Radicalization cannot be explained by racism alone
By Robin Sclafani, CEJI Director - November 14, 2015 – It is just 12 hours since terror began in Paris, since we began to shed tears for the hundreds of victims killed or injured, since we suspended ourselves in front of the news reports waiting for the signs that it was over. Maybe the immediate incidents of violence have come to an end, but the terror and the aftermath domino-effect is in full swing. Oh Paris, dear France and its people, our hearts are with you who are on the front line in this war.
This morning the analysts get to work and the social media buzzes, and with great frustration and even inner conflict, so many of us grapple to find that place of balance between emotions and ideals.
It is so easy to fall back on stereotypes and prejudices, to search for generalizations that can help make sense of the violence. Conditions are ripe for the far-right to take control.
The problem of extremisms has been festering for decades. Far-right, neo-Nazi type of extremism is blamed on hatred, ideologies and mythologies that serve opportunistic politicians. Islamist extremism, however, is not only blamed on hatred, ideologies and mythologies that serve opportunistic madmen. It is blamed also on religion, and innocent Muslims become the scapegoat for peoples’ fear. Many are braced for retaliation hate crimes which are sadly inevitable in the current climate. They are dreading an escalation of policies and policing which will invariably be discriminatory either directly or indirectly.
Some blame Islamist extremism on discrimination, social exclusion, segregation, etc. It is logical, and probably true, that the effects of racism leave a fertile breeding ground for radical ideas and violent actions which are generated and fueled by state and non-state actors abroad.
Regardless, security is non-negotiable and keeping us safe from terrorist attacks will be good for everybody, including the problem of discrimination faced by Muslims.
Explaining the problem of radicalization as a result of discrimination is a total disrespect to the victims of these attacks and to the millions of people who have been affected by racist and discriminatory policies throughout their lifetime and are good-hearted, non-violent, responsible hard-working contributing members of society.
There may be correlations between poverty and extremism, also used to describe participants in Neo-Nazi movements which are responsible for 1,380 extreme-right motivated crimes and 104 attacks in Germany during the month of September alone. In the third quarter of 2015, attacks against refugee accommodation jumped from 136 in the second quarter to 274 in the third, and there were 203 antisemitic attacks in the third quarter alone, or nearly two per day.
Such correlations however can be refuted, as there are plenty of educated and middle class people who subscribe to far-right ideas, just as there is recruitment to radical violent Islamist groups taking place in universities. Without a strong political will to confront the international sources of ideas and funding for radical Islamism, all our efforts from education to security will not suffice in the long-run.
There is no simple answer to this escalating, intensifying cyclone of hatred and violence that Europe (and other parts of the world) are facing. Just as individuals need to find the right balance between emotions and ideals inside our hearts and minds, society must also find the right balance between freedom and control, reactive and preventive measures, domestic and international policies, security and education, intelligence and employment, shared identity and respect for diversity.