London attack highlights challenge of jihadist radicalization


Today’s terrorist attack in London occurred on the anniversary of similar attacks in Brussels, which provides an opportunity to reflect on the challenge posed by jihadist radicalisation, write Alexander Ritzmann and Andrea Frontini, executive director of the European Foundation
 for Democracy and a policy analyst with the European Policy Centre, respectively.

Given the diverse factors driving radicalization, policymakers should focus on the two common denominators that are almost identical in all EU member states, they contend:

  • First, networks and hotbeds. The majority of recruits – in many European countries, up to 80% – have been drawn to IS through a Salafist network. These networks were visible, operated openly on the streets, in mosques, cultural centres, as well as online. Yet, their significance was underestimated by governments and civil society alike. “Sharia for Belgium”, the “Read” campaign in Germany, and other similar Salafist groups, undertook their grooming of European youth in plain sight.
  • Second, ideology and extremist narratives. These factors are the very glue that binds the engineer to the petty criminal, which justifies and calls for violence and mass atrocities in the name of an extremist interpretation of Islam. While many terrorists do not know much about religion, IS’s customised ideology is a key recruiting tool, providing sub-narratives both for those willing to help and build a Caliphate, and for those seeking adventure and moral justification for the killing of their enemies.

As terrorism and radicalisation become ever more complex and multifaceted, a new study – The Challenge of Jihadist Radicalisation – goes beyond a mere cause and effect analysis and examines the problem from different angles. The report, from the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD), the European Policy Centre (EPC) and the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), includes contributions on Defining Jihadist Radicalization: Drivers & Catalysts –Local and Global; The geostrategic aspects of jihadist radicalisation in the Western Balkans; Rethinking the inclusion-moderation hypothesis: Why radical Salafism thrived under Islamist rule in Egypt and Tunisia, 2011 – 2013; and Understanding the nature of online extremist narratives; countering violent extremism (CVE) in Europe – results and challenges.

All of the authors agree that intensified cooperation and intelligence-sharing is necessary, but insufficient in the absence of a strategy addressing one of the root-causes of radicalisation, namely the ideology driven by an extremist interpretation or distortion of Islam.

“Therefore, EU member states need to offer marginalised and disillusioned youths vulnerable to radicalisation a better alternative and promote a positive counter-narrative based on its own founding principles of freedom and democracy,” the report concludes.

Furthermore, the fact that jihadist radicalisation and terrorism are not evenly spread, but rather grow in specific cities or neighbourhoods, allows policymakers to target measures and mobilise resources, Ritzmann and Frontini argue:

  • A key action to be taken, as a first step, should be improving relations and building trust between public authorities and Muslim communities in order to ensure open and mutual exchange of information on relevant issues.
  • Secondly, the active role of civil society organisations (CSOs) in prevention needs to be strengthened further. Qualified CSOs can identify and empower credible voices and positive role models in vulnerable communities who will then speak out early on against those who are promoting extremist ideologies.


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