second form is increasing, fostered both by online jihadi propaganda and the political forces of sovereigntism, which fuel hate against foreigners and Islamophobia.
SB: In the last few years, experts and practitioners have tried to investigate the reasons for the lower radicalization levels in Italy compared to counties like France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom.
Many reasons exist, and range from numerical factors, such as the smaller presence of second- and third-generation Muslims — who are notoriously more vulnerable to radicalization — to the lack of a colonial past to the absence of the so-called ghetto neighborhoods, the skill of the Italian intelligence services, and the allegedly lighter military involvement in Muslim-majority countries.
What are the most important reasons in your opinion?
AP: All the reasons you have mentioned contribute to the smaller levels of the phenomenon in Italy.
The colonial past [of countries like Britain and France] pushed citizens from the former colonies to migrate to mother countries in which they could speak the language, thus having more chances to integrate and find a job.
The first generations usually had the only goal of creating a life in the new country. In a way, first generations tended to admire the new countries. By contrast, their children and grandchildren hated them and were disillusioned by the failure of the integration process.
Most of the terrorists who perpetrated attacks in Europe are European citizens who embraced jihadi ideology in a sort of revanchist and vindictive response to their failures. Jihadism was able to offer a symbolical affiliation and a strong identity to individuals who grew up without a feeling of belonging. Often the radicalization process is solitary, very fast, and includes very little religious knowledge.
Back to the lower levels of radicalization in Italy: in this country the flows of migrants are more recent and more homogeneous, which is not the case in, for instance, Molenbeek in Brussels. Furthermore, having a homogeneous migrant community makes intelligence activities and preventive monitoring easier.
SB: What are the main resources and tools to fight terrorism and radicalization in Italy?
AP: Intelligence and social control on the ground are crucial. In order to prevent a phenomenon, we need to know it, and to know it we need to observe and monitor it.
Italian law enforcement officers and intelligence agencies developed cumulative experience and knowledge during the long fight against political terrorism and mafia organizations.
Social control is extremely important because if a teacher or a football coach spots the first signs of radicalization in a young individual, they can assist with prevention.
Obviously, it is also necessary to involve the Muslim communities in the joint effort to isolate and fight radicalism and foster dialogue with the help of the Council for the Relations with Italian Islam (Consiglio per le Relazioni con l’Islam Italiano).
Imams and preachers can be effective mediators to guarantee the full implementation of the values of coexistence, legality, the secular nature of the state, and gender equality, within a religiously and culturally pluralistic society.
SB: What are the weaknesses and where is room for improvement?
AP: The Parliament still has to approve a law targeted at fighting radicalization. Two years ago, a potentially effective law was approved by the House of Representative, but the legislature finished before the end of the complex Italian procedure to ultimately approve laws, so now we need to start over.
I hope it will be possible to make up for lost time rapidly because, in order to fight radicalization and reduce the threat, it is necessary to involve different institutions, from schools to prisons, and provide practitioners on the ground with proper tools.
SB: From which European countering violent extremism (CVE) and preventing violent extremism (PVE) models could Italy take inspiration?
AP: I do not think there are recipes that we could copy passively. I believe that every country should find its own way because there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
In Italy, we should try to find a meeting point between different political visions and set a number of common goals.
The first objective should be undercutting the political and social soil of hate, instead of adding to it with those who shout, “Italians first”. This needs to be done primarily by local governments and communities.
Dialogue and coexistence, however, work if equal rights go together with equal duties. Therefore, we need to promote founding common values and rules that everyone is expected to share, albeit with their own cultures and religions.
The second objective should be to experiment — like in other European countries — with counter-radicalization and de-radicalization programs and then identify the most successful ones.
SB: Could the surge of xenophobic and racist incidents provoke an increase of jihadist radicalization? Why?
AP: Undeniably, the xenophobic and racist alt-Right represents the best ally of jihadism, since it fosters its strategy of societal polarization. The stronger ethnic and religious clashes are, the easier it is for jihadists to recruit new people.
SB: What are your short-term outlooks? Will the problem grow?
AP: I am afraid it will. We are not witnessing localized outbursts: it is a rooted process with a global framework. That is how we need to look at it, if we want to achieve tangible results.