Between the World and Trump: American Foreign Policy in the Trump-Era

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By Mark Dixon.

Tyler Winowiecki

For over 70 years, the United States has upheld an international order that has not seen a single major power war, brought wealth and prosperity to dozens of nations which adopted open and free markets, and has advanced issues such as democracy, human rights, women’s rights, and other progressive issues through the international institutions the US helped to create at the end of World War II. Yes, it is easy to point out when the US’s foreign policy has aligned with countries that did not uphold similar values, or that the US has violated international law through its military undertakings, or assisted in overthrowing foreign governments – even established democracies. But even when acting against its own founding values, the American president has always at least rhetorically upheld the values of a liberal world order, albeit it sometimes hypocritical. But it seems that era has come to a screaming halt.

Many see the election of the American president as an opportunity to change the status quo and to embark on a new set of policies. Take for example the election of Barack Obama who ran on a progressive platform and repeatedly vowed to drastically change the foreign and domestic policies of past administrations. To be fair, Obama has accomplished several of his stated goals and changed American policies in a wide range of areas both domestically and abroad. However, the US has a larger portion of its population incarcerated than any other country; its governing apparatus more resembles an oligarchy than a democracy; its security state has only grown further at the expense of Americans’ civil liberties; and the undeclared wars in the broader Middle East have continued and expanded with no end in sight. Although Obama vowed to change America, the similarities are more striking than the differences.

But Obama is not an exception. It has been nearly the same for every modern American president. The change and reform they promise during the campaign quickly collides with the reality of the presidency. Career bureaucrats and civil servants that constitute the majority of the federal government do not change together with the president and his staff – even if the presidency is won by the different party. This leads to a continuation of policies across party lines. However, the recent change of presidents is different in more than one way.

58th Presidential Inauguration
By Sean Martin.

Donald Trump’s surprise electoral college victory may not constitute a dramatic change in the country’s foreign or domestic policies. But his victory did not happen in a vacuum. It was coupled with an emboldened and in many ways radicalized Republican Party and a highly volatile international order, which relies heavily on American leadership. The combination of these factors will most likely disengage the US from the international community, including Europe and the European Union.

It is first worth examining the governing philosophy of the Republican Party, which won the presidency, Congress, and appointed a judge to the Supreme Court to ostensibly tip the court in the party’s favor. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Republicans – under the banner of conservatism, neoconservatism and most recently the ultra-conservative Tea Party – began shifting their bellicosity from foreign powers to domestic foes, such as American liberals and progressives. From their unprecedented partisan 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton to their obstructionism towards Obama, the party has repeatedly obstructed democratic processes for electoral gains.

Over the course of the last eight years, the Republican Party has engaged in political tactics and rhetorics more common in authoritarian regimes than a developed democracy. As an opposition party they praised foreign leaders over their own president, they attempted to delegitimize the Obama presidency through the birther movement (with the movement’s leader eventually becoming the new president) and even denied millions of elderly Americans healthcare by not expanding Medicare at the state level, which would have been completely subsidized through federal legislation commonly referred to as Obamacare.

On the international stage, a resurgent Russia is using hybrid warfare to influence other country’s domestic politics and elections – its greatest succes being the recent US presidential election. Through propaganda, disinformation, and financing of nationalistic parties, Russia aims to install more pro-Russian governments or, at the very least, undermine Western democracies. Due to the civil war in Syria, Europe has experienced the largest migration of refugees since World War II. The influx of refugees coincided with a rise of lone-wolf and small-cell terrorist plots inspired by ISIS. The destablization of the international order has been exploited by nationalistic politicians around the world with racist and xenophobic rhetoric, all to gain power and all to the expense of the values of liberal democracies.

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By Billy Hathorn.

The Trump administration has so far expressed the desire to pursue more realpolitik on the international stage, although detailed positions are unknown or do simply not yet exist. The ‘America First’ slogan translates into a parochially defined set of national interests, most likely limited to the economy and military. Trump’s comments on NATO being obsolete actually fit into this parochial nationalist rhetoric. Moreover, Trump has shown an inclination to align with authoritarian leaders around the world rather than traditional American allies. He has also displayed a strong tendency to be more bellicose and provocative confronting friends and foe alike, most shockingly evident in the conversations with the Australian and Mexican heads of state. This will most likely worsen if the domestic situation in the US further destablizes.

