Me Too: A Temporary Social Media Phenomenon?

By Maeva Chargros

It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow. It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.” (Huffington Post)

Me Too. Two words that seemed brand new last year (in 2017), when Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and many other (social) media were submerged with the now famous and symbolic ‘hashtag’. The most disturbing part of this ‘movement’ (or ‘phenomenon’ as it is sometimes called) might be its lack of “newness”. Unfortunately, there was nothing unusual, nothing unfamiliar about it… except maybe its scope, and of course its prolonged effects. So, where did this Me Too movement really originate from? What can be said about it, one year later? But most importantly, how can we respond to this movement within the academic world? Though such questions would definitely deserve a couple of books each (at least!), I decided to try and gather some answers. Continue reading “Me Too: A Temporary Social Media Phenomenon?”

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Collective Memory in Sweden: the Living History Forum

By Anne-Roos Renkema

No country exists without its history. Or, perhaps equally as important, the specific way it deals with this history: its memory culture. These memory cultures tell us a lot about a specific society, as it tells us one important thing: how it chooses to deal with its past. Memory culture refers to all practices of memory and commemoration, as well as education about the past – and, especially, the darker pages of its history.

One such country is Sweden. Traditionally a militarily neutral country, its post-war memory culture was concerned with exactly that: its perceived neutrality, especially in Europe’s most traumatic experiences in the twentieth century. There has been a shift in Swedish memory culture since the late 1990s, with Swedish historians paying more attention to Sweden’s role in World War II, and its perceived lack of involvement in the conflict. The country now has its own institute for Holocaust commemoration, which uses the Holocaust as a starting point to discuss issues of tolerance, called ‘Forum för levande historia’ (Living History Forum).[1] Why has Swedish memory changed so drastically since the 1990s, so many years after World War II? Continue reading “Collective Memory in Sweden: the Living History Forum”

Summer Exists So You Can Read

By Maeva Chargros

Any decent human being knows this very basic fact: extreme temperatures exist so you can read without feeling too bad for not doing what you were supposed to do. In my case, I put the “extreme temperature” boundaries around +25°C and -25°C. When the weather gets warmer or colder than these, my brain automatically switches to the “non-stop reading” mode. Therefore, this summer’s heatwave gave me the very pleasant opportunity to drift away from Central European topics, back to my earlier shores for a few days. Let me introduce you to three amazing Nordic writers!

FINLAND & ESTONIA: Norma, Sofi Oksanen.

It is hard to be concise and objective when mentioning this writer whose novel Purge (Puhdistus in Finnish, Puhastus in Estonian) literally changed my life forever – and for the better. Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish-Estonian writer who likes to draw humanly touching portraits of women and their – usually complicated – past, present, and future endeavours. In Norma, we meet a young woman whose mother just killed herself without giving any warning sign of such psychological despair before this fateful morning. She struggles to understand what happened during the last few days of her mother’s life and starts realising the story behind this violent death dates back to decades, even centuries ago – and involves four different continents. Continue reading “Summer Exists So You Can Read”

The EU & Minority Languages Promotion

By Roberta Ragucci

The European Union is home to 60 regional or minority languages which are threatened and risk to disappear. Language can constitute more than just a communication tool, as it can be regarded as a bearer of culture and traditions. In such a culturally diverse environment, where the EU can be seen as an engaging multicultural mosaic, is the diversity constituting a key point for our sense of communality? Or is the presence of multiculturalism representing an obstacle for a potential homogeneity?

One of the most varied and endangered linguistic minorities in Europe is the Sami. The Sami is an indigenous people living today in a territory which extends on four countries (Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway), in a region called Lapland. Sami livelihood and economy was mainly based on the reindeer husbandry, coastal fishing, and hunting. Thus, due to their need to follow reindeers, they have never lived in one and only big community, setting up several smaller communities instead. Consequently, their nomadic life led to the development of different Sami languages, at least ten, which cannot be classified simply as dialects of the same language. Nowadays, the Sami language which counts the larger number of speakers is the North Sami, followed by the Lule Sami and South Sami. It belongs to the finno-ugrian linguistic family and it is commonly divided into three branches, depending on the grade of mutual intelligibility they can reach.

