Rimini, Italy, May 2017 – “We need to promote a global approach against radicalisation, otherwise we might be overlooking other forms this phenomenon can take. We need to act now, rather than become aware of these new threats in the years to come.” With this statement, Efus’ recently elected President, the Mayor of Liege (BE), Willy Demeyer, stressed the potential risk that might result from the current policy focus on Islamist extremism alone in the field of counter-radicalisation policies.
Hence, joining the position taken by the EU Commissioner for the Security Union, Julian King, in March 2017, who warned about the reemergence of violent far-right movements in Europe, Mr Demeyer opened the 4th LIAISE 2 seminar, co-organised by Efus, the Italian Forum for Urban Security (FISU) and the city of Rimini (IT).
Organised as a space to raise awareness among participants on the above, especially among Italian ones given the incipient nature of this topic in the Italian context, this event focused on the polarisation-radicalisation cause-effect dynamics that affect European societies.
A first panel was dedicated to the interaction between both processes: on the one hand radicalisation leading to violent extremism and on the other polarisation understood as a process of sharpening differences between groups in society that can result in increased tensions.
Dr Eolene M. Boyd-MacMillan, researcher at the Psychology Department of the University of Cambridge (GB), presented how this interaction works, especially between groups, therefore addressing the issue through a collective approach while explaining its individual psychological impact. She presented polarisation as a dynamic process that can involve depersonalisation and dehumanisation, eventually leading to a dysfunctional feedback loop that can become increasingly difficult to shift. She said this operates through webs of group relationships and social ecosystems.
After explaining this cause-effect dynamic, she gave some insights on potential preventive tools, mainly aimed at strengthening communities’ and individuals’ empathy, critical thinking and compassion. The project “Being Muslim, Being British” was taken as a case study to illustrate this preventive approach. Particular interest was shown on the integrative complexity methodology, which allows to measure to what extent someone thinks in black-and-white terms and hence sees the world as “us and them”.
The second panel addressed the Italian context regarding radicalisation, both in terms of how this phenomenon is taking shape in the country and how national policy is tackling it.
Dr Rosella Selmini, Professor at the University of Minnesota (US), talked about how far-right movements are undertaking organised anti-immigrant actions in some Italian suburban areas, such as the CasaPound movement. During her presentation, Dr Selmini highlighted how media coverage of these events, as well as the ambiguity of some political reactions, could contribute to increasing stigmatisation and polarisation in the upcoming years. She called for clearer statements, especially from authorities, against violent acts against migrants and emphasised the importance of keeping promoting social prevention measures.
Dr Lorenzo Vidino, Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University (US), and member of the commission in charge of designing the first national counter-radicalisation plan for Italy, presented the main elements included in this document. According to this working document, multi-agency platforms in charge of the management of radicalisation cases will be established. While recognising the difficulties of this approach in the Italian context, mainly because of the reluctance of law enforcement to work with non-institutional actors, Mr Vidino highlighted the important role given to civil society and community level actors in the draft action plan.
Both presentation were followed by a discussion with the audience on the fact that contemporary Italian policy-makers are more focused on Islamist than other forms of radicalisation because they do not perceive the potential threat posed by other forms of extremism, such as far-left or -right violent movements, in spite of the damages such ideologies have brought to the country in the past, notably during the infamous “Lead Years” of the 1970s and 1980s.
The third panel was dedicated to the presentation of local initiatives, whose added value is their global approach to all forms of radicalisation. The first experience was presented by Luca Guglielminetti, member of the Italian Leon Battista cultural association.
Pointing out the key role of media in giving visibility to terrorism and propaganda, he gave different examples of what he termed the “pedagogy of tolerance” through the testimony of victims and insisted on the importance of addressing society’s unease so as to prevent extremist propaganda from taking advantage of it. He illustrated this point through the C4C project (Counter-Narration for Counter-Terrorism), supported by the European Commission.
The second local experience was presented by Anna Rau, member of the Crime Prevention Council of Lower Saxony (DE), who explained how different departments within the organisation work on different forms of radicalisation, therefore covering the various manifestations of this phenomenon.
Special emphasis was made on the assistance provided to local professionals, especially those working with young people, when doubts and concerns appear regarding a possible case of radicalisation. She also presented actions on youth engagement and empowerment to counter extremist propaganda.
The last panel was a working session on drafting Efus’ recommendations on the prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism. A discussion moderated by Elizabeth Johnston, Efus Executive Director, was organised between the audience and three local elected officials from Efus’ network: Willy Demeyer, Mayor of Liege (BE), Jordi Jané, Minister of the Interior, Government of Catalonia (SP) and Carmella Rozza, Deputy Mayor in charge of Security, City of Milan (IT).
Mr Jané stressed that mediation, if used by trained local actors, could be a powerful means to prevent polarisation and radicalisation. He emphasised the importance of proximity actors, such as community police officers, to prevent radicalisation at the community level. Ms Rozza agreed and also stressed the key role that community policing could play in relation to the prevention of both processes. However, she also recognised the risk of stigmatisation that can result from targeted interventions aimed at specific communities.
Mr Demeyer, after highlighting the importance of prevention, the local level and European cooperation, emphasised the strategic role Efus can play to achieve the goals widely shared among all European stakeholders on the prevention of radicalisation.
As part of its on-going work to draft the recommendations on the prevention of radicalisation that will be included in Efus’ new manifesto, further discussions will be organised during the international “Security, Democracy & Cities: Coproducing Urban Security Policies” conference in Barcelona, on 15,16 and 17 November 2017.