It is also evident that Trump will not so much turn a blind eye towards Europe as he will take positions that are explicitly contrary to the EU’s interests. For example, Trump has shown to be rather indifferent about a united Europe and even openly admired nationalistic European politicians. This will force the EU into an uncomfortable situation. Will it stand up against Russian meddling and American rhetoric and pursue a robust and united EU, or will it allow the nationalists to win-out? Any attempt by the EU to stay united and robust can easily backfire due to the growing nationalist sentiments accross the continent. However, the situation has proven to be a Catch 22. If the EU does not stand up against the threats posed by the disruptions in the international order, the existence of the EU could be in grave danger. This would pose an existantial threat to free trade and the peaceful relations on the continent.

As 2016 proved, nothing can be taken for granted anymore. The chaotic and unpredictable behavior of Donald Trump will most likely become the norm and not the outlier in the coming years. This will not bode well in an already volatile international order. The special relationship between the US and the EU (and its individual nations) may be in for some hardship – especially if Trump follows through with his proposed Russian alignment. But if one thing is certain, expect uncertainty.

BIOGRAPHY

Tyler is a local news reporter for the Alpena News in Michigan. When escaping from his unhealthy obsession with international politics, you can find him traveling and exploring the great outdoors.

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Germany’s Steinmeier: A New Direction for the Presidency

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President-elect Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photo by Arne List

Lauren Rogers

On the morning of 12 February of this year, 1260 members of the German Federal Assembly, which includes Bundestag members and state electors, voted to choose the 12th President of the Federal Republic of Germany. Garnering over 900 votes, the clear winner was the Grand Coalition candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who served twice as foreign minister and ran for chancellor under the SPD banner in 2008. He has held public office for over 20 years.

On paper, Steinmeier has all the makings of a tame president; he is well-liked and respected in the international community and within the German government. According to Bild, Steinmeier even has the dubious honor of using the German informal “you” with more members of the Cabinet than any other – high praise for those in the German-speaking world.

However, appearances can be deceiving, and surely the Steinmeier presidency will not be without a backbone. During the last year of his term as foreign minister, Steinmeier spoke out strongly against Russian aggression, the inaction of the international community in the Syrian crisis, and the shortsightedness of the Brexit decision. Most notably, he is a decisive critic of US President Donald Trump and of the nationalist movements taking hold around the world.

From Freedom to Courage

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President Joachim Gauck. Photo by ACBahn

Germany’s current president, Joachim Gauck, has spent most of his term promoting freedom. Gauck, who was an East German resistance leader before the fall of the Berlin Wall, has repeatedly stressed reconciliation and social justice in his speeches. His term has not been without crisis – the floundering euro, Brexit, and the refugee influx, just to name a few – but he has continued to call for openness, tolerance, and a need to cherish the freedoms that are easy to take for granted. Gauck embraced the “Refugees Welcome” movement more than any other German politician and at times was harsh in his criticism of those who were steadfastly anti-refugee.

Steinmeier promises to be a different kind of president. After nearly three decades in the spotlight, he is politically savvy and will likely be less concerned with visiting children’s shelters and more concerned with asserting Germany’s role in the world. If “Freedom” was the motto of the Gauck presidency, it is safe to say that “Courage” will be the that of Steinmeier’s. In his acceptance speech following his election, Steinmeier spoke of two kinds of courage: the courage that Germany can give to others, and the courage that Germans must display in the face of rising unrest in Europe and beyond.

Steinmeier recounted a story of a young Tunisian activist telling him that Germany gave her courage. Germany, which not so very long ago represented the opposite of freedom and justice, now has a place as one of the pillars of modern democracy in the West. Germany gives courage, said Steinmeier, because it is proof that peace comes after war, that reconciliation can follow division. In this sense, Germany must continue to be a symbol of courage for countries in crisis.

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Frauke Petry. Photo by Michael Lucan

But Steinmeier also meant courage in another sense. Three important European elections – France, Germany and the Netherlands – are coming up this year, each with its own populist candidate. In the face of Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry, and Geert Wilders, respectively the leaders of the nationalist waves in these countries, Steinmeier preached patience, tolerance, and above all, a commitment to the core values of Europe.