Since the establishment of borders in the Scandinavian peninsula and Russia, the Sami population quickly became a minority and encountered all the correlated difficulties as, for instance, the prohibition to speak their own language and the obligation to learn the new majority (“national”) languages. This was a consequence of the development of the agricultural activities, which implied a progressive settlement in the most Northern-most areas where the reindeers used to graze, and the wish to reach a certain homogeneity amongst the territory after the drawing of new borders. Thus the Sami people was considered a threat to the in-borders safety and homogeneity of the now “national” population. Continue reading “The EU & Minority Languages Promotion”

Online Terrorism: Radicalisation on the web

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Cover of ‘Dabiq’, an ISIS propaganda publication distributed online.

Eric Hartshorne

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.

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Usama Bin Laden depended on mainstream media to distribute his messages.

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.

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Excerpt from ISIS magazine ‘Rumiyah’, giving tips on how to conduct a knife attack.

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.

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Excerpt from ISIS execution video of American journalist James Foley.

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.

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A march in Sweden of the extremist right-wing organisation, the ‘Nordic Resistance Movement’.

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.

Nevertheless, European states are actively countering extremist anti-democratic forces online and offline. Out of these anti-radicalization methods online, the use of counter-narratives is becoming increasingly popular, with the EU’s Counter-terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, the latest to endorse the methods potential. However, is the hype surrounding counter-narratives justified?

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Excerpt from ‘Dabiq’ showcasing the supposed benefits of life under ISIS.

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-tank Institute 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.

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Excerpt from ‘Al Qaeda’ in the Arabian Peninsula’s magazine ‘Inspire’. It highlights that the method of radicalising online has been widely adopted.

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 Hartshorne will 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.

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“Scotland – are you ready for more? Scotland on course for second independence vote after Brexit.” by Emily Burt

“Little Europe in Bengal: Contemporary trends in conservation” by Arnab Dutta

The Public, the Private, and the Privates: Europe’s Abortion Debate against Shifting Backgrounds

 

Sophie van den Elzen

Recurrent images of the masses of women filing through the streets of Europe’s capitals remind us that the conflict over whether to prioritize women’s right to choose or a fetus’ right to live is one at the heart of many major social debates. Not only does it chafe at the junctions between social progress and tradition, individualism and normativity, encouraging women to exercise their right to self-determination and protecting sacralized family life; the issue also serves as a pin on which politicians hang the canvases they paint of ‘their’ nations as either traditionalist religious countries respectful of their past (such as Poland under PiS) or liberal countries  pragmatically looking to the future (e.g. The Netherlands under VVD).

With Europe’s eyes glued to those countries with the most ostensibly hostile public opinions to the right to legal abortion, it is perhaps also important to glance over at those in which a woman’s right of choice is most firmly established. Continue reading “The Public, the Private, and the Privates: Europe’s Abortion Debate against Shifting Backgrounds”

The European Union’s ‘Game of Thrones’: Who Will Be The Next President of The European Parliament?

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EU Parliament in session

Bastian Bayer

Who will be the next president of the United States of America seems to be the big question of 2016, but in the European Parliament another game of thrones has begun.

At the last European Parliament elections in 2014, the conservative EPP and the social democratic S&D made a deal and signed a written agreement that meant that Martin Schulz, the S&D candidate, would become president for the first half of the legislative period and  that the EPP would pick the president for the second half.

Now with the first half coming to an end in January 2017,  the current president Martin Schulz does not seem to be willing to leave office, despite the EPP insisting on the instillation a new president from among their own ranks.

The face of EU policy

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Martin Schulz, President of the EU Parliament

Schulz has been, with interruptions,  president of the EP since 2012 and a Member of the EP (MEP) since 1994. He is often portrayed as a down to earth politician, ingrained and diligent. He is said to have strengthened the position of the European Parliament and even critics say he has made the EP more visible to the European public and the world.

