A fascinating article from European Eye on Radicalization outlines some of the challenges Italy is facing as it tries to grapple with the CVE (countering violent extremism) challenge.
First problem is when looking at CVE projects, deciding how to define what radicalisation actually means in order to ensure it’s not too broad a definition or too narrow.
A definition of radicalization that is overly generic may lead to interpretations that are either too wide-ranging or too narrow, in turn generating ambiguities that could be exploited by actors interested in societal polarization as well as extremists themselves.
Secondly is the challenge of individuals who are second generation, Italian-born jihadis. Italy has deported radicalised foreigners in the recent past but possibly not looked hard enough at the fact that an increasing number of radicalised individuals are born on its soil.
Thirdly is a question that has vexed the CVE sector for the last few years. How to distinguish between terrorist radicalisation and extremism – and the different degrees of extremism.
Another important argument for defining jihadist radicalization is semantic. Different terms are currently used to describe people holding radical beliefs and/or engaging in violent behavior. Radicalization and extremism are not the same thing and these terms should be used in different circumstances to avoid dangerous misconceptions. Both terms ought to be defined as processes which are not uniform in their development rather than a simple status.
Fourthly, it’s just not good enough – the article argues – to have just transposed the terminology used to describe terrorist and extremist groups of the past on to the jihadi challenge that has emerged since 9/11. Intervention in physical and online spaces between radicalisers and their targets will only be effective if CVE projects understand the nuances and complexities involved.
The terminology under examination is relatively new in our lexicon, having been introduced only after the events of September 11 2001. Furthermore, definitions were often borrowed from the study of other types of violent extremism and then modified and adapted to jihadist ideology. As a national security concern, radicalization and violent extremism have only been analyzed systematically recently, with the rise of homegrown terrorism and foreign terrorist fighters.
There are some observations that made my eyebrows rise in disagreement. The authors claim that theocratic fundamentalism is rooted more in early 20th century American Protestant thought than in Islam. I’d counter that Salafism and Wahhabism have origins in the late 19th and late 18th centuries respectively and Muslims have been dealing with violent “Khawarij” and “Takfiri” strands of thought within Islam for a thousand years.