Prevention and intervention

This theme will focus on how different institutional arrangements, interventions and intelligence are related to the level of right-wing violence and militant activity. It will also deal with normative issues related to how liberal democracy should defend themselves against undemocratic and/or illiberal political forces. More specifically, C-REX will examine disengagement and reintegration programs; communicating with extremists; initiation and coordination of state responses; supranational co-operation and coordination; and the balance between prevention and freedom.

The Center will pay specific attention to how civil society organizations and law enforcement agencies deal (or do not deal) hate crimes, hate speech and right-wing violence. The photo shows a far-right activist and a police officer in a English Defence League march in Newcastle in 2010. Photo: Gavin Lynn / Wikicommons

Photo: Gavin Lynn / Wikicommons.

Disengagement and reintegration programs

Several European countries have established programs for facilitating disengagement from extremist groups and their reintegration into mainstream society. These programs vary in terms of who are the target groups (e.g. right-wing extremists, militant Islamists, returning foreign fighters or criminal gang members), which agencies are running the programs (e.g. NGOs, security services, police, probations services, or municipalities), whether they focus on changes in ideology or behaviour (deradicalisation or disengagement), and whether they make use of “formers” as mentors. There have been a few thorough studies of individual exit and reintegration programs recently, but thus far there have only been made superficial comparisons between different programs. A systematic comparative analysis of different types of disengagement and reintegration programs across Europe will be useful in order to assess strengths and weaknesses of different approaches in different contexts.

Communication with extremists

There is a widespread assumption that communication is crucial to extremism, to the point that “strategic communication” has become a buzzword in official circles, think tanks, and academia. It is been argued that a certain ‘narrative’ based upon difference is one of the root causes of terrorism and that a counter-narrative based on similarity constitutes an essential part of counter-radicalization responses. Despite its centrality, however, there has been very little effort to establish an analytical framework that rigorously explains the role of communication in the development of violent extremism. For example, while the police (in Norway and elsewhere) have successfully been using various forms of preventive dialogue vis-à-vis young right-wing extremists, they have had been far less success using the same method towards individuals involved with militant Islamist groups.

Initiation and coordination of state responses

Prevention of radicalization and violent extremism is often complex, as it needs to be handled primarily at the local level, but requires coordination between local agencies as well as with national agencies. Norwegian municipalities learned a lot about how to handle xenophobic youth groups during the 1990s and early 2000s (Fangen & Carlsson 2013), but these lessons need to be adapted to new realities. For instance, existing rehabilitation projects should be researched critically in order to provide successful guidance for policy-makers. How do civil society organizations and law enforcement agencies deal (or do not deal) with hate crimes and hate speech?

Supranational co-operation and coordination

Extremism and radicalization are transnational phenomena. International cooperation and coordina­tion are therefore key elements in coping with extremism and in limiting societal risks and conse­quences of radicalization. Consequently, we need to examine how, to what extent, and through which processes European co-operation or European institutions and policies are emerging in the field of radicalization and extremism, and how European and national institutions can co-exist and share tasks and responsi­bilities in an effective and legitimate manner. International and European policies and responses have not always been successful in actually reducing extremism and terrorism. Responses may have potentially severe consequences for civil liberties and democracy – and can even sometimes backlash in terms of exacerbating extremism (see below).

The balance between prevention and freedom 

The balance between prevention and freedom is a recurring dilemma and needs to be addressed by researchers and in the public debate. Whereas most counter-extremism/terrorism research is mainly focused on effectiveness (i.e. decreasing extremist activity and threat), we are here primarily interested in the tensions between counter-extremism and liberal democratic practices, such as freedom of speech (for extremists) vs. minority protection. First, which, if any, incursions on individual liberty are acceptable for the purpose of protecting society against extremists who are perceived as a threat to social order? Secondly, which, if any, breaches of democratic norms are acceptable for the purpose of keeping extremist parties away from positions of political power and/or preventing their development?

Published Mar. 1, 2016 1:18 PM - Last modified Mar. 15, 2016 9:01 PM