He is considered to be the most influential president in the history of the European Parliament.

However his path to power and appreciation was rocky. The son of a police officer, he wanted to become a football player in his youth but a knee-injury made a professional career impossible. As a result this crushed dream Schulz became an alcoholic in the mid-70s which saw him lose his job and almost get thrown out of his own apartment.

However, despite this inauspicious start, Schulz eventually overcame his addiction with the help of his brother.

What followed is a remarkable career.  After a career  as a bookstore manager Schulz became mayor of his home town, Würselen, following his first engagement in the German Social Democratic Party. In 1994 he was elected member of the European Parliament and became its president in 2012. He reached a high point of his career when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize together with van Rompuy and Barroso on behalf of the European Union.

In 2014 Schulz wanted to become president of the EU Commission, but in the European elections the Conservatives became the largest party and their candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the Commission, a post he still holds to this day. Nevertheless, this setback did not stop Schulz from being re-elected as President of the EP.

Power play in the middle of the greatest crises in the existence of the EU

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Tusk, Schulz and Juncker

Schulz’s future, however, is unclear, as the first half of this legislative term comes to an end. According to the agreement, Schulz will be replaced by EPP member. However, for some, the agreement does not fit the new circumstances Europe finds itself in.

The S&D argues that with Juncker as President of the Commission and Tusk as President of the Council, already two of the key positions are held by EPP members; and to keep the balance between the largest EU parties, the presidency of the EP should stay with the S&D.

Even a prominent EPP politician and former competitor supports the idea of Schulz retaining the presidency after January 2017, with the simple reason:

“We need stability.”

Just recently Juncker spoke about the many challenges the EU faces in his ‘State of the Union’ address. Brexit, the refugee challenge, economic stagnation and youth-unemployment among many other things.

“Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis.” said Juncker.

To keep stability in these difficult times, Juncker would like to keep the leadership of the institutions as they are, namely, Schulz as president. It is no secret that Martin and Jean-Claude work closely together, Der Spiegel has even accused them of mutually securing each other’s posts.  Juncker said:”The relationship between the Commission and the Parliament has probably never been as good as it is now”, so “Why change a reliable team?”

However the EPP has made it crystal clear that they will not have Schulz for the next half of the legislative period. Schulz has been heavily criticised for not sticking to the agreement and the same critics have claimed that he has made the representation of the European people a one-man-. These critics claim that “if Schulz gave the parliament a face, it is primarily his face”.

On the other hand, if Schulz id removed; whom is the EPP going to nominate? For an internal primary on 12 December candidates need to be found. However, they lack strong candidates:

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Antonio Tajani

So far the Italian Antonio Tajani, the French Alain Lamassoure and the Irish Mairead McGuinness have been mentioned as possible successors to Schulz. However Tajani is weakened by being close to former Italian PM Berlusconi, who has been disgraced by many scandals.  Also as former commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, he supposedly involved in the emission scandal and has already been summoned before the investigation committee. All of this means that he is seen as unenforceable in the parliament.

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Alain Lamassoure

The other candidates have similar shortcomings. Lamassoure has the reputation of being uncontrollable and prideful, some say thinking of himself as the French president. McGuinness, as a woman, current EP vice-president and a representative of a small EU Member State, seems to have the best chances of getting  a majority in the parliament. Nevertheless she is perceived as a rather plain Jane candidate and has not excited much attention.

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Mairead McGuinness

Currently, Schulz is fighting to forge a coalition with Liberals, Greens and EPP renegades. Yet it seems to be unlikely that he will cobble together enough votes without the backing of the EPP.

So what is next for him? Luckily another throne, perhaps a greater one, is up for grabs. In Berlin, some people would like to see Schulz as chancellor- the candidate for the SPD in place of the unpopular Sigmar Gabriel, to challenge Angela Merkel in the elections for the German parliament 2017 Regardless, it looks like Schulz has only begun to play.

