On Monday, April 29th, the first official debate of the European elections took place in Maastricht, in the Netherlands. Organised by Politico with their usual partners, it featured five out of the six main groups running for the upcoming European Parliament elections, which are set to happen from May 23rd to 26th.
This debate was meant in every way to target young voters, for a number of good reasons. One of them being that young people are currently getting more and more involved in politics worldwide, be it through the Fridays for Future demonstrations or other “channels”. Therefore, the three main themes of this debate were picked accordingly: Digital Europe, Sustainable Europe, and the Future of Europe. Here are some observations pertaining to the content – but also the general atmosphere impression.
Stable Leader: Frans Timmermans (S&D)
Very honestly, Frans Timmermans was the most well-prepared candidate for this debate. He knew all the topics thoroughly, he was able to articulate specific proposal for each main question, and he did not wasted time on any unnecessary argument. However, it is easy to be in this position for someone who is currently dealing with all these topics as Vice-President of the European Commission. Slight advantage that he definitely seized. Showing leadership at every level, he called for Europeans to “vote Green”, reminding everyone that “there is no competition”. Indeed, the Dutch politician chose to be transparent about his intentions in case he was to become the next President of the European Commission: alliance with the Greens, the Left, and an open-door to negotiations with ALDE. Timmermans did not forget to build on the momentum created by the Spanish general elections on Sunday (28.04) evening – including regarding gender equality, which seems to be among the top priorities of all five candidates.
Elisabeth Stursberg (DE, Strasbourg-Groningen), or also known by her classmates as Lizzie, studied Cultural History and Theory & Economics during her Bachelor’s. After she took interest in the selection of partner universities and cities Euroculture offers, she started her Euroculture life with the intention to learn more about European history, culture, and politics and the EU in particular, and find out if she could see herself working for the EU or another IO afterwards.
Inès Roy (FR/MA, Udine-Strasbourg) has a background in Languages and International Business. Her decision to study Euroculture stems from her desire to travel and study at the same time. She has always been interested in the concept of cultures and how they are perceived from different standpoints.
Both have returned from their research semester at Osaka University, Japan, and are their final semester at Université de Strasbourg. Thanks Inès and Lizzie, for taking the time to share your experiences!
1. How did you come to the decision of doing a research track at Osaka?
Elisabeth Stursberg (ES): The choice between internship and research track was not too easy, since both sounded like a great option. What influenced my choice most though was the possibility to spend a semester in Japan, a country I had not visited before but was so curious about! I actually don’t think I would have done the research track if I hadn’t been accepted for Osaka. Another reason was that I had already done several internships during my Bachelor’s (it’s pretty common in Germany and often even implicitly, or explicitly, required by employers) and will probably do at least one more after finishing this MA. Time flew by so quickly already in the first semester, and I just liked the idea of studying for another semester as long as I had the chance. Japan as the destination was also a major factor, since I was going to take the research seminar on Integration Processes in East Asia and in Europe during the second semester – so it just seemed like a perfect fit.
Inès Roy (IR): As far as I can remember, I always wanted to go to Japan to see the beautiful landscapes, as well as to see how the ultra-modern and the traditional interact. However, traveling to and living in a country for a few months are two very different experiences. So the possibility to go there was actually another reason for me to apply for Euroculture! As I don’t speak Japanese and wouldn’t be able to find an internship there, I believed this research semester was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Nienke Schrover (2017-2019) is from the Netherlands. She has a Bachelor degree in Human Geography at Utrecht University and a minor in International Relations at the University of Amsterdam. She decided to apply for the Euroculture programme because she absolutely loved the experience of studying abroad with other international students, and after participating in an exchange semester at Newcastle University, England, for her Bachelor’s, she wanted to experience it again.
For her, the Euroculture programme meets her broader interests as it focuses not only on European politics, but also culture/identity, international relations, and so on. Nienke’s Euroculture life started at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and continued at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. She is currently doing an internship at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, Belgium.
Thank you Nienke, for taking the time to answer these questions!
