On June 6 2016, a group of experts and students of European studies including Daniele Carminati, Christopher Heumann, Jesse van Amelsvoort, Marek Neumann, Senka Neumann-Stanivukovic, and Yining Chen, had a roundtable discussion on the November 2015 Paris attacks and 2016 Brussels bombings. Yining Chen, then the Editor-in-chief of The Euroculturer, had the original purpose of organizing this discussion to trace and reveal a specific mode of governance, a certain assemblage/arrangement of interlocking concepts, substances, forces including human and non-human agencies and organisms. If we see ISIS attacks as a specific part or so-called “event” of this assemblage/arrangement, how is this mode of governance organized/arranged/assembled within and through those attacks? For instance, who and what are made accountable? What kinds of affects, such as grief, anger, what forms of condemnation or approbation are deployed and mobilized? How do those two attacks rivet scholarly or political attentions? How is their “eventfulness” utilized by market and state actors to make sensible the social distribution of life and death, emergence and extinguishment?
“Elements” thus refer to those “who”s and “what”s, and the “security/governing nexus” can be one of the “how”s. But we are not focusing on those “elements” and “how”s/dispositifs/mechanisms as independent or closed entities, but rather as dispersed and competing discourses and material anchors that constitute the aforementioned mode of governance/arrangement/assemblage.
The talk tackles the following questions.
- What and how are the various elements made relevant in the discourses and practices revolving around the two recent “ISIS” attacks?
- Is there any interaction, interrelation or interdependency among those elements?
- What do those interaction, interrelation and interdependency reveal about how we are governing and being governed?
What I am expecting from the discussion, is a collaborative research on what is continually being cited, circulated, and formed among those various practices, and how those various practices produce substances that meet and mirror the presumption of the cited, circulated and formed.
My personal opinion on the various elements in the discourses and practices revolving around the two recent “ISIS” attacks is that there is an excessive focus on ideological belief. There are two main arguments that support this statement: the factors for radicalisation in Western European Democracies and political power that rests on radical Islamism.
First, the individuals who carried out the Daesh attacks in Paris and Brussels were radicalised in a predominantly non-muslim environment and factors such as social exclusion, identity crisis and lack of perspective for personal success are overwhelmingly responsible for this radicalisation rather than muslim socialisation. The perpetrators of the attacks in Paris and Brussels, grew up and were socialised in French and Belgian “banlieues” or “sensitive neighbourhoods” that feature high crime rates, high unemployment rates and poor living conditions. The dominant factor for their radicalisation was the resentment for the French and Belgium society resulting from these conditions, with radical islamism presenting itself as an outlet for this resentment. Although radical muslim ideology is a dominant factor for radicalisation, I believe that the factors pushing individuals towards radicalisation are overlooked.
The second argument is that the leaders of terrorist groups pursue radical ideologies in order to strengthen their own power through traditional legitimacy in the Weberian sense. Just as the power of European nations was legitimised by a holy alliance with Christianity, leaders of Daesh use radical Islam to inspire loyalty and obedience. Other examples include Wahhabism, a religious sect that the Saudi-Arabian royal family rests much of its power on since the creation of the Saudi Arabian State in the middle of the 18th century.
Overly focusing on increased presence of radical islam in Western societies distracts from pertinent social issues and polarisation of society. Neglecting the role of radical islamist ideology in strengthening the position of power of political actors such as Daesh leadership or the Saudi Royal family harms a crucial argument in delegitimising movements exploiting religion for their own political gains.
The song mentioned in the discussion: IAM – Demain c’est loin live Egypte https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYNeFxSrjHU. According to Christopher, “it is a critique of precarious living conditions in French suburbs that is still relevant today.”