For more by Bastian, click here.

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What is Terrorism? A brief history of Terror and the Rise of IS

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ETA, a Basque militant organisation pose for the camera

Eric Hartshorne

Nice, Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Ankara, Baghdad, Lahore, Dakka and Orlando are just a few of the cities worldwide that have in 2016 been at the receiving end of violent extremist attacks. The list could be extended and made more dramatic, which would include several hideous attacks in Iraq and Turkey which have taken place in the last couple months. One feature that connects these attacks is terrorism, and to the now officially classified as terrorist, Islamic State in the Levant and Iraq (IS). In Europe, the EU and its member-states are on high alert, allocating large amounts of resources to combatting terrorism. Increased prison sentences, infringing surveillance and measures such as the removal of citizenship and the instigation of a state of emergency have been implemented across the continent. It is a situation Europe is trying to grapple with. However, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the current situation, we must take a step back and discuss what exactly is being combatted- what is terrorism? We must also ask how IS – the group currently seen as the most prominent terrorist organisation active in Europe and the Middle East– ended up where they are today.

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The Red Army Faction, a left-wing terrorist organisation operating in 1970s Germany.

When discussing terrorism there are two main points which are crucial to its understanding. That is, that terrorism itself is a method, and that its ideological foundation may differ over time. Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading terrorist researchers and his definition of terrorism relies heavily on the methods executed by a group or an organization. Hoffman’s definition of terrorism is as a method of which the main practice is the deliberate use of non-democratic means to obtain political power. The most common type of non-democratic means is the use of violence to spread an ideological message, whereas in democracies the state maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. By attacking vulnerable groups, such as civilians, the aim of such attacks is to spread fear amongst its victims and the political leadership of a country by causing uncertainty and unrest. The second point is terrorism’s capacity to change over time. David Rapoport’s terrorist wave theory highlights the violent method’s evolving character, dividing modern terrorism into four specific eras. Each era has unique  characteristics.

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IRA gunmen in west Belfast

The first era developed as a response to the Russian Czar’s inability to instigate political and economic reforms leading to internal dissent and the rise of anti-government movements. The second wave, which lasted from the 1920’s to the early 1960’s had its ideological foundation in national self-determination, and included such groups as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Basque independence organisation, ETA. The third wave was social revolutionary in goal and included various socialist extremist organisations in Europe, such as the Red Army Faction in Germany. Within this third wave (1960’s to 1979) the methodological base of modern day terrorism was laid by the adoption by terrorist organisations of techniques such as sustained bombing campaigns. Today’s era, also known as the fourth or religious wave is characterised by its adaptable usage of different techniques and the ease of transmission of propaganda. This enables groups in this contemporary wave to remain active and more effective compared to the groups in previous waves.

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MILF Members on parade

A quick historical overview of Al Qaeda’s development reveals some of these traits. As a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a global mujahedeen movement grew out of the Afghani resistance movement. Following the Soviet’s withdrawal in 1989, one of the movement’s key members would gain further influence, Osama Bin Laden. Fast forward fifteen years and the Iraqi war is at a worst, and as a response to the US led invasion, Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda establishes an Iraqi branch through a local insurgence group. This new Al Qaeda branch came under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and was to be known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. AQI would continue to develop during the American led occupation and with the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the group’s new leader after Zarqawi was killed in an American airstrike in 2008, the Islamic State was born. There is obviously much more to IS’s development than just Al Qaeda’s decentralization, such as the Shiite majority government’s treatment of the country’s Sunni Muslim’s, but what their development highlights is how groups within the religious wave are able to evolve past there parent organizations to adapt to new situations while maintaining the momentum of the ideological base.