1. What was the most difficult thing that you had to adjust to when you started the programme?
Oddly enough, the thing I found most difficult to adjust to after starting the program was the fact that people come from such diverse backgrounds. It was quite new for me to see that people had such different levels of knowledge and different perspectives. Since I had lived in the same house for the first 20 years of my life, it was also very new to me to learn about identity and how many of my classmates have family from so many different places. I definitely learned a lot about identities and how to be more open and sensitive to different perspectives. Continue reading “Student Profiles: Nienke Schrover (NL, Groningen-Krakow)”→
Samuel Yosef (2017-2019) is half-Italian and half-Eritrean. Before Euroculture, he studied Law at Sapienza – University of Rome. After his Bachelor’s, Sam wanted to do a Master programme in European Studies that combined travel and an opportunity to experience new things outside his hometown Rome. He heard about an Erasmus Mundus Master from a friend who was doing one on Space Studies. After a look at the universities and cities comprising the Euroculture Consortium as well as the possibility to study outside Europe, he decided that Euroculture was a perfect combination of his ideal MA programme.
He studied in the University of Strasbourg, France in the first semester and spent the second semester in the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. He just returned to Rome after a research semester abroad in Osaka, Japan, and is getting ready to move again to Strasbourg for the last semester of his studies.
Thank you Sam, for taking the time to answer these questions!
1. What was the most difficult thing that you had to adjust to when you started the programme?
Bureaucracy and housing. When I first moved to Strasbourg, I didn’t have a place to live–just an Airbnb–and my mother came with me to find a house. I arrived in Strasbourg a week before classes started. I didn’t know how to look for a house because I’ve never had to do it before. With everything being in French it was hard for me to communicate, let alone find something. On top of that, there are a lot of French “regulations” with the housing search that I didn’t know about. For example, most of the housing offers for students require a French guarantor.
In the end, the housing search turned out to be very hard. It was also partly my fault because it was already too late when I started looking, and anywhere, September is a very busy month for students in search of a place to live. Eventually, everything worked out, but at the time, it felt like my major source of “threat” was finding a house. I learned from this, of course–for my fourth semester, I started looking in September to find a place to live from January.
The Euroculture universities are full of surprises, as was demonstrated in the last edition of the consortium universities, that govered the hidden gems Olomouc, Krakow and Udine. All of the universities in the consortium have their own beauty, and this time we are travelling a little further north: to Groningen, Göttingen and Uppsala. The more northern universities, especially one particular very northern one, have a very obvious con: the rain, the snow, the ever-present cold. Or, in the Swedish case, the darkness. But do not be fooled by this particular con of the north of Europe, because these cities and universities have their own charm.
There’s nothing beyond Groningen
The Groningen city slogan is the following: “Er gaat niets boven Groningen“, or: “there nothing above and beyond Groningen”. It is a pun, due to its northern, and some might say peripheral, location in The Netherlands. There’s literately very little above and beyond Groningen. However, due to the small size of the Netherlands, you are only an hour and a half away from the West of The Netherlands, with cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Not that you would need to go, though, because Groningen is a beautiful and cozy city, filled with students and activities. Continue reading “Euroculture: The Not-So-Cold North!”→
This is the first in a series where The Euroculturer dives into the upcoming elections in The Netherlands, France, and Germany. In this first article, Arne van Lienden explains the stakes in the Dutch elections.
It is safe to say that 2017 will be a decisive year for the future of the European Union. Not only will the EU have to negotiate the exit of the UK from the Union, following the Brexit referendum, but it will also have to contend with uncertain elections in three founding Member States. Among these three are Germany and France, who, especially after the UK’s departure, are the most financially and politically powerful members of the Union. With populism on the rise and anti-EU sentiment becoming more widespread, it is needless to say that these elections will be vital for the survival of the EU, at least in its current form. With the French elections in April and the German elections in September, it might be easy to overlook the Dutch elections this month. Although The Netherlands is significantly smaller and less powerful in the European arena than France and Germany, the elections on the 15th of March will serve as a lipid test for how the electorates of the so-called ‘core’ countries of the EU will respond to the Brexit referendum, austerity measures and budget cuts, as well as the influx of refugees. It is the first round in a series of fights that will decide Europe’s future.
The surge and decline of Geert Wilders
In order to form an executive government in the Netherlands, a party needs a majority of the seats in the Tweede Kamer (Parliament). This comes down to 76 seats out of the 150 available. In contrast to, for instance, the UK, a Dutch party has never managed to win 76 seats outright. Therefore, the Dutch government is always a coalition of different parties, often with strikingly different political ideologies. Especially in today’s fragmented political climate, polls show that the biggest party will probably get no more than 25 seats in this election. This will mean that there is most likely going to be a broad coalition government, which sometimes can consist of four or five parties. The coalition system ensures that governmental policies are always the result of a consensus between different, often opposing, parties, making it impossible for radical policies to get passed. However, a common criticism is that practically nothing ever gets done due to this balancing act.