 

The “Anti-Trump” President?

Following his election, the German daily Berliner Morgenpost dubbed Steinmeier the “Anti-Trump President” – a title that has since been reprinted everywhere from The Independent to Bloomberg. Whether or not he enjoys the moniker, Steinmeier has certainly been among the strongest critics of the US President, referring to him at one point as a “hate-preacher.” After Trump’s election, Steinemeier issued the following statement as foreign minister: “I think we will have to get used to the idea that US foreign policy will be less predictable for us and we will have to get used to the idea that the US will tend to make more decisions on its own.” He went on to say that working together with the US will be much harder over the next four years and that Europe must stay the course, despite the unsettling results.

In his speech on Sunday, Steinmeier issued a thinly veiled critique on Trump and his populist counterparts in Europe. He called on all Germans to fight against baseless accusations and fear-mongering. “We must have the courage to say what is and what isn’t,” he said, claiming a universal responsibility to differentiate facts from lies. This, too, will likely be a theme of the Steinmeier presidency. Shortly before his candidacy was announced in 2016, the President-elect decried the rise of right-wing parties in Europe and the US and accused Trump and others of “mak[ing] politics with fear.”

Or the “Pro-Russia” President?

Rather than the “Anti-Trump” President, some may dub Frank-Walter Steinmeier the “Pro-Russia” President.  As foreign minister, Steinmeier was regularly lampooned by his CDU colleagues for his mild stance toward Russia. He began his second term as foreign minister in late 2013, only a few months before Russia annexed Crimea. Following the annexation, Steinmeier joined his international colleagues in denouncing Russia and supported upping economic sanctions until the conflict was resolved.

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Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. Photo by Kremlin.ru

However, Steinmeier has relaxed his stance since then and has insisted on a need to keep channels of communication open. Russia is an important actor in two of the most significant global crisis areas: Syria and the Ukraine. Continuing with heavy sanctions and isolation will do nothing to solve these issues, according to Steinmeier. Over the summer, he was also quick to criticize NATO for carrying out exercises in Eastern Europe. He accused the organization of “warmongering” and said, “Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken.”

Thus far, only Russian news outlets seem to believe that Steinmeier will be a friend to the east, but the differences between he and Gauck are undeniable. As a former citizen of East Germany, Gauck was understandably apprehensive about former KGB officer Vladimir Putin. Steinmeier, who has worked with the Russia on international issues since his time in the Schroeder administration, will be a welcome change for the Kremlin.

Emphasizing German Leadership

In an interview with television station ZDF following the election, Steinmeier indicated his intention to work closely with both Moscow and Washington. He was very clear that Germany is currently in the midst of a “reorganization of international relations” and that possible unpredictability in the East and the West will mean a greater need for a stable country.

Nevertheless, the role of the German president is not to negotiate with foreign leaders or herald in big changes. The German president is primarily a domestic role; he or she acts as a moral authority, but has very little political power. As the head of government, Steinmeier will be confined to ceremonial tasks like welcoming state visits and approving the Cabinet. The political might in Germany is held by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and by the parliament, the Bundestag. Despite his limited power, Steinmeier is expected to set a tone for the coming years and it appears as though he will be just as active as his predecessor.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier will take office on 18 March 18 this year. On September 24, the country will vote for new Bundestag representation and a new government will take office.

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Has the West forgotten the war in Yemen?

 

Ben Krasa

A country on the brink of a famine. With a population of 27 million, 18 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. Three million have been forced to flee their homes. An estimated 10,000 are dead. Serious allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law have been made. It is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of the twenty-first century. Yet no one is talking about it. The Yemeni war began with a bang, but has quietly slipped through our media. The occasional news report here and there highlights what horrendous times the country is facing and the suffering endured by what is left of its population. But the crisis is largely ignored by the West.