The subtopic I covered attempted to gather the reasons, known and speculative, of why people join ISIS or support their ideologies, both the ones actually going to fight in Syria and the ones embracing the ‘terrorist’ actions in Europe. There are several theories recognizing the fact that most of the recruits are outliers, borderlines, people with mental problems or purposeless people who supposedly ‘failed in life’ and are seeking revenge against society. Yet, according to several experts, the reasons are deeper and more complex than it is commonly known. After every terrorist attack the media attempts to cover singularly every known suspect, deceased or not, while creating an aura of negativity around the attackers. This behavior is legitimate but oftentimes abused. One of the most recent cases has been acknowledging that there may be some specific areas where people are more prone to subscribe to ISIS ideals (e.g. Sint-Jans-Molenbeek). It is not fair to negatively label whole communities because of such events and, additionally, it fails to consider the greater picture. Recruits come from sensibly different walks of life. Several newspapers and experts wondered about what may lay behind the reasons pushing such a different array of people to these final acts, which are commonly fatal for the perpetrators. My part will attempt to gather most significative ideas revolving around the topic and combine them with the main discourse and, eventually, the recent events. A second step would be trying to speculate on the roots of recruits’ reasoning and how to oppose it without causing further social discontent from both parties (Muslim and non-Muslim). The final goal should be to demystify the idea that recruits are all coming from similar backgrounds of criminality and dig deeper into why, even people who apparently have no connection with such extremism, may be willing to join them.
List of sources
Jesse van Amelsvoort
We should always historicize current events, put them in a historical overview. Certainly, choosing the right perspective matters. Following the “wave theory” of terrorism, we could say of the current wave of Islamist terrorism that it comes after anarchist violence around 1900, decolonization violence around the 1950s and revolutionary resistance in the later decades of the Cold War and thus is part of a fourth wave of religious violence. To me, such a perspective seems to include both dispassionate historical observation as well as political motives. It is history of the longue durée, it does not reveal anything particular about our present moment.
For what is distinctive of contemporary Islamist terrorism with which the West is faced, as well as the West’s response to the recent attacks in Paris (of course “Bataclan” and other locations in November 2015, but also Charlie Hebdo in January of that year) and Brussels (just some months, but I am also thinking of the attack on the Jewish Museum) is that it feeds into Europe’s difficult and fractured history with Islam. Islam created Europe as we know it: for the Greeks, “Europe” referred to the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, and it remained so for the Romans. Yet when Islam spread from the Arabian peninsula into the Middle East and Northern Africa, “Europe” moved – emigrated – north, and became synonymous with “Christendom.” The Moors were stopped in Southern France, and consequently pushed back; the Turks came to Vienna, and were pushed back. Isabella and Ferdinand ended the Reconquista when they conquered the last lands of the Emirate of Granada in 1492 (and, in the process, expelled all Jews, too). Islam was pushed beyond Europe’s borders once more. (The Balkans, where we find the most Islamic countries, percentage-wise, have never had a place – that is to say, have held a very awkward place – in the European imaginary, of course.)
Somewhere after 1683, when Ottoman forces besieged Vienna, “Europe” lost interested in Islam and turned its eyes to the world. As the Ottoman Empire went into a long decay, Europeans conquered lands all over the globe and gained wealth until then unimaginable. And so it went, until September 11, 2001, when a small number of airplanes and an outrageous response refocused Western eyes on the Middle East.
It is the premise of scholarship on postcolonial Europe that Europe today has not sufficiently, nor adequately, nor even substantially, dealt with its colonialist and imperialist history. And although it has become accepted that “the Empire writes back,” when the Empire strikes back, those attempts are ill-understood. Europe and the U.S. have ruled over countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa for decades, if not centuries, and have muddled in its politics ever since. The result is chaos, disorder and anger at those Western interventions. Yet we in the West have forgotten about these histories, or chosen to neglect them; instead, we present these attacks come out of nowhere. That is blatantly untrue – could it ever not be?
What’s new or contemporary about postcolonial Europe’s pains? That “they” – Muslims, Islamists, terrorists – are no longer “there,” if they ever were. Pretending that Islam is not part of Europe is senseless and in fact dangerous in our day and age, yet I wonder if politicians and the media understand that.
The discourse surrounding the emergence/existence of ISIS and the recent tragic terror events has, in my view, revealed several interesting elements, of which I would briefly like to discuss two; the different ways of translating international events into domestic courses of various EU member states and the increasingly evident lack of true political statesmanship among EU countries. Furthermore, I will briefly assess which implications these will have on how the EU will govern us.
