More than a decade ago the term “radicalisation” began to be a popular term amongst those dealing with the phenomena of extremism and terrorism in the West (and especially Europe).
The concept can be understood as “a phased and complex process in which an individual or a group embraces a radical ideology or belief that accepts, uses or condones violence, including acts of terrorism, to reach a specific political or ideological purpose”. Researchers have been looking at risk factors and risk indicators to map and evaluate the security threat caused by radicalisation. Expert networks, conferences, research programs, policy papers, measures adopted, all are revolving around the concept of radicalisation, with focus on prevention of radicalisation and/or de-radicalisation. Despite all this organised and systematic effort to counter radicalisation, the public’s reaction in the West after the attack by Hamas against Israel on October 7th, as well as the response by Israel show alarming signs that radicalisation is in alarming degree present in Western societies. Neither counter radicalisation policies, nor the general framework of the fight against terrorism seem to have addressed the phenomenon adequately. The following are points to be considered to evaluate aspects of radicalisation and the result of counter terrorism and radicalisation policies in Western societies:
- One of the worrying failures of the effort to tackle radicalisation is that many citizens do not recognise nor acknowledge terrorism when violence is perpetrated against civilians. After the 9/11 attack by Al Qaeda in the US and the terror campaign of Al Qaeda and Daesh in European countries that followed, one would expect that terrorism and attacking civilians would have been understood as an undeniable evil. Terrorism has been on the top of the security agenda globally and has been communicated to people as a most serious danger. The acts of Hamas during October 7th are textbook terrorism. The group abducted, abused, raped civilians. Among the victims are people of different ages and from a variety of countries, who are still missing as they were taken hostages. While the governments of Western countries recognised the attack as terrorism, there is part of the public opinion that actually hailed the actions of Hamas as “fight for liberation”. Dozens assembled in Neukölln in Germany to celebrate the attack, with a 23-year-old man reported to be draped in a Palestinian flag hanging out sweets. Apart from the fact that such an act should be discussed even as constituting glorifying terrorism (from a criminal offence perspective), it is clearly showing acceptance of terrorism. Unexpectedly, the old slogan: “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” seems not to have lost its appeal. After all the global campaign against terrorism, the reality is that terrorism remains a subjective, relative concept, with many refusing to understand that the end does not justify the means and that terrorism is all about the means used and not the final scope. Acknowledging that Hamas perpetrated terrorism on October 7th should have nothing to do with one supporting Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state. Yet, atrocities committed against Israeli civilians have not been recognised as terrorism by people who claim to support the Palestinian cause. And the situation does not get any better when some media refuse to use the words “terrorism” and “terrorists” when reporting on the relevant events. An example is BBC, that defended its stance on the grounds of objectivity. Yet the same news media did call terrorists the perpetrators of the 2015 attack in Paris. At the end of the day, the question is what kind of objectivity can prevent calling terror attack the (undeniable fact of) hostage taking by Hamas (an act prohibited by international law).
- Radicals are endorsing extremist ideas and they become especially dangerous for security when they decide it is ok to use violence to succeed with their goals. And then there are also those radicals who will not have blood directly on their hands, yet they accept or support violence. In this way, they provide necessary oxygen for violent extremists and terrorists to act. What position can be more extreme than the plan and wish to annihilate a country, calling for its total destruction as well as targeting people based on religious, ethnic, and national origin characteristics? This is what we are seeing currently. Hamas denies the right of Israel to exist and the total destruction of Israel is its official aim. It is not its secret agenda, but its official position. Supporting Hamas means supporting both a goal that is par excellence extreme and the terrorist methods adopted to reach it. Moreover, supporting Hamas means supporting the targeting of Jews in general (not just Israelis), since this is part of the organisation’s aims. Israel is a country recognised by the UN and by most countries in the world. Everyone is free and should be free to criticise Israel for its policies in the Middle East. Apart from that, the need to argue in favour of the idea that Israel must sit at the table of negotiations is common sense. Two states co-existing in the area in a way that is viable and secure for both appears to be a logical condition for future peace. However, what we mostly encounter during rallies in the West and in online and social media narratives is not along the above lines and not pro-Palestinian; it is pro Hamas. The motto “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is an obvious example of extremist narrative and a sign of radicalisation. If a Palestinian State will extend from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea, this leaves no place for Israel to exist. The clear message is that the State of Israel should just not be. And what will happen to Israeli citizens? Will they be dislocated, slaughtered? What is the solution so that they will not inhabit this land? It is not accidental that Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer stated that his country would pursue criminal charges against anyone who uses that motto. In the UK, Home Secretary Suella Braverman made the following public declaration: “It is not just explicit pro-Hamas symbols and chants that are cause for concern. I would encourage police to consider whether chants such as ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world and whether its use in certain contexts may amount to a racially aggravated section 5 public order offence.” It should cause concern to see the extended use and popularity of this refrain in the West, with people wishing for such a «solution» to the Israeli-Palestinian issue and having in mind that it is possible that some of them may even act on it.