It is important to understand the coalition system to understand why, in the last months before the election, far-right Eurosceptic Geert Wilders is dropping several points in the polls per week. Of all the 28 (!) parties that are participating in the elections, only a few have not ruled out Geert Wilders’ PVV as a coalition partner. PVV’s stance on Islam and immigration were a deal breaker for parties on both the left and right. For current Prime Minister and leader of the right-leaning VVD Mark Rutte, there is also a personal factor that rules Wilders out as a coalition partner. Rutte’s first government fell after Wilders withdrew his support, something that Rutte has never forgiven. The slim chances of actually ending up in government made the PVV lose many voters – voters who rather strategically support a party that will be able to form a coalition. Nonetheless, recent polls still show that the PVV will end up as one of the biggest parties – if not the biggest – in the Netherlands, and for that reason it will be an important voice in the opposition of the future government. Some people also fear that promises of moderates to not work with the PVV will be forgotten once the votes are cast. Mark Rutte’s VVD in particular is seen as a party that could pragmatically change its tune after the elections.
Puzzling for a coalition
With new polls coming out every other day, Dutch politicians and citizens are puzzling to find a workable coalition that has 76 or more seats in Parliament. The VVD and PVV seem to be leading in the polls, but few other parties want to work in a coalition with these two parties. A more likely option is a center-left government, including Christian-Democrats, socialists, environmentalists, and classical liberals. A loud proponent of a possible center-left coalition is the young Jesse Klaver, leader of GroenLinks (GreenLeft). Often compared to Justin Trudeau for his appearance and political style, Klaver’s GroenLinks is expected to go from four seats to 18 or more. Klaver’s political star is rising and this is frightening the VVD and PVV, who both chose to resign from a televised debate after they heard that Klaver was invited behind their backs. Right-wing tabloid De Telegraaf started the offensive against Klaver and was surprisingly joined by other leftist parties that were aiming to win back voters that have been lured over to GroenLinks. Lodewijk Asscher, the new leader of PvdA (Labor), attacked Klaver for allowing prices to rise due to higher taxes on driving cars and more subsidies for green energy.
Nothing is settled yet, and the coalition negotiations after the coming elections will be fierce and difficult. Although Klaver has repeatedly reached out to the Christian-Democrats as a possible coalition partner, these parties might very well choose to join Mark Rutte’s VVD. The VVD is still rising in the polls, but with a strikingly smaller margin than in 2012. Austerity measures and integrity scandals have made trust in Rutte and the VVD decline significantly, and the campaign by the VVD revolves completely around regaining lost trust, combined with a more right-wing tone to siphon votes from the PVV.
The Netherlands in Europe
What does the current political climate say about the role of the Netherlands in Europe? It is clear that the Netherlands is heavily divided over issues of integration, finance, and Europe. Like many European countries where populism is on the rise, the political debate has become more complicated. With Wilders trying to delegitimize the media and Rutte refusing televised debates, it seems that democracy has already become a clear loser in the upcoming elections. The role of the Dutch in Europe is contested, but except for the PVV and some marginal right-wing parties, it is a political consensus that the Netherlands needs the EU more than that it suffers from the EU.
However, even though the PVV is unlikely to form a part of the government, it has succeeded in hardening the tone of the Dutch political debate and making anti-EU rhetoric more acceptable. To be pro-European is often frowned upon, and needs more explaining than to say one is against the European project. Although the Dutch elections precede the French and German ones, government policy will, for a great part, rely on how the new German and French governments will deal with the EU. The Netherlands is too small to unilaterally turn its back on Europe or to single-handedly speed up the integration processes. It relies on the policies set in the European powerhouses. The normalization of anti-EU rhetoric in the political arena of a founding EU Member State is a frightening development that promises nothing good for the future of Europe. On the other hand, a pro-European center-left coalition could serve as an example to other European countries that, even in a time of populism and the alt-right, progressive policies still stand a chance.
With the United Kingdom bound to leave in the near future, the European Union is working on a daring plan to keep 28 member states. With Brexit approaching and no suitable candidates for accession to the European Union, the European Parliament has decided to split off a part of one of the remaining 27 members in order to keep 28 member states. Federica Mogherini remarks, “We have had an upward trend in regards to membership in the European Community, and we will not allow one referendum to get in the way of that.”
