Inspiration Points for EDUC8
“I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older Boston marathon bomber, to a photographer in 2009 (Remick 2013, 19)
Radicalisation leading to violent extremism is one of the greatest societal challenges EU has to tackle.
The fact that 5000 European youth (according to official figures) joined ISIL between 2011-2016 in pursuit of a fake caliphate and the aftershocks of the event that makes itself felt in forms of newer terrorist attacks on European soil has created the urgency to find solution. In the following bullets, research findings will be listed to create the context Educ8 Project will expand upon. As opposed to general misperception, the reports indicate that insufficient religious education or level of understanding create a gap easy to be manipulized. In most basic terms, Educ8 Project aims at building resilience amongst European youth against radicalisation through religious education and social inclusion efforts. Below are most relevant findings and currents the project seizes as departure points:
1. A recent study conducted by German security authorities by analyzing data on 910 individuals who traveled to the Levant revealed that 17% of the total number were converts. What is more, converts comprised at least one third of female departees. (Heinke, 2017) As Prof.Speckhard says: “New converts to Islam are also vulnerable, as they are often […] naïve and open to manipulation about what Islam actually says by terrorist recruiters.”
Prof. Scott Atran, during his address to the UN Security Council on 23 April 2015, highlighted lack of traditional religious education among those joining ISIL. He further said:”an ICM poll revealed that more than 1 in 4 French youth – of all creeds – between the ages of 18 and 24 have a favorable attitude towards ISIS; and in Barcelona just this month 5 of 11 captured ISIS sympathizers who planned to blow up parts of the city were recent atheist or Christian converts.” (Atran, 2015)
In his piece where he presents the case of two ISIL terrorists, Mehdi Hassan says before their journey to Syria, the two books they bought from amazon were “Islam for Dummies” and “Koran for Dummies.” He further continues:
In 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was leaked to the Guardian. It revealed that, “far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practice their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.” The analysts concluded that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation”, the newspaper said. (Hassan, 2014)
In their latest article on challenges to create counter-narratives, Prof. Speckhard and Dr. Shajkovci say:
The main recruiting pool for groups like ISIS are Muslim converts and second generation Muslim immigrant communities who have not found the promises of the EU to match their daily realities. In formal and informal interviews with hundreds of EU citizens to date, ICSVE researchers have found sentiments of Islamophobia, discrimination, and marginalization to be widely prevalent in their daily lives and experiences. (Speckhard & Shajkovci, 2018)
2. Another important factor in radicalisation is the identity crisis or an effort to find his / her place in the society. Initially taking flight after 9/11 attacks, change of attitude towards Muslims and discourse conflating Islam to terror within European societies based on weak understanding has been a reason for identity crisis and polarisation. This polarization has functioned as both a reason and a result of radicalization. So it is arguable that, among many, one of the important causes of polarization is prevalent negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. A recent Pew research in Europe shows especially in countries in periphery like Hungary, Italy, Poland, Greece and Spain rate of citizens holding negative views towards Muslims is above 65 percent.
All in all, converts and Muslims lacking sufficient education in their religion are more prone to propaganda and influence of violent extremist groups.
3. Another important factor in radicalisation is the identity crisis or an effort to find his / her place in the society. Initially taking flight after 9/11 attacks, change of attitude towards Muslims and discourse conflating Islam to terror within European societies based on weak understanding has been a reason for identity crisis and polarisation. This polarization has functioned as both a reason and a result of radicalization. So it is arguable that, among many, one of the important causes of polarization is prevalent negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. A recent Pew research in Europe shows especially in countries in periphery like Hungary, Italy, Poland, Greece and Spain rate of citizens holding negative views towards Muslims is above 65 percent.
