A Divided European Society and Why Defeating ISIS is Not Good Enough

by Nora Bohlin Andersen and Millie Radovic, both second year BA International Relations students at the War Studies Department of King’s College London.

12272922_10207768361387820_1583723157_n (1)Radical. The Oxford Dictionary has many definitions for this term, but arguably one is most appropriate here: ‘A person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform.’ If you agree with the OD, and think we fit into this category, please feel free to expose us for what we are.

It is radicalisation, the process of adopting extreme political, social, and/or religious ideals and aspirations, that we want to discuss. According to some scholars this word is arguably “code for ‘that which cannot be spoken about’”. It is precisely this taboo-like character that arguably drives it in the first place, which is exactly why we feel it must be addressed.

In contrast, terrorism, or ‘the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims’, according to the OD, is notoriously the most easily thrown around word, associated blindly by ill informed civilians with concepts and practices not related to it.

Evolution of threats

Frankly speaking, terrorism is a physical consequence and manifestation of radicalization itself. Terrorism in our (Western) societies is today almost exclusively a practice employed by the radicalized, whether these are islamic fundamentalists or right wing extremists. Originally it was conceptualized as a practice of asymmetric warfare, most often used by inferior actors in a conflict. It is indeed easy to see it is a tactic employed by insurgents, separatists, and even some civil rights movements as it still at times is. But, today, from where we’re standing – yes here in London, terrorism used by radicalized individuals is the largest danger our society faces today.

We’ve seen this in 2004, 2005, 2011, 2015, and frankly in smaller doses in every other year of the 21st century.

Following the Paris attacks last week, it is more clear than ever that our policy, to defeat ISIS because of its zero-sum fundamental aspiration of eradicating all that don’t comply to its extremist practices and views, moreover our general policy to ‘destroy terrorists’, is simply not good enough.

We have been right to recognise socio-economic problems as factors that breed terrorism.

But, we must remember not to geographically associate terrorism in our back yards with issues in the Middle East. Yes there are domestic problems in Iraq, Syria,Yemen, Libya, Egypt and many other countries that breed terrorist action there (whether by the so called Islamic State, separatists, or insurgents).

However, this is not the case with Europe. Our chief threat in terms of terrorism comes from within. It is homegrown terrorism that has been most prominent in the form of lone wolf attacks. And problems in our society are the ones we must address to deal with this, not just those abroad. Not because issues abroad are less important or European lives are more ‘valuable’, but because action abroad can only get us so far. ‘Destroying’ ISIS as a physical entity would arguably not be difficult. But it certainly would not destroy the idea it champions and how much it resonates with individuals in Europe. It might as well just increase its prominence. We have to look within our societies and examine the reasons why someone ends up conforming to a radical ideology, whether it’s right wing extremism or islamic fundamentalism.

Switching off

Arguably, “radicalization starts from social disengagement” and hence “a rejection of mainstream culture, ideas and norms”. How so?

Kenan Malik has convinced us in arguing that detachment of individuals from society has lead to the loss of an identity and hence those without a feeling of belonging to their communities identifying themselves with radical movements in the darkest possible ways. Radicalization does not happen within the epicentre of society, it happens somewhere else. Within the walls of someone’s apartment, on forums in social media, or maybe in complete solitude on a farm somewhere in rural Norway.

Radicalization can most certainly spread in different directions. The most prominent example of right wing radicalization follows the same narrative as the ones described by Malik. It starts with a man living his life largely isolated and interacting mostly with others over the internet develops a fucked up view on society. He writes a manifesto calling for putting a stop to multiculturalism, opposing Islam and getting rid of all immigrants. He then decides to translate his views into action and goes on a rampage ending up killing 77 innocent people.

How did we get here?

Whether through aggressive assimilation, overt political correctness, or crude separatism – we, Europeans, have collectively made mistakes with our social policies. The failure of multiculturalism as a policy is seen in: ‘fragmented societies, alienated minorities, and resentful citizenries’. This is most certainly not a critique of Europe’s multicultural body, but of the social policies its governments have put in place to manage it and the resulting process within civil society that has left Europe as a society divided. This tension connected to an increasingly pluralistic society only seems to get reinforced every time an act of violence occurs.