In regards to how this would play out in reality, the Parliament has offered a few suggestions. Among the more obvious options we have Cyprus, who would require the least effort to split up, and Germany, who already has plenty of precedent when it comes to dividing their country. Other suggestions include splitting Holland from the rest of the Netherlands “because then everyone would finally have to get the names right”, Wallonia from the rest of Belgium “because now everyone knows that Wallonia actually exists anyway”, and Paris from the rest of France. One of the earliest suggestions from German MEP Frauke Petry was to split Czechoslovakia in half before she was informed that this had already been achieved. As for the obvious choices like Catalonia, the Parliament shot this idea down immediately. President Martin Schulz said, “If we give Catalonia their independence, next thing you know the Bavarians will want independence and maybe even the Basque. We are committed to 28 Member States, 29 is just a nasty number.”
Mogherini sounded upbeat about this radical plan despite the lack of specifics or tangible details. “Europeans arbitrarily creating new borders has a long history of success. Just look at the old colonies- look how successful that has been.” This is expected to be a top priority of the European Union in 2017 and they have asked the European public for their opinion. The EU has set up a hotline for suggestions at, +32(0)X XX XXXXX, for anyone wishing to have their voice heard.
Featured picture: construction of the Berlin Wall.
This week The Euroculturer is delighted to share this post from travel blogger and Euroculture student Virginia Stuart-Taylor. Virginia’s blog, The Well-Travelled Postcard, is a popular travel blog, aimed at inspiring people to get out and see the world.
Recently I moved to Groningen in the Netherlands to begin the Erasmus programme, Euroculture: Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context. This degree programme has a slightly unusual structure where students move to 3 or more different countries in 2 years and I’ve had a lot of questions asked about the programme by others who are tempted by that idea! My Master’s degree follows a relatively unknown structure that not many people have heard about, but it’s such a great idea that I thought I’d explain it in a bit more detail. First off the name: it’s called an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree.
Is it like Erasmus?
You’ve hopefully already heard of Erasmus… If not, then you’re missing out! Erasmus is an incredible student exchange programme run by the European Commission (an EU institution) that allows Bachelor’s students across Europe to spend a semester or a full year of their degree studying at another university in Europe. It encourages and allows students to live abroad, meet other people from all over Europe, understand another culture and broaden their horizons. Not only that, but the EU gives students an Erasmus grant to help them afford it, which varies from uni to uni, but when I did my Erasmus semester in Córdoba back in 2010-11it was roughly €350 per month. It usually also includes a free course in the language of that country. You can also do Erasmus work placements, such as the 6-month internship I did at Armani in Italy as part of my Third Year Abroad, and you still receive the Erasmus grant. I adored my whole Bachelor’s degree, but I have to admit that my Erasmus year was by far the best year! You can do an Erasmus both at Bachelor’s and Master’s level, although only if your Master’s course is long enough and allows it (which is normally not the case in the UK as they’re only 9-12 months long). Continue reading “What is an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree?”→
‘Little Europe in Bengal’ is a term generally used to refer to a small patch of land on the bank of the river Hooghly in the Indian province of Bengal, where a number of European national groups, such as the Brits, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Danes and the Armenians had once settled and carried out their trade and colonial ventures. Although the British colonial powers in the region gradually seized most of these territories from their Continental rivals, a few scattered architectural remnants from the Dutch and the Danish past continue to play an important role in the unique nature of this area. Enthused by the desire to protect the remnants of these non-British territories, and fanned by the huge sums of money being poured in, the early years of twenty-first century have seen a steady upsurge of interest in these locales.
The Kingdom of Netherlands has been for last few years trying to physically map the Dutch heritage that remains in Chinsurah, and present the findings on an interactive online platform. This endeavor is occurring hand in hand with other Dutch initiatives, such as the publication of a book written by Baule van der Pol about the history of the Dutch East India Company in this region, and a collaboration with the tourism board of the Government of West Bengal to facilitate attracting foreign tourists to these small towns of ‘Little Europe’.