In the aftermath of recent terror attacks claimed to be committed by supporters of ISIS, all eyes were on the European political elite as these, with both their words and actions, would set the tone of fighting Islamic fundamentalism. It is here that I was puzzled by how the “Islamic terrorism/refugee wave” nexus got pronounced differently among the EU member states. More interestingly, one could observe the reemergence of a soft border between – what is often termed – “old” and “new” Europe. Even more interesting, however, is the fact that while it predominantly were the old, Western, EU member states that were directly affected by the terror, it was the political elite of the new member states that explicitly linked Islamic terrorism to the recent migration issue. Certainly, while the Western European states are not immune to increasing nationalism/populism, whether in the form of the German Alternative für Deutschland, its French counterpart Front National, or the Austrian FPÖ), at the level of the highest political leadership, the discourse was one of caution, moderation, and warning of hasty conclusions that could spark further controversy (think of Merkel, but even Hollande). On the other hand, what we have witnessed in the new member states was a political elite contributing to an atmosphere of fear among the society, heightening political tensions. Here, one only has to think of statements by such politicians as Czech President Zeman, or Slovak and Polish Prime Ministers Fico and Szydlo, respectively.
What, then, is such a division in discourse and way of governing one’s population indicative off? I believe that it speaks to three things predominantly. First, there is a clear difference in the level of democratic consolidation among the two “parts” of the European Union. One again only has to look at the recent policies introduced in Hungary or Poland. This is the more surprising as we have been led to believe that through close observance of the Eastern European countries’ transition towards democracies, the EU has ensured that only consolidated democracies would join its ranks. The recent events, however, beg to differ. Second, the political cultures among the individual EU member states are as far apart as they were two decades ago. The idea of an “ever closer Union” has not materialized. Of course, while now pronounced markedly, this comes as no news to those following EU politics over the last few years, particularly the intra-EU debate surrounding the Greek debt crisis. Third, I see that scholarship on the EU’s enlargement policy is not yet obsolete. While a few years back, the 2004/2007 EU enlargement round has been presented as one of the EU’s most successful foreign policy endeavors, with the recent events enfolding, the EU’s enlargement policy – both past and future – should be revisited critically.
The second element the ISIS-related discourse revealed is the process of political statesmanship giving in into political populism. Naturally, in any times of (perceived) crisis populism flourishes, but the more important it becomes that mainstream political parties row against such populist waves. However, lately, we have seen very little of this among major European political parties. Rather, what we observe is a slow pupulization of mainstream politics, with the extremes becoming acceptable and promotable. We have seen this in the recent Slovakian presidential elections, but also in parliamentary elections across Europe, whether in France, Finland, Croatia, or Hungary. This further impacts on how liberal democracies understand the term “party politics.” First, it becomes increasingly difficult for the average voter to distinguish among the many competing parties as these increasingly become each other’s lookalikes. Second, by incorporating some radical rhetoric – yet never going the extra mile to becoming fully extremist – into their political programs as they fall into the populist trap, traditional mainstream political parties alienate some of their core voters. Third, as a result of the first two, we see new political movements emerge to answer very specific electoral wishes. This further adds to the political fragmentation that we have been observing in the past few decades in EU members states, making deliberative politics increasingly difficult.
Finally, I would like to conclude by a short political forecast. The domestic political fragmentation described above will have – and to some extent already has – far-reaching implications also for EU politics. The EU’s carefully crafted compromise between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism also worked thanks to the underlying logic of carefully balancing the interests of the center right and center left. As such, for instance, introducing the single European market has been offset by more emphasis on re-distributory and market-correcting policies. With the center right and center left losing in strength at the national – and by extension at the EU – level, it will becoming increasingly difficult for the EU to govern us.
