“The International Context of the fight against Radicalization: EU innitiatives”

 

 

 

 

Address by

 

HE Secretary of State José Magalhães

 

on behalf o

f

the Portuguese Presidency

of the Council of the European Union

 

 

 

 

 

Conference on

 

“Countering Radicalization:

Perspectives and Strategies from around the Globe”

 

The Hague, 22 to 22 October 2007


Dear Ministers,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

 

First of all, allow me to thank Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin, the Netherlands National Coordinator against Terrorism, Mr. Tjibbe Joustra, and our chairperson, H.E. Doctor Ruud Lubbers, for the kind invitation extended to the Presidency of the Council of the European Union to address this most distinguished audience on the subject of the Union’s initiatives regarding the international context in the fight against Radicalization.

 

 Besides trying to summarize the main features of our european policy – and to a certain extent also Portuguese policy - on the subject, I will consider and  and discuss five ideas which hopefully may help feed  the debates over the coming two days.

 

 Naturally, the Prevention, Preparedness, Pursuit and Response to terrorism constitute an important priority for the portuguese Presidency. In that context, the combat against Radicalization is a crucial part of our European agenda. I would like to congratulate the organizers of this conference for the excellent choice of the approach to countering radicalization and the cerfully planned  structure of the debates to be.

 

The European Strategy on Radicalization is designated as “on combating Radicalization and Recruitment to Terrorism”. Before I further present the Union’s policies and priorities in this area though, a basic question has to be addressed: how should perceive the relationship between the prevention of Radicalization and that of terrorism?

 

In my view, preventing violent Radicalization should be a concern and an objective per se. Radicalization should not be seen exclusively, or even mainly, in relation to the role it plays in facilitating the recruitment of terrorists or in providing terrorists with ideological and material support. Important as this relationship certainly is, I believe that violent Radicalization poses, in itself, a threat to democratic societies based on tolerance and the rule of law.

Actually, terrorism can often be understood as a process aimed at creating favourable conditions for Radicalization at least as much as the opposite.

 

The first key idea I submit to your debate is thus the following one:  we should not prevent Radicalization because of terrorism: all of the important policies involved in the fight against Radicalization – education, integration, social solidarity and justice, development assistance, the promotion of international peace, etc. –have a long history in our democracies inspired by a positive vision of the world and by a set of shared values which have oriented the development of our countries for generations. The fight against Radicalization has positive goals and ambitions: it is a combat for the expansion of diversity, tolerance, inclusiveness

 

 

 

The European Union has made significant accomplishments over the last few years in the fight against terrorism and it can today avail itself – in the Strategy and in the Action Plan against terrorism - of a clear framework to establish policies and instruments in the different domains of the fight against terrorism.

 

We all know that the EU Action Plan on the Fight Against terrorism was first established in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks against the United States Since. It gradually incorporated the awareness of relationship between Radicalization and Terrorism.

 

This process intensified in 2004, after the Madrid attacks. In June 2004, the EU Heads of State and of Government underlined “the importance of making use of the wide-ranging instruments of the European Union in the context of addressing all the factors which contribute to terrorism”. A few months later, in October 2004, the European Commission started working on its Communication on “addressing the factors contributing to violent Radicalization” adopted one year later, in October 2005.

 

The adoption of the “European Union Strategy for combating Radicalization and Recruitment to Terrorism” and its implementing Action Plan in November 2005 built therefore both upon the political signal given by the European Council and on one and a half year’s work by European Institutions.