The Danish initiative is taking a different path, for it is putting more stress on physical restoration rather restoration based on digital humanities. The National Museum of Denmark has initiated the ‘Serampore Initiative’ to carry out conservation projects to refurbish the dilapidated Danish architectural remains of Serampore. As the French managed to hold their last bastion, Chandernagore, right up until 1952, the Frenchness of Chandernagore is both tangible and intangible, and is obviously in a better state than the other European remnants which had been long ago forfeited to British rule. However, this does not mean they are lagging behind. Aishwarya Tipnis Architects, the conservation architect firm that has been entrusted with Dutch Chinsurah has also been appointed to engage with the restoration of French Chandernagore. This, in a nutshell, is a story of various European nation states slicing into the territories they once held; this time not under the cloak of colonial power but as heritage conservationists.
As far as this narrative of restoration goes it seems like a tranquil tale of European states, having suddenly remembered their Indian pasts, investing huge sums of money into the conservation and the restoration of their heritage. A closer scrutiny would, however, complicate the tale. The path towards the conservation of heritage can always lead to certain uncomfortable questions being asked, like whose heritage is it? Why have the former colonial remnants suddenly come under the umbrella term of heritage? It is also important to consider what has actually survived from the past, apart from the architecture? Considering something as part of one’s heritage involves recognising what is to be inherited and what not. Only after this act of recognition can the act of preservation begin. It is this primary act of deciding what is worth remembering and conserving that invites more controversy than anything that happens to follow.
This polemic of recognition and conservation often takes recourse to the idea of metonymy, where a smaller part of the remnants can stand for a broader narrative of the European past in the region. The fact that, with the exception of French Chandernagore, there was no uni-linear history of non-British colonialism in any of these small settlements, makes the effort of remembrance more fuzzy and complex. It is a well-known fact that when, in 1825, the Brits were bequeathed Chinsurah in exchange for a Dutch monopoly over Java, they completely dismantled the Dutch Fort Gustavus, and made a British Chinsurah on its rubble. The only thing that remains of the Dutch past is the Dutch cemetery, as it was anathema to desecrate a Christian cemetery even after the Brits took over. An entire historical narrative being built on nothing but a cemetery is in itself a daunting exercise!
Therefore the Dutch in Chinsurah initiative of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in India had to start with a digital humanities project called‘Dutch cemetery’. A digital humanist method to approach heritage was, perhaps, a conscious decision on their part, where one could conserve the Dutch past on a virtual platform rather than on a materially palpable scale, a cheaper and less political project. The Dutchness is then to be invoked in one’s imagination primarily. All they are trying to do is to generate a narrative, composed across several channels of communication – anecdotes, oral history, legends, and fantasies – juxtaposing it with an imaginary idea of space. One can imagine a situation where a cannon is unearthed in an archaeological excavation. The cannon carries a VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) logo engraved in it. Considering the fact that this kind of cannon might have been installed at the entrance to a Dutch fortress, urban archaeologist and conservationists might build a narrative of the spatial configuration of that lost Dutch fortress around the restored cannon. Following the rule of metonymy, these small objects become marker of a larger picture, a larger narrative of the lives and times of Dutch traders and colonials.
However, should the conservation recently carried out in the name of restoring Dutch heritage in Chinsurah totally neglect the layers of British ‘heritage’ that had been laid there over a period of a hundred years? Danish Serampore faced a similar question when they started to restore St Olav’s church. After Serampore was handed over to the Brits by the Danish government, St Olav’s ceased to be a Danish Protestant church and was consecrated as the Anglican Church of that parish. It is therefore difficult to ‘rejuvenate’ and ‘reinvent’ the essential Danish styles and markers without completely exfoliating a century of British heritage. Does conservation of one form or era of heritage inevitably mean the brushing away of another layer of colonial deposit? These complex questions are obviously not exclusive to Bengal, but will arise in any conservation project of European cultural heritage outside of Europe.
The broader question behind this ‘politics of conservation and heritage’ is even more pressing. On 9 November 2014 Chandernagore’s Government College (known as Le College Dupleix during the French rule) organised a conference to engage multiple stakeholders and academics to discuss the renewed European interests in the region. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak from Columbia University launched a strong critique of the ways in which ‘heritage’ is being invoked as a furry comfort against an otherwise atrocious narrative of the colonial presence in these settlements. Now that different European countries are reclaiming a stake in the region under the guise of conservation, redistributing among themselves their respective claims over a space that is inhabited by a populace who might have no interest in the colonial past, eyebrows are being raised.