Senka Neuman Stanivukovic
Every year, students of the Euroculture program are asked to organize a trip to Brussels for themselves and their fellow students. The trip takes place in the second semester of the 1st year; usually in March or April. Students go to Brussels to gain a glimpse of the Brussels bubble. Sooner or later, some of them will also become a part of this bubble. This year, the trip was scheduled for early April. On the morning of March 22nd, only a few days before planning for this year’s Euroculture trip was to be finalized, Brussels was attacked in three coordinated bombings; one bomb exploded at the Brussels Airport and one and the Maalbeek metro station. A third bomb was found during the Airport search, but it failed to activate. The attack left 35 killed and 300 injured. In my contribution to the panel, I would like to revisit the debate among the Euroculture students and staff that took place in the aftermath of what soon became the Brussels attack. The debate concerned if we should proceed with the trip or not.
I start my discussion – rather unoriginally – with a simple static. On average, 2 million people younger than 75 die yearly in the EU-28. The leading causes of death are heart-attack and cancer. 3% of all deaths are non-natural. The dominant cause of non-natural deaths are transport accidents; 0.3 %. The second most dominant cause of non-natural deaths is falling accounting for 0.2%. Since 1980, there have been roughly 4000 terrorist related deaths in Western Europe. The highest number of deaths by terrorism was in 1988, when 270 people died in the attack on the Pan Am flight. Last year’s attacks in Paris left roughly 150 dead. This year, 35 people died in the Brussels attack. That is roughly 59,965 deaths less than those caused by transport accidents and 39,965 deaths less than those caused by falling.
Now, Euroculture students and staff are a fascinating crowd; surely not easily upset or frightened. We tend not to be afraid of flying, driving, or eating fries. We travel gladly and extensively. We take stairs, ride bikes and walk, so falling is not perceived as life-threatening either. But, in the aftermath of the Brussels attack, whether or not to travel to Brussels was extensively debated. Some were relatively reluctant to go for safety reasons or a general feeling of discomfort. Others were supportive of the trip taking place, arguing that life should continue regardless of (or in spite of) the attacks.
So, why were some of us afraid and why was the trip debated in the first place? Cultural studies (partially security studies also) will tell you that being afraid of terrorism is similar to being afraid of ghosts as neither are real. Terrorism, accordingly, is interpreted as a discursive construction that prevents us from reading these violent acts as counter-hegemonic forces. This is certainly not a justification of terrorism. Rather, the analysis examines practices through which the state, by way of labeling something as “terrorism” or “an act of terror”, disgraces its rivals and reinterprets old disputes. Furthermore, by way of labeling something as “terrorism” or “an act of terror”, the state makes its citizens feel vulnerable and consequently more supportive of illiberal practices such as surveillance or even torture. Accordingly, in some very twisted way, terrorism legitimizes and enhances the state.
Good, so now we know what happens when and after we feel frightened. But, why are we so afraid of terrorism when statistics tell us the real danger lies in the innocently looking patat met mayo? Here, focusing solely on discourse and politics of fear does not provide a complete picture. I will therefore argue that problematization of terrorism as a discursive strategy is a serious case of reductionism. I would therefore, slightly rebelliously, like to move away from the script that was so kindly provided to us by Yining and say that there is more to the story than just discourse.
I therefore argue that – rather than deconstructing the official discourses – we should start by agreeing with them. First, terrorism does present an ultimate challenge to the Westphalian system. It is more than an act of war. It is more than an act from the fringes of society. Terrorism is an anti-thesis of the system because it is fluid, irrational, non-hierarchal, and constructed through the affect. Second, terrorism shifts the us-them binary because it comes from the in-betweens/the lack. Terrorism comes from the gaps of our society. Terrorist organizations may replicate state structures or mode of organization and we do see terrorists relaying extensively on modern technology. But, terror itself denies sovereignty as the main principle of social organization. As such, it is anti-us rather than against-us. Terror is not a counter-sovereignty or counter-reason, but it is anti-sovereignty and reason. Third, and this brings me to my final point, Bush jr. was correct that one can’t negotiate with terrorism. Once negotiations begin, reasons starts and terrorism ends. Bush jr. was, however, wrong on multiple other points including the illusionary that one can fight or enter a war with terrorism.