 

Three other elements played a major role in the development of the European Strategy on Radicalization:

 

The first was the broad awareness and mobilization on the issue of Radicalization and, in particular, the intensive work accomplished in the field by academics and researchers from around the globe. I recall the International Summit on Democracy, Security and Terrorism which gathered in Madrid one year after the terrorist attacks. Many of the concepts which were to be incorporated in the EU Strategy were discussed in Madrid on the basis of documents produced by scores of the world top class academics. As once more we gather here today with some of the best academic minds of the moment, I think it is important to tell you that “believe it or not, we do listen to what you think and say…”;

 

The second element is the cross-fertilization with policy development elsewhere: at national level – in our own member states and in third countries - and globally. The EU Strategy may have been adopted a few months before the memorable address by Secretary General Annan in May 2006 and his recommendations for a Global Counter-Terrorist Strategy whose first component was “dissuading people from resorting to terrorism or supporting it”. However, EU and UN policies in this area developed in convergent interaction, are closely intertwined and, are in my view, mutually supportive;

 

 

Thirdly, I think that the shock of the July 2005 London terrorist attacks did play a major role, EU wide, as it brought forth to our citizens the notion that young people raised and even born in our own countries could   embark in a inwardly spiralling journey leading to the darkest pit of self and mutual destruction. This awareness took different paths in different EU countries: here, in the Netherlands, the assassination of director Theo van Gogh in November 2004, was a key moment in the social understanding that tolerance does not automatically engender tolerance.

 

The second key idea I would like to offer for debate, based on the EU experience is that developing effective policies in the fight against Radicalization - besides requiring drawing on the insight of experts and the intense work of administrations in open processes involving international cross-fertilisation- is however a political process which relates to the very essence of democratic societies and requires therefore political guidance at the highest level and the active understanding and involvement of citizens.

 

In this sense I would like to qualify my first key idea in the sense that the if prevention of Radicalization has much broader and deeper reasons than the prevention of terrorism, terrorism may help our societies to understand it “ad absurdum”.

 

 

I would not like to tire you with useless details on our  Strategy, or thus abuse the time imparted for this address.

 

So let me just stress that the EU Strategy while admitting that Radicalization “is not confined to one belief system or political persuasion” focuses mainly on the mesh of accusations, diatribes and invectives which invoke the authority of Islam and the sense of equity of the target audience to attack fundamental rights - notably those to life, integrity of person, dignity and freedom of expression.

 

The Strategy affirms “the Union’s rejection of any justification for terrorism, religious or otherwise” and welcomes the “strong stance that the people of Europe and beyond, including Muslims, have taken to reject terrorism”. It enunciates the resolve of the Union to:

 

disrupt the activities of the networks and individuals who draw people into terrorism;

 

ensure that voices of mainstream opinion prevail over those of extremism;

 

promote yet more vigorously security, justice, democracy and opportunity for all.   

 

The EU Strategy focuses on specific challenges dealing for instance with Radicalization processes taking place through the internet, in prisons and places of education.

 

It identifies as the core of the issue “propaganda which distorts conflicts around the world as a supposed proof of a clash between the West and Islam and which claims to give individuals both an explanation for grievances and an outlet for their anger” identifying the need to work simultaneously “to change the perceptions of European and Western policies, particularly among Muslim Communities, and to correct unfair or inaccurate perceptions of Islam and Muslims”.

 

The EU strategy correctly identifies a number of conditions which contribute to creating an environment in which people can more easily become radicalized. This   includes “poor or autocratic governance; states moving from autocratic control via inadequate reform to partial democracy; rapid but unmanaged modernization; and lack of political and economic prospects, unresolved international and domestic strife; and inadequate and inappropriate education or cultural opportunities for young people”. It identifies ways and means to address those conditions within the EU and with regard to third countries.

 

The EU strategy is in my view balanced, lucid and honest. It is the opposite of the propaganda it aims to fight and therefore very difficult to pursue, since countering simple lies with complex truths is never easy.