Similar to Spivak’s line of argument, questions are being asked, sometimes in a hushed tone and sometimes rather loudly, as to where to locate the place of the precolonial past that occurred long before the Portuguese, the Dutch or the French came? It is, in Spivak’s words, the desire of current European stakeholders to use ‘heritage’ – as a gateway to the contemporaneity of a crucial Geo-political location of the modern global constellation, quite similar to the colonial gateway they used in the early-modern era. If ‘heritage’ means only certain artifacts and architectural remains from the European past in the region, how does the region of ‘Little Europe of Bengal’ engage with its own Bengali past? As the narrative becomes more complex the answer to this question becomes all the more important.
One thing, however, remains unblemished. That is the crucial role ‘Little Europe’ plays to this day in both the Bengali psyche and the heritage-enthusiasm of various European bodies. It could at least fulfill a primary task. After a long time of amnesia, the politics around the ‘heritage’ compelled historians to peek into the forgotten ties of Continental Europe with an otherwise British-dominated Indian subcontinent. Little Europe is being historically reinvented not as a tiny landmass in the Gangetic delta, but as a crucial nodal point for maritime journeys from Portugal or the Netherlands to the Far East. It played the role of a middle ground between the metropolises and the margins of the Portuguese and the Dutch Empires – between Amsterdam and the Dutch East Indies, or between Lisbon and Portuguese Malacca. Today’s Little Europe is still at the crossroads, but of an even bigger world.
In my last article we discussed what terrorism is and how the Islamic State got to where they are today. A brief conclusion highlights how terrorism is a method to obtain political power by executing acts of violence directed at civilian targets with the aim of spreading fear amongst a state’s citizens. The process leading up to an act of terrorism may be referred to as radicalization. Today, much is being made about radicalization on the Internet and how violent extremist groups are using the platform to spread their messages worldwide. This article will explore some of these narratives as well as discussing the methods in place to prevent and combat radicalization.
The use of propaganda in conflicts is nothing revolutionary, however what differentiates contemporary extremist propaganda from previous forms is the method of communication. When Al Qaida initiated their large-scale propaganda campaign in the early 2000’s they were dependent on existing media outlets to convey their messages. Rather than having to submit material to established media outlets such as Al Jazeera, today it is possible to distribute messages through an array of outlets online. What this form of communication has enabled is that violence promoting groups may spread their ideologies to an audience of proportions unheard of previously. Twitter, in 2016 alone, removed 235 000 accounts that have been deemed to be supportive and active in the distribution of terrorist-related content.
Since the 2014 self-declaration of the Islamic State’s caliphate [a form of Islamist government representing the political unity and leadership of the Muslim world] the terrorist organisation has rapidly expanded its global propaganda campaign. At the centre of this campaign is Dabiq, the online magazine written in seven languages by IS own media outlet, Al Hayat. Dabiq aims to offer an insight into the “daily life” of the caliphate and combines gruesome images from the battleground with religious discussions and examples of IS built infrastructure. One example of this are articles where converts to the Islamic State offer “sincere words of advice” to former Christians who have converted to Islam, in turn attempting to establish a link between the terrorist group and potential recruits. Outside of Dabiq, IS have released two issues of Rumiyah – Rome – which focuses less on the theological discussions than Dabiq. In the latest issue of Rumiyah readers are offered a discussion on the psychological and practical problems one might run into before conducting a “just terror attack”. Promoting the knife as the weapon of choice, the reader is offered religious guidance aimed at legitimizing the tactic as well as a practical discussion on pros and cons of different types of knives. IS and other self-proclaimed jihadist groups have previously spread these types of “terrorist-attacks for dummies”, for those interested, instructions for bomb-making are only a few clicks away. IS also produce an Arabic newsletter, as well as French periodical Dar al-Islam.
In 2015 I analysed IS propaganda in comparison to Al Qaeda’s and found a clear distinction between how the two groups have presented themselves through outward directed messages. What the study revealed was that IS presented an identity in accordance with a martial role. A martial role, which is one of two aspects of Arena and Arrigo’s theory “the terrorist identity” emphasises military strength and the overwhelming sense of uniqueness within a group. This uniqueness if founded on the establishment of the caliphate and control of a geographical area. IS control of an area spanning across northern Iraq and Syria,(an area roughly the size of the UK) is a clear distinction to other self-proclaimed jihadist-groups. Although Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram are active in specific areas of Somalia/Kenya and Nigeria/Cameroon/Niger/Chad respectively, these groups do not hold uncontested territories in which they are able to produces and uphold infrastructure as IS have. If you are interested in reading more about the self-presented identities of IS and Al Qaida,click here.
