The stage for the conference, formally themed ‘Radicalisation and terrorism: the European challenge’, was set by introductory words by the President of CESI, Romain Wolff.
A conference on a highly topical subject
Speaking to the 110 conference participants, he noted that when CESI and its partners launched the organisation of a conference on the prevention of radicalisation and terrorism in Paris many months ago, nobody could have imagined that the event would take place in the acute context of devastating terrorist attacks as they took place in the very same city just some weeks ago. “I welcome you to this conference on an – unfortunately – very topical subject”, he said.
Referring to the joint role of public sector agents such as the police, security forces and the education sector in the fight against and prevention of radicalisation and terrorism, he added that “there is an absolute need for collaboration at all levels and between all concerned actors.”
Indeed, bringing together different disciplines was the overarching rationale of the conference: Representatives from local authorities and national and EU-level institutions, radicalisation researchers, experts in pedagogy, religion and culture as well as stakeholders from the police and security sectors, they all made their case for an integrated and hence effective fight against radicalisation and terrorism – one of the key challenges that Europe faces today.
Following remarks by the Secretary General of the Alliance Police Nationale, Jean-Claude Delage, and the keynote address by the French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve (on the vital role which public sector workers have played in the fight against terrorism and radicalisation), expert interventions on different thematic subjects were made.
What consequences of terrorism?
The first presentations and speeches inquired into the possible consequences of terrorism for societal life: Criminologist Alain Bauer and Jean-Paul Delevoye, President of the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council, sketched a picture of potentially severe societal disruptions through terrorism and radicalisation.
Experiences of terrorism and radicalisation in EU Member States
Case studies followed on the experience of terrorism and radicalisation in a number of EU Member States.
The Danish Ambassador in France, Kirsten Malling Biering, delivered an intervention, speaking on the impact of the Copenhagen terrorist attacks on liberal attitudes in Denmark.
A much awaited speech was given by Françoise Schepmans. As mayor of the Brussels municipality of Molenbeek, an alleged hideout of Islamist terrorists, she did not deny problems related to radicalisation in her commune but criticised opinions according to which Belgium is the cornerstone of terrorism in Europe.
Helen Adriani, President of CESI’s Dutch member organisation CNV-Connectief, spoke on the implications that the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by the Muslim fanatic Mohammed Bouyeri in 2014 had on the Netherlands’ dealing with radicalisation. Outlining how the murder unsettled the nation, Ms Adriani explained how it triggered concrete steps to aid the prevention of radicalisation. She gave the development of teacher trainings on social safety and citizenship classes in schools as examples.
Challenges to be overcome and possible ways forward
Two panels took stock of the previous interventions and discussed challenges to be overcome and possible solutions in the fight against terrorism and radicalisation in Europe.
Recipe 1: Boosted cooperation among key actors
Christiane Hoehn, Member of the Cabinet of the European Counter Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, stressed the importance of bringing together the different actors concerned with anti-radicalisation and counter-terrorism measures in order to ensure effective action. The list of actors she listed was elaborate: It included the EU Member States’ governments, the EU’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, the European Commission, the European External Action Service (EEAS), EU agencies such as Europol, internet companies, civil society groups as well as international partners in North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and the Gulf region.
Effectively squaring their capacities and coordinating their input would be vital to better share intelligence related to radicalised citizens, strengthen the control of the EU’s external borders, restrict the movement of firearms and dismantle the finance structures of terrorists, Ms Hoehn concluded.
Recipe 2: More inclusive prevention measures
Hamp Harmsen, Leader of the Health and Social Care Working group of the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), noted how, in the view of the RAN, radicalisation can be best fought in a sustainable manner: Through prevention in the form of more training for first-line practitioners, a more systematic exchange of best practices on which prevention methods may work, and an integrated prevention scheme that draws on a broad coalition of concerned NGOs, communities at risk, victims, health and social care workers and trade unions.
“It can take just one person to radicalise an individual, but it takes a whole society to deradicalise”, Mr Harmsen declared.
Jacob Bundsgaard, Mayor of the Danish city of Aarhus, followed up on this: He outlined the rationale and achievements of the much-noted ‘Aarhus model of radicalisation prevention’.
He explained how the model has successfully prevented radicalisation in his city by working with citizens at risk of radicalisation in order to establish how their possibilities for inclusion in society can be improved and how they can be assisted in acquiring essential life skills.
Recipe 3: Culture as a stronghold against radicalisation and terrorism
Else Christensen-Redzepovic, Director of the Danish Cultural Institute EU Brussels, spoke on the importance of culture in preventing radicalisation.
Following the slogan “The best proof of the power of culture is terrorists wanting to destroy it”, she called for more actions and initiatives aiming at convincing political actors of the importance of culture in Europe and in external relations.
She also called for more activities related to culture as an integral component of conflict resolution and development initiatives.
Recipe 4: Religion to expose the true colours of Salafists
Hanifa Touag, researcher at the EmridNetwork, made a case on how religion may serve to prevent violence rather than cause it: According to her, religious arguments can in many cases be used to deconstruct radical Salafist ideologies.
Recipe 5: Strengthened education of youngsters in values and critical thinking
Rodrigo Ballester, Member of the Cabinet of the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Tibor Navracsics, explained how the European Commission works to strengthen the role of education in the fight against radicalisation – an issue of key importance, he noted.
Horst-Günther Klitzing, Vice-President of CESI’s Trade Council Education, also spoke on the role of education – and especially the creation and transmission of values at school – the in the fight against radicalisation.
He stressed that the necessary implementation of concepts to foster critical thinking among pupils can only be successful if favourable framework conditions are given in terms of smaller student-to-teacher ratios (which requires more teachers) and, where needed, modern equipment and buildings.
He concluded that “public education budgets need to be stepped up if schools are to accomplish more.”
Recipe 5: More resources for police and security forces
Gerrit van de Kamp, President of CESI’s Trade Council ‘Security’, focussed his speech on new security challenges for the police forces. He declared that police forces need to be adequately staffed, equipped and trained if they are to confront new phenomena of terrorism successfully.
A society-wide task: All concerned actors need to join forces
Conclusions by CESI’s Secretary General Klaus Heeger rounded off the conference. His reference to the need to create synergies between the different actors involved in the fight against radicalisation and terrorism certainly summed-up what had been previously discussed in the different panels: The acute ‘hard’ measures against terrorism by police and security forces need to be complemented by sustainable ‘soft’ radicalisation prevention activities by actors in the fields of culture, religion, education – and this needs to be coordinated and facilitated by governments and public authorities.
For questions and details on interventions:
Agathe Smyth, Policy Advisor