A few examples may illustrate this conclusion:

 

Our will to dialogue with Islam on these matters can be easily - and falsely - portrayed as meaning that Islam is perceived as extraneous to Europe, implying that millions of Muslim citizens are somehow not “fully” Europeans;

 

The enunciation we make of the factors which facilitate Radicalization can be falsely presented as some sort of recognition of a justification for violent propaganda or even violence itself;

 

Our resolve to protect our citizens, notably the young, from those who want to destroy them as persons and as citizens and the need to “put in place the right legal framework to prevent individuals from inciting and legitimizing violence” can be misrepresented as the prelude of autocratic “Big Brother” states meddling in everything from school, to prayer, to family life;

 

Conversely, our concern with correcting unfair or inaccurate perceptions of Islam and Muslims and with using language which is non-emotional and non offensive to Muslims can be described by some as “white washing”, politically correct, or whimsical.  

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

We must resist the temptation to fight like with like. I believe that, in spite of temptation, we should not try to fight propaganda with counter-propaganda. Propaganda thrives on feeling and works best with the most vulnerable:

 

children, ever younger ones;

adolescents in their quest for identity and in their quest for a worthy quest;

young adults weakened by lack of cultural and family references and by poor individual prospects;

Those living in depression or under oppression;

 

Of course we should waste no time and be modern. YouTube videos: why not?! Social and electronic networks addressing radicalization: what are we waiting for?! But never forget that our policies address reason and work best with balanced, educated, integrated, active members of our societies: these are the vast majority in all our countries and in them resides our strength.

 

Better education, better integration, better prospects: yes, yes and yes. Otherwise, our policies and words need to remain firmly balanced, lucid and honest as that is the only way we will retain the trust and respect of our societies and communities.

 

 

 

At this point, and talking about balanced, lucid and honest policies allow me to say a few words to praise the way in which the Netherlands has been reflecting on its own challenges regarding Radicalization and “Polarization”, this one an innovative and operative concept to address group dynamics rather than individual ones.

 

The whole of Europe has been following with great interest the tremendous effort the Netherlands has put over the last two years or so in the development of its national Plan on combating Radicalization and polarization.

 

Only the future will tell if you have found all the right answers but in my view a few things are certain:

-I believe from what I have read that you asked the right questions;

-that you did so in an honest, lucid and balanced way;

- that you did it the hard way – involving many ministries and authorities in the time honoured “poldering”[1] tradition of the Dutch – and;

- that you identified very interesting ideas, notably the involvement of local authorities in the fight against Radicalization.

 

As a democrat, I do believe that not all intolerant opinions should be tolerated by the law and that not all those which can be so should be politically tolerated. Stating that, loud and clear, takes political courage. So, without taking position on matters on Dutch internal policy, allow me nevertheless to express my genuine admeration for the way in which Dutch democracy is dealing with these extremely delicate matters.

 

The extent of the effort undertaken by the Dutch authorities in developing their Plan brings me to a fourth idea: that if the identification of the existence of Radicalization and the related problems often comes first to Government attention by means of police and security services and the formulation of policies to counter it often initiated by Ministries of Justice and Home Affairs, there is very little that these can do on their own to counter Radicalization, whether at national or European level. Finding ways and means to mobilise at national level inter alia the Ministries of Social Affairs, Education, Employment, Foreign Affairs and Development and at European level the corresponding Council formation is in my view a key challenge. Until we do so, chances are that our policies look very good but do very little.   

 

 

 

Allow me at this point to show a bit of  a national pride which is perhaps not entirely fitting in my capacity today as representative of the Presidency of the EU Council.

 

It just so happens that, last week, was published a study on migrant integration policies conducted in twenty eight developed countries including the Netherlands, Portugal, twenty three other EU Member States as well as Switzerland, Norway and Canada. This study looked into legislation and policy measures across six different areas: “access to the labour market”; “family regrouping”, “long term residence”, “political participation”, “acquisition of nationality” and “non discrimination”. Belgium and The Netherlands came third and forth with practically identical results.