And hence, right wing populism is on the rise in Europe. Recently, we have seen an increase in support for PEGIDA, increased violence where refugees are the victims or actions like setting reception centres in Sweden on fire.

While the aims of their violence appear political, certainly Kenan is right in saying that ‘politics of ideology have given way to politics of identity’. Society has become more about individuals defining ‘who they are’ and conforming to one already set out identity instead of moulding their own.

But again, why are we talking about all of this?

It is easy to see that these deep-rooted problems in the region we call our home are helping the so called Islamic State, even Boko Haram, recruit foreign fighters; they are spurring lone wolf attacks such as the above (which make up most of the terrorist attacks within the Western world) all because they facilitate if not breed fundamentalism.

Increased air strikes, reform within our intelligence communities, and especially multilateralism in terms of our policy on Syria’s civil war, are all justifiable concrete steps in dealing with what is becoming a defining problem of 21st century’s international relations. But they are not good enough on their own. We must look within our own back yards too. If not first, then simultaneously.

Ok, so we’ve identified radicalisation as the key cause of homegrown terrorism in Europe. What will blocking borders, increasing surveillance, and censoring anything we deem politically incorrect do to address this? Nothing. What we need for starters is more openness and dialogue.

We understand that contemporary efforts at fairly controversial counterterrorist practices such as mass surveillance, mass censoring, profiling of potential state enemies and much more are human responses to the feeling of perpetual insecurity. But surely, it is not difficult to notice that suppressing radicalisation simply breeds more of it, which breeds more populism and so on in a vicious cycle.

Speaking freely, debating ideas, expressing grievances, and protesting inequalities – whether they are political, economic, social or cultural for that matter – are what modern day Europe was built on. Turning our back on these liberal practices is what facilitates the dark process of detachment and radicalization in the first place. This is exactly why we must not allow for it to keep happening and why we must encourage dialogue, arguments, criticism, and all that comes from completely natural diversity.

Fixing a broken society?

Malik argues that ‘Europe needs not so much new state policies as a renewal of civil society’. He recognises mistakes in different states’ immigration and social policies, yet puts the responsibility not only onto governments, but those that they serve. We, those that make up the civil society, and especially we, the generation of social networks, globalization, and third culture prevalence, are most responsible for our society’s future path.

We don’t need to reiterate that migration is not just an inescapable, but a fascinating and impressive consequence of globalization worth celebrating. That we hope those reading are aware of by now. It is not the process which we must halt or fix, but how it is managed, and concretely how societies are justly integrated. Successful integration, Kenan argues, is shaped by ‘the individual bonds that people form with one another, and by the organizations they establish to further their shared political and social interests’.

The only way these bonds may begin and continue to form in such a way that strengthens our society, and decreases the room for radicalization is through open dialogue, through policies celebrating multiculturalism’s actual diversity (not its tendency to institutionalize differences), and harnessing assimilationism’s resolve to treat everyone as equal citizens, not generalised groups, (not its tendency to construct national identities by marking certain groups as alien to nations).

It is certain that globalization has unintentionally fostered the current identity crisis on individual, local, and international levels. Social media has facilitated detachment from society of those who feel they don’t belong, financial crises have left some feeling hopeless, and the Internet has opened up a Pandora box giving all those using it access to all the good, and all the horrible that faces of humanity have to offer. But this does not mean that we should reject it. Let’s harness the products of globalization that have divided our society and use them to create a U-turn and some sense of legitimate civil society that can withstand the perils of the likes of ISIS.

Lastly, we realise our article does not come with outlined policy recommendations. Frankly, no scholar we follow has come up with any concrete ones, and countless hours of talking about this have still left us without much. However, here we seek to point out these deeper societal issues, to encourage a dialogue that can eventually lead to policy recommendations and progress we speak of above.











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