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Research and Strategies to Prevent Radicalisation and Violent Extremism

The EU was established with the aim to provide common ground, literally and metaphorically, for its members to thrive in a stable and secure environment, being ‘united in diversity.’ The emergence of violent extremism, populism and radicalisation undermines European cohesion, unsettling the Union’s foundations and fostering insecurity among its citizens.

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For some, different ideological traditions or religious or political beliefs serve as flags of an ‘otherness’ they believe must be subdued. Impactful events may also give rise to extreme nationalist groups and/or tendencies. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, for example, in addition to the terrible human losses and destructions it causes in the country under attack, also deeply affects the social fabric of the occupying country as well as European societies in various ways. Not only did it lead to issues such as inflation and a new energy crisis, it also brought to light again another, more sinister façade of human nature often associated with societies in conflict. Extremist narratives surrounding the war emerged, leading to mounting polarisation in society and undermining stability. Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, addressing radicalisation and violent extremism has been and continues to be at the forefront of EU domestic and foreign security strategies. This challenge has prompted researchers to try to provide a better understanding of collective and individual triggers, geopolitical contexts, economic interests, diffusion channels and narratives. The goal is ultimately to shed light on why individuals embrace, support and act on extremist ideologies and movements that justify violence. Creating and sharing such knowledge constitute the first and most crucial step towards shaping resilient societies and designing interventions to protect the safety and well-being of all EU citizens.

An approach for unity, cohesion and security across the EU

A wide range of approaches (national security, international cooperation, social psychology, social policies, ethnography of social networks) turns the spotlight on the people and communities concerned. Moreover, it focuses on possible ways to address their challenges in order to build new forms of resilience and a common, inclusive sense of social cohesion against hateful and discriminatory extremist thinking and actions. At a policy level, initiatives such as the EU Strategic Orientations on a coordinated approach to prevention of radicalisation ensure that actions taken at EU level address and are aligned with the needs and priorities of stakeholders in Member States. Equally, the Radicalisation Awareness Network - RAN connects frontline practitioners from across Europe to exchange knowledge and approaches to preventing and countering violent extremism in all its forms. Moreover, the Counter-Terrorism Agenda aims to boost the EU’s resilience to terrorists’ threats, while legislation such as Regulation (EU 2021/784) tackles the dissemination of terrorist content online. The European Democracy Action Plan also identifies the need to counter radicalisation and disinformation, as a way to strengthen the resilience of EU democracies.

Preventing and countering violent extremism – 12 ways

Youth were at the heart of the CONNEKT and the ISLAM-OPHOB-ISM projects: the former explored what draws young people to acts of violent extremism, while the latter analysed and contrasted the processes behind the radicalisation of native European youths, who support movements labelled as far-right, and Muslim-origin youths with a migration background. Religion can be a polarising social factor, and while freedom of thought, belief, and religion is a fundamental right in the EU and in democratic societies at large, religious diversity remains for some groups a controversial issue and can be abused as a pretext to justify violence. GREASE engaged researchers from around the world to investigate the connection between state-religion relations, governance of religious diversity and violent radicalisation processes. RETOPEA, on the other hand, investigated the relationship between religion and society from a historical point of view. For decades, and more pronouncedly in recent years, populist movements have been finding their way into politics, sometimes voicing legitimate discontent in a society but actually leading to violent radicalisation, discrimination, hatred and disharmony in the political sphere. DEMOS addressed the challenge of populism by studying it via the innovative prism of ‘democratic efficacy.’ Focusing on four different movements, POWDER combined a theoretical interpretive approach and empirically sound research to investigate the mechanics of political protest within contemporary democracies. PAVE focused on the interconnection between community dynamics and violent extremism. Studying the factors that make communities resilient against radicalisation will lead to better tools for the EU to counteract the various aspects of the phenomenon. Therefore, PREVEX sought to understand why some communities are more able to display increased resilience against violent extremism compared to others. GRIEVANCE provided a new dimension to the fight against radicalisation by introducing innovative modelling approaches and data sets to better assess violent extremism risks. To that end, risk terrain modelling and discrete choice modelling were applied for the first time, paving the way for innovative research in the field. ViEWS employed machine learning algorithms to analyse a range of data sources related to past instances of violence. The premise was that predicting or anticipating the likelihood of conflict will better equip societies to take appropriate and timely action. Tolerance is a self-evident concept in the context of advanced societies. Surprisingly, though, it is not so easy to define. InTo explored the concept of intergroup toleration, aiming to provide a clearer definition of tolerance and through its findings stimulate broader debates around cultural diversity. The theme of ONLINERPOL was a strange strategy used by right-wing actors to circumvent internet censorship: the element of ‘fun.’ By focusing on fun as a ‘meta-practice’ of online extreme speech, the project provided insight into how xenophobic and exclusionary nationalist politics have managed to find their place online.