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Osama Bin Laden

IS in itself represents an interesting case study when discussing terrorism, returning us to the first theme of terrorism as a method. When the group proclaimed its Caliphate in 2014 much of the western world’s response focused on denouncing the group as a terrorist organisation, while IS developed its own propaganda aimed at emphasizing the group’s aim of establishing an Islamic nation. IS did so by emphasizing the everyday aspects of life within the Islamic State through its different media outlets such as its online magazine Dabiq, which is translated into seven languages and well worth a read for those interested in IS rhetoric. In the early days of the Islamic State, the group would embrace modern methods of terror such as suicide bombings and kidnappings. However, rather than directing such attacks towards citizens, such methods where used for military means. An example of such a tactic is how IS would pack armour-plated trucks with explosives that would then be driven into a military checkpoint and detonated. This combination of military and terrorist tactics was a crucial element in the rapid expansion of the group across Iraq and Syria, at a time when the militaries of these countries were divided and weakened by war. However, since IS has suffered military setbacks at the hand of coalition forces and the Iraqi army, it is possible to identify a change in tactics. The planned attacks in Paris, Brussels, Turkey and across Iraq followed by the continuous onslaught of lone-wolf attacks such as those in San Bernardino and Orlando highlight this change in tactics. Today IS is, by Hoffman’s definition, deploying the full arsenal of terrorism, targeting civilians in order to spread fear.

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A man carrying the flag of the militant terrorist organisation IS

Today’s religious wave of terrorism has long surpassed the life expectancy of Rapoport’s previous eras, challenging previous research and methods in combatting terrorism. However, today new innovative measures are being examined to combat this wave of terrorism from a non-militarized perspective, in the hopes of treating the problem at its source. At Uppsala University an international and interdisciplinary team led by Professor Isak Svensson of the Department of Peace and Conflict aims at exploring contemporary peaceful means for resolving conflicts with at least one self-proclaimed jihadist actor. Although not directly applicable to the attacks in Europe over the past years, the research project aims at revealing the potential or limitations of peaceful means in resolving local conflicts such as those in Nigeria with the Islamic militant group, Boko Haram, Afghanistan with the Taliban and in Syria and Iraq with IS. What connects these groups is their self-proclaimed ideological bases within the religious wave of terrorism. These groups, along with the likes of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines all hold geographical territories under their control and claim to be committed to an Islamic jihadist ideology, however to date it is only IS who has conducted, and claimed connection to, attacks in Europe. The response resonating from western states has to date been tough. However, more and more states are adopting the “softer” approaches to counter-terrorism, pushing the envelop for new ways to prevent individuals from radicalizing, rather than solely focusing on preventing or responding to attacks. In the end, the phenomenon known as terrorism is unlikely to disappear in any foreseeable future. It is easy to forget in today’s jihadist dominated terrorism discourse that left- and right-wing extremist groups have made their presence felt in the not to distant past and may do so again. In Sweden alone, over thirty planned housing facilities for asylum seekers have been burnt by a group of sympathisers of the far right agenda.

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Refugee centre in Norway set aflame by right-wing extremists

Although the near future may seem bleak there are several initiatives pointing in the right direction. In Århus, Denmark, the local counter-radicalization model – a co-operation between the municipality, regional police force and local mosque – has set the precedent for the soft method approach, valuing integration and participation over punishment and exclusion. In Sweden, a national coordinator to defend democracy against violent extremism is pushing for preventative measures such as developing the critical analytical skills of youths regarding the internet and within the new strategy (July 2016) the government encourages local initiatives of cooperation between the religious communities, municipalities, authorities and police. In complete opposition to such initiatives, the current debate regarding the so called burkini is doing nothing but adding flame to fire which is the ISIS propaganda and recruitment machine. Nevertheless, with the amount of foreign fighters traveling from Europe to join IS falling, along with the groups geographical area, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The question is not if the fourth wave of terrorism will end but when.

Click here for more by Eric Hartshorne.

