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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Stand up against violent extremism
Press point announcing the HLG Conference of the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN)
Brussels , 28 January 2013
In September 2011 I launched the Radicalisation Awareness Network in order to sharpen EU and Member States tools to counter violent extremism.
The network has now delivered its first recommendations and we will discuss its findings and conclusions tomorrow together with experts and Ministers from EU and third countries.
This work is very much needed, and it is time for the EU as a whole to recognize that violent extremism represents nowadays the biggest threat to EU citizens' security.
The terrorist menace has shifted away from organised groups to individuals, who are harder to detect, and whose actions are harder to predict.
Breivik's horrible attack in Norway and the deadly Toulouse shooting are recent examples of the serious menace represented by extremists and lone wolves; and in its most recent report on terrorism, Europol confirms a trend towards lone individuals being responsible for terrorist attacks.
So we have to make sure that addressing violent extremism is at the very heart of the EU's counter terrorism policy. But good deeds are not enough, and it is to be acknowledged that only a few member States have developed the right tools to tackle the issue seriously enough.
The potential for violent extremism exists in all countries. It may manifest itself in different forms, be it right wing or left wing extremism, separatism or religiously motivated extremism, but it is always characterised by bloodshed and the scars it leaves on society.
We have to become better at detecting and preventing these menaces, and this is why the Radicalisation Awareness Network has been gathering the key actors involved in countering radicalisation across the EU.
Social workers, religious leaders, civil society groups, youth leaders, policemen, researchers, community leaders, NGOs and those who work on the ground in vulnerable communities have been working together sharing experiences and best practises.
They have come back to us now with a series of recommendations. Let me illustrate some of them.
It is crucial to build counter-narratives challenging extremist narratives either through ideology, logic, fact or humour. The aim has to be more to plant seeds of doubt among violent extremists than to win the argument.
A good example to illustrate how extremism propaganda can be countered comes from Exit Deutschland, an organisation that provides counselling for neo-Nazis seeking to leave the movement.
They distributed 250 'white power' t-shirts at a neo-Nazi music festival. When washed just once the T-shirts changed their logo to "if your t-shirt can do it, so can you" and included the Exit brand. As you can imagine the initiative made the headlines not only in many German and worldwide media, but also in far right forums.
We have to enhance our efforts to set exit programmes for those who want to leave extremist environments. We have to make sure they have the necessary support and that they are assisted not only in the first de-radicalisation phase but also in the medium and long term.
This is particularly true when it comes to prisons, where radicalisation and deradicalisation meet. We have to raise awareness among prison and probation staff about radicalisation, and arrange de-radicalisation or exit programmes for convicted extremists.
We have to enhance our support to local actors preventing violent extremism. A particularly relevant issue, and one of much debate across Europe, is that of Lone Wolves. By their very nature these individuals are more isolated than others, rarely on the intelligence radar and the best possible opportunity to identify them is through those closest to them whether families, communities or local professionals.
We also have to become better at training local and community police in how to prevent violent extremism. Being active in the communities and hence in a position to detect and act upon radicalisation, the local or community police might notice the first signs of radicalisation towards violent extremism and should know how to deal with cases of concern.
Dialogue with and support to Diaspora communities is also crucial. The process of radicalisation is often fuelled by deep rooted grievances or conflict often associated with foreign policy and international affairs. It is vital therefore to engage Diaspora communities to address some of these grievances and promote integration into society to disarm the attempts of radicaliser.
Victims of terrorism can be a strong voice against extremists. Victims' voices are a powerful tool for prevention and de-radicalisation, but only if victims feel comfortable with sharing their story and have the necessary support available.
Also former extremists can give us a great opportunity to deconstruct violent extremist narratives. Former foreign fighters or former violent extremists in general can carry a strong message as they have their own personal experiences to share. We should work with former fighters and help them describing the terrible reality of war and terrorist training camps, which are not as romantic as radicalised propaganda depicts them.
Internet is a tool often used by radicalisers and extremists. We must enhance our efforts to better understanding the extent and nature of violent extremist material online and the relationship between online and offline behaviour. Public-private partnership, with internet providers, social networks, and the online industry could help us to do so.
We should also make sure that those who work in public relations companies, film industry, media and other communication sectors support local actors in developing counter-narratives.
Let me conclude by spending a few words on the worrying trends that we are unfortunately witnessing nowadays in many European countries.
We see a growth of extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, hatred and nationalism. Not since World War II extreme and populist forces have had so much influence on the national parliaments as they have today. In some countries even neo-nazis have been elected.
And if this trend continues the next European elections in 2014 might further strengthen these forces. We must not underestimate the importance of what this would mean for the European project.
These extremist groups and political movements often act as a breeding ground for ideology-motivated violence. I am not saying that these movements are directly responsible for act of violence or terrorist attacks, but we must acknowledge that they provide oxygen for extreme views.
We will not be able to defeat radicalisation and extremist violence if we don't counter the propaganda of those who support extreme, violent, xenophobic and racist views based on hatred and intolerance.
We must have all the courage to stand up for what we have agreed upon and protect our values that are now being challenged in many countries in Europe. The work carried out by the RAN experts and the Conference on Tuesday are important steps in this direction.