Eric Gozlan

Features of European radicalism

Before discussing this topic, we need to define the term “radicalism.”

In my latest book, “Extremism and Radicalism: Ways Out” I write that “Depending on the circumstances, the word ‘radical’ may have various definitions. In some contexts, it simply means ‘wanting to bring about political change’. In the context of preventing violent extremism, radicalization is a process by which a person adopts extreme views or practices that may legitimize the use of violence.

The European Commission defines radicalization in its texts as “a phenomenon in which individuals adopt opinions, views and ideas that could lead to terrorist acts.”

Religious radicalism corresponds to the fundamental, even extremist, application of an ideology. Characterized by a literalist reading of the holy texts and by a way of life purified of any cultural practice, religious radicalism goes so far as to legitimize ideological and armed combat against practices said to be contrary to its ideologies.

The different radicalisms in Europe

For more than twenty years, we have witnessed a rise in political and religious radicalism, radicalism that is often violent.

The mainstream is becoming more and more extremist. What used to be named a radical attitude ten years ago is becoming more and more common.

European authorities are trying to counteract radical violence by public initiatives. In 2011 the European Commission, for example, inaugurated the Radicalization Awareness Network.

Political radicalism in Europe has two faces. That of the extreme right, which looks to a mythical past, “sovereignism”, and that of the extreme left, which looks to an imaginary and totalitarian future, “wokism”.

The extreme right

Over the past quarter century, several parties of the far right or populist right have brought up a breakthrough into their national political systems.

– The Front National in France,

– The FPÖ in Austria,

– The Progress Party in Norway and Denmark,

– The Danish People’s Party,

– The Slovak National Party,

– The Italian Social Movement-National Alliance and he Northern League,

– The Republikaner, the NPD and the DVU in Germany,

– The Pim Fortuyn list and the Freedom Partý in the Netherlands,

– Ataka in Bulgaria,

– The People’s Party of Greater Romania,

– Vlaams Belang and the National Front in Belgium,

– The Union Démocratique du Centre in Switzerland,

– LAOS in Greece.

Right-wing extremists in Europe have some things in common:

– A rejection of representative government and democratic values

– A populist dimension

– A valorization of the nation,

– A valorization of violence,

– A rejection of immigration, even xenophobia,

– An authoritarian project in terms of internal security.

The two main topics of the right-wing extremists are:

– Islam,

– Immigration.

Thus the “Great Replacement” theory asserts that non-white and Muslim immigrants in Western countries are invaders, pushed by manipulative elites to replace the original European populations.

This idea appealed to Islamophobic populists in the early 2000s, especially after the attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States. The arrival in Europe in 2015 and 2016 of two million asylum seekers, mostly from the Middle East, was an opportunity for extremists to develop their thesis of the “Great Replacement”.

According to the European Centre for Policy Strategy (ECPS), immigration has become one of the main concerns of Europeans as of 2014. This issue has influenced elections in Europe.

Why is the far right successful in Europe?

Several factors explain this success:

– We are witnessing in Europe a distrust of politicians. Abstention is a powerful indicator of the rejection of politics.

– Far-right parties benefit from a wide media coverage by news channels.

– The program of the far-right parties are less theoretical and closer to citizens ‘concerns.

– Conventional parties have been too lax on immigration policies and have failed to apprehend the rise of Muslim radicalism.

The extreme left

Unlike the extreme right, the extreme left remains modestly established in Europe, both in terms of numbers and electoral results.

Left-wing extremists in Europe have some things in common:

– Radical environmentalism,

– Radical feminism,

– Hatred of globalism.

And above all, for some time now, they have been using the Woke ideology, saying: “If you elect me, the historical dominants who hold power will be driven out and it is you, the dominated, who will be in power through me”.

The term “woke”, which appeared in the United States in the context of black activism to denounce racism and police violence, has had a meteoric rise in public debate in Europe over the past years. Today, deviated from its original meaning the word is derided as an instrument of “censorship”.

For the followers of this theory, there are two kinds of people:

A person who defines himself as “awake” is aware of social inequalities, as opposed to people who are “asleep” regarding the oppression of women, lesbian, gay, bi and transsexual people, people of foreign origin, etc.

Recently, the “Cancel culture” or identity culture came in addition, pointing out the injustices suffered by certain categories of people.  This public denunciation is gaining momentum on social networks and cultural productions deemed discriminatory are being scratched and erased.

With this ideology, the extreme left expresses its will to erase a part of history (especially when statues are taken down) and is close to the extreme right because it is against freedom of expression.

Religious radicalism

We observe in Europe that religious communities are closing in on themselves. Communitarianism is more and more present. Thus, many young people say they are of X or Y religion before defining themselves by their nationality.

As I explained in a report for the French Senate, we are witnessing a rise in radicalism among young religious people and in particular among Muslims

The reasons are various:

– A lack of education,

– A victim-based approach,

– A breakdown of family unit,

– A lack of economic prospects,

– A rejection of religious institutions,

– Importation of the Middle East conflict.

Religious radicalism also comes from the failure of inter-religious dialogue.

We observe that over the last twenty years, inter-religious dialogue has been conducted by religious authorities, i.e. by rabbis, imams or priests. They discuss for hours together, philosophize, compare texts, say nice things to each other but… it is a failure.

Failure, because none of those religious dignitaries has a critical reading of his religion. For them religion is a dogma.

Religious dogma is dangerous because it imposes, does not admit the other’s truth, and thinks it is right about everything.

In the different communities, about 80% of people are not affiliated with institutions officially representing cults, but this does not prevent them from having a religious identity. As well as there is a crisis of politics, there is a crisis of big religious institutions. The crisis of politics and of religious institutions results in the rise of extremes.

As we have seen, political and religious radicalism is on the rise in Europe. Just look at what is happening in France with the rise of polls in favor of Zemmour who, with Marine Le Pen, has more than 35% of voting intentions. At the same time, many Salafist mosques are being built.

Politicians can still act against this rise of radicalism. For that they must:

– Listen to the grievances of people,

– Have a speech close to citizens’ priorities

– But above all, they must do everything to regain citizens’ confidence.

About the Author
Eric Gozlan is Government Counselor and co-director of the international Council for diplomacy and dialogue. He works in civic diplomacy in the Middle East and in Africa. He has received numerous awards for peace and gives numerous lectures. He served in the IDF for several years.
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