4. Another important current tearing at European social fabric is anti-semitism. Even 75 years after the Holocaust, Jews across the EU face insults, threats and all sorts of bad behaviour. Latest EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’ (FRA) 2018 survey on 16,395 self-identified Jewish people (aged 16 or over) in 12 EU Member States revealed that hundreds of respondents personally experienced an antisemitic physical attack in the 12 months preceding the survey. More than one in four (28 %) of all respondents experienced antisemitic harassment at least once during that period. Those who wear, carry or display items in public that could identify them as Jewish are subject to more antisemitic harassment (37 %) than those who do not (21 %).*
5. A further religion colored risk for Europe is right wing extremism (RWE)**. Despite adopting a variety of ideologies, a sizable proportion reject groups associated with different religious (e.g. Jews and Muslims) background. As reiterated in European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2018:
An important trigger for the current expansion of the RWE scene is the fear of an assumed Islamisation of the Western world. A major and active representative of the RWE scene motivated by fear of Muslim domination and the introduction of Islamic law (shari’a)[…] The UK assessed that protest activity by RWE groups will continue to target predominantly Muslim areas, provoking racial hatred and harassment. (EUROPOL, 2018)
6. REDCo is the first substantial research project on religion and education financed by the European Commission, which ran from March 1st 2006 until March 31st 2009. Qualitative and quantitative research was conducted in eight countries (Germany, England, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Estonia, Russia, Spain) mainly focusing on religion in the lives and schooling of students in the 14–16 age group. The study dealt with different perspectives of the general question on how far religion is a factor of stereotypes and conflicts or a source of dialogue and peaceful living together. Here are some key findings of the study:
- Those who learn about religious diversity in school are more willing to enter into conversations about religions and world views with students from other backgrounds than those who do not have this opportunity for learning.
- Students believe that the main preconditions for peaceful coexistence between people of different religions are knowledge about each other’s religions and worldviews, shared interests, and joint activities.
- Students for whom religion is important in their lives are more likely to respect the religious background of others and value the role of religion in the world.
- Most students would like to see school dedicated more to teaching about different religions than to guiding them towards a particular religious belief or worldview.
And below are some of the policy recommendations the project has produced:
- Develop innovative approaches to learning about religions and worldviews in different subjects including religious education, history, literature and science.
- Inclusion of learning about different religious and secular worldviews in their complexity and inner diversity.
- The curriculum for teacher training should include the development of skills to organise and moderate in-class debates on controversial religious issues and conflicting worldviews.
7. According to a recent Pew research poll, Western Europeans who say they personally know a Muslim are more likely to disagree with a negative statement about Muslims. In other words, having some knowledge about Islam brings about a modest attitudinal and behavioral change. However the real change becomes real upon contact and relationship.
As Professor Didier Pollefeyt from Catholic University of Leuven says: “If we want to uproot religion based-violence we need more than having children who knows more about the other religion. We need a dialogue and understanding within class. The students should not only understand but also appreciate the other, they should not only respect but at the same be interested in their classmates’ religion and lifestyle.” This interaction within the diverse classroom can be created under supervision of the teacher with special additional education and training.
Heinke, D. H. (2017). German Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq: The Updated Data and its Implications. CTC Sentinel, 10(3), 17-22.
Speckhard, A., & Shajkovci, A. (2018, November 27). Challenges in Creating, Deploying Counter- Narratives to Deter Would-be Terrorists. Retrieved from Homeland Security Today.us: https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/terrorism-study/perspective-challenges-in-creating-deploying-counter-narratives-to-deter-would-be-terrorists/
Hassan, M. (2014, August 21). What the Jihadists Who Bought ‘Islam For Dummies’ on Amazon Tell Us About Radicalisation. Retrieved from HuffPost: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/jihadist-radicalisation-islam-for-dummies_b_5697160.html
Atran, S. (2015, April 25). Scott Atran on Youth, Violent Extremism and Promoting Peace. Retrieved from PLUS.ORG: https://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2015/04/25/scott-atran-on-youth-violent-extremism-and-promoting-peace/
EUROPOL. (2018). EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2018. The Hague .