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A weekend in Stockholm

Elena Mitryukova is a Euroculture student who loves the international experience of the two years of the Master programme. She loves travelling, looking for adventures and running from the routine. “The most amazing adventure for me is the people I meet on the way and what I learn from them,” she says. “Right now I am living in Krakow, Poland. Originally I am from Volgograd, Russia. And I am not sure where I will be in several years. To be honest, I like this. I had barely travelled until 21 and until my first big trip to the United States for 4 months. And then I could not stop myself. I like planning trips and can give a lot of tips on how to spend less or to find something special while travelling. I will be happy to share my experience.”

This is a short report about several days I spent in Stockholm, some tips on how to save money there and what to do. I do not claim being the best expert and certainly do not compete with the students studying in Uppsala. However it is from my friends who asked, persuaded and questioned me on my trip, that this report was born.
Stockholm is a beautiful city, tolerant, democratic, open-minded, interesting and worth visiting. However, probably not all of this is true in February… Before arriving in the city, I had been advised three times to come in summer instead. However I still enjoyed it and would like to see what Stockholm is like during the warmer seasons.

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Continue reading “A weekend in Stockholm”

Teacher Benjamin Martin “What’s special about Uppsala University? Well, we’re the oldest and coldest!”

Euroculture Uppsala has been one of the most popular universities in the MA Euroculture Consortium, when it comes to the number of students it attracts every semester. Rumor has it, ‘Ben’ might be the answer. The Euroculturer has invited Benjamin Martin, Programme Directer and Teacher of MA Euroculture at Uppsala University to ask about his work, his research, and Europe as he sees it.

Dr. Benjamin Martin

Benjamin Martin, Programme Director & Teacher

Euroculture Uppsala

Photo credit: Tom Weller 

Topic 1. Euroculture Uppsala

Q1) Hello, Benjamin. Could you briefly tell us about your job as Programme Director and Teacher of MA Euroculture in Uppsala University and also the courses that you’ve been teaching? Also, when was your first encounter of MA Euroculture and how did it happen?

I’ll take your questions in reverse order (and call me Ben). I first encountered the Euroculture program through a friend – Magnus Rodell, a Swedish historian whom my wife knew from university. He taught in the Euroculture program and recommended that I apply for an Erasmus Mundus fellowship as a “third country” visitor to the program. I got that fellowship and thus was able to to teach a bit in Euroculture at Uppsala in the fall of 2007, and then to attend the 2008 Intensive Programme(IP) in Krakow. These were both great experiences, but not ones that I thought would lead anywhere in particular. In 2008 I began a job teaching European history in San Francisco, and figured that was it for me and Euroculture. But life has a way of surprising you sometimes…

The job as director I say more about below. As for my teaching, I lead the historical part of the Fall semester group’s first course, “Historical and Religious perspectives,” as well as Eurocompetence I; in the Spring term I lead the IP preparation and methodology course.

“Life has a way of surprising you sometimes…”

Q2) Out of twelve Euroculture Consortium universities, what distinguishes Euroculture Uppsala? Also, Euroculture Uppsala is especially fit for students with research interests in which field? (from past students’ research topics)

Ah, that’s a tricky question. I’m not sure I know enough about all the other programs to say what’s distinctive about our program, except perhaps some obvious things; that we’re the oldest and coldest, for example. More seriously, the Euroculture teaching staff has its particular interests and specialties, but Uppsala University offers great opportunities for research in all sorts of fields, of course; I’ve been pleased to see how recent generations of students have done research in the most varied areas, and developed connections—through their thesis work or as part of a “research track” placement—with a whole range of departments and faculty members far beyond the Euroculture team.

Q3) What are the challenges of being a Programme Director in MA Euroculture programme? And what do you like most about the job?

Well, although it is a part-time job, it certainly doesn’t feel that way at certain times of the year. The position demands a rather spread out set of activities: planning course schedules one minute, evaluating a placement proposal another, communicating Uppsala University’s views to the Consortium office in Groningen, and vice versa, and so on. To say nothing of simply answering email, of course. I certainly have been learning a lot; about the workings of the Swedish university system, and about the pleasures and difficulties of pan-European university cooperation. Working in Euroculture, perhaps especially as a non-European, offers constant insight into (a small piece of) what European integration really is, how important it is, and how much work it can be!