Surprisingly, a politician who has come under intense scrutiny, Boris Johnson, has been the politician to question Saudi Arabia’s motives and actions in the war. Johnson recently criticised Saudi Arabia’s involvement but quickly came under fire by his own party. Despite having personal views that conflict with the party lines, it is evident that the man who gave the US State Department the biggest smile, is indeed one of the few politicians in the West, who is showing leadership. Despite stating that the party’s views do not align with Johnson’s, some Conservative party figures defended him as well as some from the opposition. Unfortunately, the spotlight will shine on the Yemeni war only if public figures will speak out about the horrific events taking place in Yemen. With Saudi money invested in many powerful Western nations, especially in England and the USA, it is a breath of fresh air that not all politicians turn a blind eye to the silently reported catastrophic war in Yemen. Continue reading “Has the West forgotten the war in Yemen?”

Refugees.tv Challenges The Way We Report On Asylum-Seekers

 

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One of the refugees.tv, featuring the original makeshift camera and mic. Image by refugees.tv.

Lauren Rogers

People huddled together in makeshift shelters in Germany. Long lines of people waiting for food at a camp in Italy. Bright rubber boats filled to the brim with masses of people. The body of a Syrian refugee boy washed up on the shore of Greece. As familiar – albeit heartbreaking – as these images have become to us, a different set of images have become familiar to the thousands of refugees currently living half-lives across Europe. Cameramen lurking in the background, waiting for the perfect shot. Microphones shoved in people’s faces as they are walking across the continent. Western journalists, well-fed and over-paid, asking questions about hunger and suffering.

In Idomeni, a refugee camp located at the Greek border to FYR Macedonia, a group of young refugees who were fed up with this second set of images decided to do something about it. In a stroke of satirical genius, Syrian refugees Mustafa Alhamoud, Basel Yatakan and Mahmoud Abdalrahim began their own news station: Refugees.tv. While reporters combed the camps looking for palatable stories for Western audiences, Yatakan, Alhamoud, and Abdalrahim followed their lead, carrying a fake camera (a block of wood with a water bottle for a lens) and microphone (a plastic cup on a stick) and mimicking the grave tone of the journalists. Their interviews, recorded on cell phone cameras, went viral on Facebook and soon some generous fans donated real camera equipment to their cause. Continue reading “Refugees.tv Challenges The Way We Report On Asylum-Seekers”

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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Five terrifying takeaways from the British Conservative Party Conference: Notes from a Lonely Island #3

Buckle in for more Brexit misery

Emily Burt

There were a few weeks where it looked as though the Brexit dust was settling. The markets had remained surprisingly robust, defying immediate post-referendum expectations, and aside from Labour party infighting, the political landscape was relatively calm. Then the Conservative party conference arrived, to crush our dreams. Here are five moments of fresh misery the government delivered to the UK electorate:

A Hard Brexit will begin March 2017, with the UK potentially exiting the European Union by 2019

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British Conservative Party Conference, Birmingham

Finally we have a date – Theresa May has announced that she will trigger Article 50 in the Spring of 2017, which means that once negotiations begin we could be looking at a UK exit from the European Union by March of 2019. Her announcement sent sterling into a freefall, plunging the pound to a 31-year low, signifying that the markets, along with a significant chunk of the British public, had been secretly hoping that Brexit did not actually mean Brexit. Continue reading “Five terrifying takeaways from the British Conservative Party Conference: Notes from a Lonely Island #3”

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.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

For more on the burkini ban, read Julia Mason’s fascinating discussion of the topic here.

For more on right-wing extremism in Europe, read Sabine Volk’s dissection of European identity groups here.

“They just have a different culture!” Disguised racism in right-wing rhetoric of the 21st century

 

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PEGIDA march in Dresden

 Sabine Volk

In spring 2016, the German nationalist movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) founded a coalition together with nationalist and xenophobic movements and parties from other European countries. Their alliance, the so-called Fortress Europe (read also “Patriotic Europeans United in Fortress Europe”), poses a theoretical paradox: how is it possible that nationalist groups work together at a European level?

Historical analysis shows that transnational collaboration between right groups is not a new phenomenon. First, one might think of the (attempts of) collaboration by the fascist parties from various European countries in the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays, a visible manifestation of right-wing collaboration consists in coalition-building in the European Parliament (EP). Fortress Europe is thus yet another example of how even nationalists can unite at supranational level. What ideology binds the contemporary right-wing groups together? Continue reading ““They just have a different culture!” Disguised racism in right-wing rhetoric of the 21st century”