Nevertheless, IS have over the past two years gained recognition for the gruesome propaganda videos, which borrow influence from western culture, such as video games and movies. These videos include countless executions, decapitations, public crucifixions, the tossing of HBTQ – persons off buildings, the Jordanian pilot burnt to death in a cage, and suicide bombings. In a new study from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point a group of researchers and military personnel, including leading terrorism researcher Bruce Hoffman, have examined over 9,000 official media products produced by the Islamic State. The study revealed that over 50 percent of produced media focused on issues outside the Islamic State’s borders. These issues contain walkthroughs on how to perform terrorist attacks – such as the one presented in this article –, fatwas calling for attacks against westerners, and several articles condemning and establishing their enemies as the generalizable other. However, new studies are revealing that the group’s presence on social media platforms is reducing.
However, with IS presence reducing on American social media accounts,far right extremist groups have increased by 600 percent on Twitter .Right-wing extremist groups such as the Nordic Resistance Movement (Nordiska Motstånds Rörelsen – NMR), which is predominantly active in Sweden and Finland, presents an often overlooked threat to a nations security. In Sweden the NMR are attempting to frighten city officials and journalists. In Borlänge, the movement’s Nordic hub, officials have been greeted by their front steps covered in blood and in southern Sweden a municipal official had his car lit on fire and garage door covered with the NMR’s symbol. Meanwhile in Finland, the government is attempting to pass legislation which would enable the banning of extremist groups. The new legislation is a response to the death of a 28-year old that died of wounds he received at a NMR demonstration. If you are interested in the rhetoric of right-wing extremists in Europe read my colleague Sabine Volk’s insightful article on the subject.
The counter-narrative method may be divided into three areas; direct counter-narratives, aimed directly at the messages released by extremist groups. Alternative narratives offer an alternative understanding of the narratives released by extremist groups aiming at delegitimising the violence aspect within a group’s ideology. Within the alternative method the messenger, i.e. the person/group delivering the alternative message must retain a high level of legitimacy within the intended recipients. In the case of takfir-salfist jihadist, Imams and other Islamic religious leaders may condemn the fatwa’s produced by the Islamic State and produce fatwa’s condemning violence by drawing references from the Quran. More so, the experiences and knowledge of former members of right-wing extremism has proven to be an effective method for engaging the target audience in preventative discussions. This type of messenger is also gaining traction as a deterrent in jihadist recruitment. The third counter-narrative method is the development of media- and information knowledge and critical thinking amongst youth. This tactic is particularly popular in the Nordic countries. However, despite the new databases, knowledge centres and support for counter-narratives, there is little to no evidence supporting the effectiveness of direct counter-narrative campaigns as part of a radicalization prevention strategy. Rather than acting as a preventative measure the removal of extremist content online, which is a common aspect of counter-narrative campaigns, and messages directly targeting extremist content, are dependent on the publication and distribution of extremist propaganda. Therefore the method is heavily reliant on extremist groups, rather that setting its own preventative agenda.
Another problem facing current preventative campaigns is the difficulty in measuring their success. Security details will always be able to measure the amount of casualties in terrorist attacks and the figures regarding the roughly 30 000 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq have been waved across most international media outlets. The amount of individuals who have not been radicalized is intangible, and existing measurement tools are inadequate. However, leading actors within counter-narratives such as the British think-tankInstitute for Strategic Dialogue are developing instruments for measuring counter-narratives outreach. Nevertheless, measuring likes, comments and shares on social media will not highlight the amount of individuals that have not become radicalized.
Although current research paints a gloomy picture for those encouraging counter-narrative campaigns, those promoting alternative narratives and media- and information education have a more positive outlook. Research in the Netherlands, the United States, and the UK, has pointed towards the potential that alternative narratives may be developed as part of complete anti-radicalization campaign. More so, the application of media and information education in youth is likely to develop the critical thinking amongst a state’s citizens, in turn making them more resilient to anti-democratic narratives.
There is no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to countering radicalization and recruitment to violence promoting extremist groups. However, by combining preventative measures with deterrent methods, which are known as soft vs. tough methods, it is possible to create a long- and short-term strategy to combat terrorism and violent extremism. In this, the internet remains an important battleground.
Eric Hartshornewill be back next month with his editorial asking if either Soft or Tough methods of countering radicalisation are more effective. For Eric’s article on the history of terrorism, click here.