What I like most are the personal contacts—with students, with faculty at Uppsala, and with our consortium partners. I am genuinely fond of the Euroculture gang, which, for example, makes the management meetings (while not on the face of it the most thrilling occasions) a pleasure to attend.

“I certainly have learned a lot about the pleasures and difficulties of pan-European university cooperation…”

Ben & Cameron

With Cameron Ross, Programme Coordinator of Euroculture Uppsala

Euroculture Uppsala

Topic 2. Your research

Q1) You are from the USA, but it seems like you have had strong interest in European literature, culture, and languages for a long time. You studied Romance Languages and Literatures (Italian) for your BA. What made you choose Europe and more specifically, Italy?

I spent a year as an exchange student in a small town in northern Italy in 1990-91, and while I was often homesick, etc., that really was a decisive moment in my life. I suppose it was the intensity of the experience—learning the language, figuring out a culture, getting an altered perspective on where one is from (all clichés, I know, but all true, too)—that got me so interested. That was also the first time I though hard about matters of identity; thinking for example about why it was not OK to speak northern Italian (Veronese) dialect in school, why people found it so hilarious if I tried to speak dialect myself, why the kids gave the girl from Calabria (in Italy’s South) such a hard time, and so on. I have since studied a lot of German history, and now have learned Swedish, but there are key features of Italian history that have continued to fascinate me and keep me coming back.

” There are key features of Italian history that fascinate me and keep me coming back…”

Q2) From the titles of your publications, I can see your enthusiasm in Fascism, Nazism, and the relationship of those two with Literature, Culture, Politics, and even Films.  What about Fascism and Nazism that fascinate you and also, how do the traces of them manifest in today’s world?

I’d like rapidly to dispel the notion that I am enthusiastic about either fascism or Nazism (!), but yes, I have spent a lot of time reading about them. I came to Italian culture and its history first, and in that way learned about fascism. My interest in Italian-German contacts and comparisons led me to study German history and to develop a project in which the Nazi regime was a major (but not the only) actor. I was and remain especially interested in the way Italian fascism, and later also Nazism, mobilized cultural life and aethestics as part of a poltical project. I have come to think that the political project itself cannot really be understood without reference to culture. The thing is that fascism and Nazism are not just two movements or regimes that happened to take place in Italy and Germany; they are important parts of the process by which those two countries entered and responded to modernity. So there are traces of them (and of immediate postwar responses to fascism and Nazism) everywhere – not only or necessarily in radical right-wing politics, but in the layout of towns and cities, the structures of politics, the tenor of public life, and so on.

Q3) Could you tell us about your current research project and plan for the future research?

I am writing on how Nazi German and fascist Italy collaborated and competed in an effort to create a “new order” in European cultural life in the 1930s and during World War II. As for what’s next, I have a variety of ideas, most of which have to do with the ideological history of international institutions.

Topic 3. Europe as you see it

Q1) One of the two themes of the 4th edition of The Euroculturer is ‘My Europe, as you see it.’ You have been living in Europe for quite a while and also have family here. From your experience, what is the strength of Europe despite the problems it is facing, most notably, economic crisis and high unemployment rate of young people?

Well, it is of course significant where you are looking from when you look at Europe. Living in Sweden and working in the European university world, a typical day in “my” Europe is characterized by functional public transport (in Stockholm, where I live), careful zoning laws that preserve the countryside in the train corridor from Stockholm to Uppsala, top-notch publically funded university facilities at Uppsala; and in the meantime my children are in good and free or highly subsidized school/daycare, to which we can bike from our home without crossing more than one street, because of the planned out and publically maintained network of bikepaths. Naturally, these things strike me because they are unlike life in most of the United States. Sweden is of course not the same as “Europe” in this regard, but it’s true that the Europe of my experience is a place where the mark of the interventionist state is all over the place, in planning and making possible a particular vision of democratic society, one that voters here chose over and over again. The irony, of course, is that these things I perceive as European (namely state intervention into the economy through high progressive taxation and large-scale investment) are now rejected or seen as impossible by European leaders as they struggle to respond to the current crisis. How broad really is the range of choices open to today’s Europe? That is of course a complex question. Greece can’t just decide to behave like Sweden, not least because the country does not control its own currency, but also for a host of geographical, economic, historical, and cultural reasons—just the sort of factors that make it so hard to talk about “Europe” at all, and that make it so interesting to study.