Good, so, Bush was right, your books were wrong. Still, why are we afraid? Terrorism is ultimately subversive. It destroys the order through which the system is created and shows potentials of a different one. In terror, we are all equal as potential victims. Immediate reactions to terror are physical; we are shocked, afraid, disoriented, angry or unprotected. Terrorism destroys reason. We see production of discourses (legitimizations) before and after terror, but these are always dislocated. Terrorism is therefore not a counter-force to the self, it is the negation of the self. The only way a state can respond to terrorism is through destroying itself. Fascism, as an extreme form of a control society, is ultimately self-destructive.
I will end with an anecdote. Last Saturday, the City of Groningen has organized an open-day at a Groningen police-force and fire-brigades. My son follows “Fireman Sam” almost religiously, so we went to see firetrucks, etc. Among others, we were shown a police-bus used for transport of inmates. We were explained that because the Dutch penal system is highly efficient, home-grown convicts are no longer held in prison but often serve time under house arrest. This, however, creates a surplus in a prison capacity and these busses are often used to bring Norwegian and Belgian inmates to Dutch prisons to serve a part of their sentence here. It is a good system, we were told, because in-house sentences have proven a dropping rate of recidivism, while the expensive prison system continues to be financed by foreign capital. However, this situation turns Foucault on his head. Is the fact that “the mad”, “the bad”, and “the ill” are no longer closed away, but are walking freely among us, a sign of diminishing state and a greater liberty? Alternative being that we are all – in the eyes of the state – potentially “mad”, “bad”, and “ill” and live in an overarching yet invisible madhouse, prison, and a hospital.
In conclusion, I gladly accept Yining’s request to discuss discursive responses to the recent terror attacks in Europe. We can discuss how acts of terror were reasoned/normalized by the elite, media, or even Euroculture discourses. Yet, we should not forget that terror and terrorism is not normal, that it is anti-normal. Accordingly, I would like to push the debate towards terror as a subversion of normality.
James W. Leigh (Absent due to illness)
I broadly propose that many of the narratives concerning recent terrorist acts perpetuated in mass media do not reflect carefully enough on the relationship to certain ‘internal’ issues in European or Western societies. Here I am not referring to questions of foreign policy (and therefore to a view of terrorism as a response to the actions of Western states), as I see this as another potentially misleading argument. Instead I suggest that because recent acts of terrorism in Europe have tended to be perpetrated by citizens of European countries, people who grew up in those states, our understanding of them needs to become more focused on internal factors.
Essentially what makes an act ‘terrorist’ is not just the act in itself, but more so the framing of it and the transmission of fear/terror via mass communication. Thus when an attack takes place, it is our mass narration of it which determines its precise nature. Yet in our desire to construct a terrorist bogeyman, a frightening ‘other’, out of the perpetrators of the attacks in Paris and Brussels, we do not merely fulfill the destiny of the act by constructing it as ‘terrorist’; we may also overlook the more ordinary/banal (criminal) nature of those responsible. This is problematic, as it means we focus on a particular set of extremes, those which can be tied to religion/belief and therefore fit in with the idea of Islam as the ‘other’, the non-European enemy without.
Instead we could look towards the more commonplace social problems of those who carried out the Paris and Brussels attacks, which may be considered as challenges ‘within’. These individuals appear drawn to extremes, whether religious or non-religious. Prior to religious fanaticism, the majority were at some point involved in activities which would appear somewhat contrary to social norms; drugs and arms dealing, etc. Thus radicalisation is important, but it is only one factor, and moreover is a later stage in a larger process; it is not necessarily the root of the problem. Focusing on the Islamist character of the attackers or links to ISIS has two particular effects; it emphasises the alien, ‘other’ nature of the perpetrator without reflecting that they originate ‘within’, and it overlooks the somewhat broader sociopathic and criminal characteristics of these individuals (and how they arise). The result: We are too focused on asking how to address radicalisation itself, rather than asking how certain people become open to radicalisation in the first place, and how we might deal with the social ills which give rise to such openness before it gets to that stage.
-Figures are collected from the Eurostats.