 

I am most proud to say that Portugal came only second to Sweden at the top of the list. Why do I bring the matter up, besides my Government’s understandable pride in the achievement? I do so for three reasons:

 

Firstly because while Portugal doesn’t have a policy specifically aimed at preventing and responding against Radicalization – which is as such insignificant - my country does have, as many others do, policies which are there because they correspond to values and needs and effectively address many of the same concerns;

 

Secondly, to note that you don’t have to be very rich in order to be fair: the Portuguese know as emigrants what migration can be at its worst and we want to treat our immigrants with the same respect which we wish be granted to our citizens; “do on to others”.

 

Finally, because this fact may help to explain why the Portuguese Presidency of the EU decided to invest considerably in taking forward EU work in the area of prevention and response against Radicalization. Why?

 

Firstly, because – as I previously said - I believe that you don’t have to have a Radicalization problem for the measures required to fight Radicalization to make sense in their own terms: for ourselves, for other countries like ourselves or for Europe as a whole. We do it because it’s right; because it is in accordance with our principles and our values;

 

Secondly, because we are all in this together. If Radicalization is a problem with which the Netherlands, the UK or other EU Member State are confronted, and the EU can help to address it; then the EU should help. That is the meaning of Solidarity. Furthermore, it is a problem with which our non EU neighbours or other partners are confronted and the EU can help, we believe that it should help too. Not only because in today’s world Radicalization is “contagious” across continents, but because the policies which make sense to fight Radicalization in these countries would make sense anyway with a view to supporting sustainable human development;

 

Thirdly, because now is the time to act. My Government believes that it would be a mistake to be complacent – independently of the fact that radicalization is currently practically unknown in Portugal and of our good performance e.g. in integration of migrants. To the contrary, Radicalization can spread from abroad and it can develop insidiously in our midst. A major recent judicial action in Portugal against dozens of “skinheads” testifies to our vigilance to fight violent intolerance and prejudice in whatever guise with the full might of the law.

 

 

 

With your indulgence I would like to end referring that, in the area of Radicalization and Recruitment to terrorism we have proposed to focus as EU Presidency in an area where the Netherlands is today perceived as one the Member States with a greater knowledge and expertise, that of Radicalization of youth.

 

The European Union Strategy for Combating Radicalization and Recruitment to Terrorism clearly identifies the challenge of preventing and addressing the radicalization of young people both in the EU and in third countries. Furthermore, it identifies places of education as offering vulnerabilities to those playing a role in radicalization while focusing on the importance of the literature which propagates an extremist worldview which brings individuals to consider and justify violence.

 

We organized therefore in Brussels on 11 September 2007 an EU seminar on “preventing and addressing radicalization of youth”. This aimed to: seek a common understanding of the current trends in the radicalization of youth in the EU and third Countries, as well as the contributing factors; to share information about responses developed at national level, to determine good practice and work together to come up with new ideas on how to address this challenge;

 

The Council will now consider the establishment of recommendations addressing action both at Member State and EU level and including elements to be implemented as appropriate in different pillars and frameworks. These could include both specific initiatives as well as concerns to be streamlined in the context of existing policies, also in bilateral relations with third countries notably trough appropriate use of political dialogue and assistance programs. 

 

Why have we, Portugal, during our EU Presidency focussed on the Radicalization of youth? Quite simply because we think that if, in many regards, what we do today will affect the conditions we will have to contend with in ten or twenty years, in no area is this more true than in this one. That is the last of the five ideas I would like to leave you with: tomorrow’s potential alienated youth and even terrorists are today just children: our children. It is our duty to protect them and to offer them ways towards fulfilment, participation and citizenship. Whether these children live and grow in Lisbon, Rotterdam, Leids, Marrakesh or Jakarta – that certainly makes a difference as regards which government has the primary responsibilities for addressing their needs. In a way though, it makes little difference: they are our children – all of them – and we are responsible – all of us.    

 

Thank you for your kind interest and attention.

 



[1] “Poldering” – processo tradicional destinado à geração de consenso na gestão dos diques (polders) – a expressão é hoje em dia utilizada por analogia nos Países Baixos para descrever processos políticos complexos de natureza estratégica envolvendo consultas alargadas.