Any new challenge produces confusion before it reaches clarity. This, at least, is true of the challenge in Europe and elsewhere imposed by radicalisation and extremism. By Martin Griffiths
The responses to radicalisation and violent extremism have become an industry of seminars and debate. No clean or clear policy has been accepted as a framework. The debate includes two axes of disagreement: a response based on security to one based on community action; an understanding that this is either a matter of identity or of ideology. Of course, a debate is a healthy thing and nuance is of fundamental importance in this context, not least because of the expenditures which flow from the debate's conclusions. But one cannot help thinking that the answer to both is a matter of common sense, and not a matter of high concept.
At the European Institute of Peace we don’t claim to have found a definite answer to this complex debate - but one thing does make us proud. We recently completed a survey of attitudes in two of Molenbeek's most 'difficult' districts. Over the summer months, we went from door to door interviewing the people of these districts, whose views on issues of life, politics and extremism had (of course) never been either sought or published in the ocean of media about their notoriety. The first findings have recently been published. I like to think that it's down to earth simplicity conveys an interesting answer to Europe’s debate on extremism.
‘Our main problem is finding a future for our family and our children; not a worry about extremism but a worry about jobs and schools. We know that an absence of hope provides a place for radicalisation. We know that we need much more to be done to educate our children about religion to defend them against the offers of recruiters. We want more police and more dialogue, more connections not less if we can make a future for our children.’
What is surprising about this? Absolutely nothing. And this is what we find reassuring; that our research reveals the obvious.
Extremism is often the accidental product of living a life without hope and opportunities and false offers of a life with purpose from an organisation dedicated to anger. ISIS and the likes offer something that nobody else seems to offers – opportunities and purpose.
In Europe our Muslim citizens are more likely than their Christian counterparts to confront an uphill struggle for a future. This alone, even without the drive and malice of ISIS, is enough to explain why Islam is a real part of the journey of radicalisation; and as the people of Molenbeek told us, has to play a major role in the journey home.
Returning to the great debates about ideology and identity, I do believe that in Molenbeek at least, the answer is not either/or but both/and. We need smart security as much as we need knowledgeable local leaders. We need to build avenues of hope as much as we need to support the teaching of religion. In Molenbeek we know what and why it happened; we now need to get the people back, the time for action has come.