“The irony? The European state intervention is now rejected or seen as impossible by European leaders…”

Q2) You spent several years in Europe in your early twenties thanks to the fellowship you’ve received including Fulbright and German Chancellor fellowship. Even though you are still quite young, if you could compare the problems young people in Europe had faced at that time with those we are facing currently, what will be the biggest differences? Was it a better time back then or there is no difference at all? 

Well, I wasn’t in Sweden in 2000-2002, and now I am rarely in either Rome or Berlin (where I was then), so I cannot compare directly. One key thing is surely the economic (and thus social) changes that have come along with the Euro. That is, I do feel lucky to have been among the last generation of American students to live in the Italy of the lira. One lived pretty well, even on a graduate stipend, and even in central neighborhoods of Rome where no student could afford to live today, and where the family grocery stores have become high-end boutiques. Another difference is that there was then a great deal of optimism and energy—some of it rather naïve, no doubt—about Europe and European integration. The tone when one even said the word “Europe” was far sunnier in the Italy of 2001 than it is today, for obvious reasons. The speed with which that semantic shift has taken place has been really striking, although it should not surprise attentive students of the history of the European idea.

” I feel lucky to have been among the last generation of American students to live in the Italy of the lira…”

Q3) How is it like to live in Sweden? If you could choose another European country to live, which one will it be? Italy?

Sweden is very good to me. When I dream of being somewhere else, it is usually particular cities rather than countries that come to mind; and above all Berlin—the most stimulating place I’ve lived, and Europe’s real cultural (and now, in spite of the Germans’ best intentions, political) capital city.

Topic 4. Useful tips?

Q1) Any professional tips for recent graduate of MA Euroculture looking for jobs? How can our degree be valuable?

My own professional life is so wrapped up in the university world that I am reluctant to offer advice about careers outside of it (I have only theoretical knowledge of this so-called “real world” that I hear about sometimes). I will say that I believe what makes a Euroculture degree “valuable” is not to be measured only in terms of direct economic value. That is, the experience you have in the program, the skills you develop, things you learn, the talents and interests that you discover or advance, the personal and professional connections you make—these can all be sources of meaning and personal satisfaction. And indeed it is sometimes by following them up in that spirit—pursuing issues that really seem interesting and important, cultivating networks with people you like and who are interesting, and thus gaining access to the places where people are addressing those issues—that people find good jobs. Or rather, that’s one way of finding a way to get paid for being active in an area you care about.

Q2) Could you recommend any books or films to the Euroculture students who are in the crossroad of their lives?

I think my film or book recommendations aren’t worth so much, but I will recommend reading big, long, and demanding books while one still has time; The Brothers Karamazov, for example. As for being at the crossroads of life, making choices, and so on, I have gotten a lot from M. Czikszentmihalyi’s Flow. If one wants to be happy, it’s helpful to find out that smart people have been working hard on figuring out what happiness is and how it works. Then one can begin to see how to incorporate that insight into shaping one’s own life.

“Read big, long, and demanding books while one still has time…like The Brothers Karamazov…”

Thank you very much, Ben, for sharing your story with The Euroculturer. We wish you all the best in everything you do, especially your job as Programme Director and Teacher at Euroculture Uppsala and also your current and future research!

Editor’s words: We express our sincerest gratitude to Teacher Benjamin Martin who accepted the invitation to share his invaluable professional experience of MA Euroculture, his academic journey so far, and also stories of his good old days in Europe as an exchange student.