- Antisemitism needs to be seen and understood as the result of a deep and longstanding radicalisation and dehumanisation process targeting Jews. It is a phenomenon unfortunately deeply rooted in Western societies. “The Jew” has been used for around two thousand years as a scapegoat, based on religious and cultural stereotypes, biases, misconceptions. The tragic results of antisemitism led to the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis, a page in history that humans should be ashamed of. After the end of WWII, the phrase “Never Again” was used to denote the absolute need to never see such brutality and hate again. Yet, current events show that “once again” antisemitism has a strong presence in our societies and media report how “antisemitic attacks soar across Europe amid Israel-Hamas war.” Only in London (indicatively) the Community Security Trust has recorded a 537% increase in antisemitic incidents. The situation in European Union countries is similarly alarming, with the European Commission stating: “The spike of antisemitic incidents across Europe has reached extraordinary levels in the last few days, reminiscent of some of the darkest times in history. European Jews today are again living in fear.” On October 30th hundreds stormed an airport in Russia’s Dagestan, looking for passengers from Israel. The formation of this mob is reported to be the result of an organised social media antisemitic campaign.Antisemitism is a red flag for radicalisation and facts show that Western societies face a serious problem of radicalisation against Jews.
- Islamophobia is also a serious danger and a phenomenon that should not be tolerated in Western societies. Any negative, suspicious, aggressive attitude towards people based on their religion (or other cultural, racial, gender etc characteristics for that matter) is unacceptable and is destroying social cohesion. Additionally, labelling and treating as terrorists or potential terrorists all Muslims because of 9/11, Al Qaeda, Daesh and any group (including Hamas now) is unjust and makes no sense. It is also counterproductive, because it creates grievances and can indeed lead people to marginalisation and radicalisation. Muslim communities in the West have suffered due to the backlash caused by Islamist terrorism. Far rightists, nationalists, xenophobics, radicalised and full of hate against Muslims (fellow citizens, immigrants, refugees), attack them. This dimension of radicalisation is intensified today, posing an extra threat. Islamophobics of all kinds attack Muslims, holding them “responsible” for the atrocities by Hamas. Already in Illinois a 6-year-old Muslim boy was killed, after being stabbed dozens of times in a brutal attack by the family’s landlord who attacked also the boy’s mother after she proposed they “pray for peace.” Condemning Hamas, condemning Islamists and their terror network that threaten our societies cannot justify Anti-Islam rhetoric, nor prejudice, bias, hate and violence against Muslims. Collective responsibility is wrong from all points of view. Islamophobia is another red flag for radicalization and Western societies must step up to address this challenge and ensure the security of Muslims.
The conflict between Israel and Hamas has revealed how intense the polarisation of public opinion is in Western societies. Moreover, it has shown that the efforts to prevent and counter radicalisation must continue, but they must also be reevaluated regarding their impact and effectiveness. A large part of people actively taking sides in this conflict is clearly showing sings of radicalisation. Social media are full of hate narratives, demonstrations become riots, antisemitic and islamophobic attacks target groups of people based on their religion and cultural identity and both the Islamist network as well as far-rightist extremist groups seem to have a pool of sympathisers to support them and from which they can recruit possible future operatives for their terror operations. Governments and security officials need to look seriously into what needs to be done better to address radicalisation in Western societies.
 The Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN Practitioners) is suvh a network, https://home-affairs.ec.europa.eu/networks/radicalisation-awareness-network-ran/about-ran_en
 For example: “The European Commission provides financial support to projects and initiatives to better understand and counter the process of radicalisation, which leads to violent extremism and terrorism. Funded research and projects explore influencing factors causing radicalisation, extremist ideologies and recruitment mechanisms, while also developing good practices and concrete guidance and tools”, https://home-affairs.ec.europa.eu/policies/internal-security/counter-terrorism-and-radicalisation/prevention-radicalisation/funding-research-and-projects-radicalisation_en
 https://variety.com/2023/tv/global/bbc-protest-refusing-hamas-terrorists-israel-1235758237/ , and see BBC referring to Paris terror attack https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQiAXWRaHDg
 Indicatively: https://www.adl.org/resources/news/hamas-their-own-words