Civil society represents an underused resource to confront violent extremism. We can offer a positive and nonviolent vision of our future together that can create an effective alternative message in front of the voices and groups that promote violence. Civil society needs to be supported, protected and empowered to make a constructive contribution to confront violent extremism. We should all agree that when security authorities need to respond, we have in fact already failed in our longing for peaceful existence. When the State impose a response based on security-only measures, it is because there has been a failure to deal with the factors that lead to extremism and violence. Civil Society is the key actor with the legitimacy, the capillarity, and the capabilities to foster community resilience in front of the violent extremist message.
We are aware that various international statements at all levels have highlighted the role of civil society in a comprehensive and multidimensional response to the threat of violent extremism. The United Nations’ General Assembly in its resolution adopting the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, confirmed the determination of Member States to “further encourage non-governmental organisations and civil society to engage, as appropriate, on how to enhance efforts to implement the Strategy.”
In the framework of the OSCE, the African Union, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation or the European Union, among others, it has been recognized that it is critically important to engage civil society in finding common political settlements for conflicts and to promote human rights and tolerance as essential elements in the prevention of violent extremism. We are aware of the ongoing efforts of the European, North African and Middle Eastern national and regional initiatives, as well as current local policies, actions and plans aligned with the principles of preventing violent extremism. However, the good-willing positions expressed have not been followed by real onthe-ground measures to reinforce the civil society contribution to prevent violent extremism. Actually, there is a growing concern that states are interested in restraining the space of civil society. In the name of fighting terrorism, governments have curtailed political freedoms and imposed restrictive measures against human rights defenders and civil society activists in many countries. States systematically invoke national security and public safety to shrink the space of independent civil society activities. In many countries, special legislative and regulatory measures have been used to crack down on NGOs and activists who advocate for social change and criticize government policies. These measures make it more difficult for civil society actors to promote human rights and tolerance as an essential element in the prevention of violent extremism. It is essential to maintain and protect civil society if we want to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.
We are convinced that the creation of open, equitable, inclusive, socially cohesive and plural societies, based on the full respect of human rights and with economic opportunities for all, represents the most tangible and meaningful alternative to violent extremism and the most promising strategy to render it unattractive. We consider that civil society has a proven capacity for broad-based mobilization and for creating bottom-up claims that foster responsive governance. III. Actors, concepts and working definitions 13. We acknowledge that the lack of universally accepted definition of the terms “radicalization”, “violent extremism”, “hate speech” or “terrorism” in governments or academia is a challenge for all those who want to establish effective measures to counter violence and prevent violent extremism in our societies. The lack of clear definitions is especially worrying when we consider that mass media are daily using these terms in a variety of forms, compelling hegemonic definitions that are potentially incompatible with Universal Human Rights norms and standards. Even more disturbing is the state’s capacity to categorize individuals or groups as being “terrorist” or “violent extremists”. There are historical and present proofs that when states are lacking democracy and rule of law, state capacity can be used to stigmatize human rights defenders as terrorists, enemies of the State or political opponents. Recognizing this situation, our aim is to contribute to provide working definitions of those concepts in order to have a common basis and approach.
We in Rap Project consider the present the radicalization as a synonym of indoctrination, a process by which an individual, group or state comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideas and aspirations that reject the status quo. The term radicalization does not imply, necessarily a negative connotation. Processes of peaceful radicalization do exist and they also aspire to reject the status quo; individual or collective grievances are channeled adopting subversive ideologies that fight for social and democratic progress. It is important to make some distinctions between radicals, those people holding radical ideas, and violent radicals, those who adopt violent extremist ideologies. There are multiple pathways that constitute the process of radicalization, which can be independent but are usually mutually reinforcing. The indoctrination, specially addressed by violent means remains one of the most dangerous ones.
We understand violent extremism(s) as the ideologies that aspire to achieve political power opting for the use of violent means over persuasion. Violent extremist ideologies are based in totalitarian, fanatic, intolerant, patriarchal, anti-democratic and anti-pluralistic values. Violent extremist ideologies can be adopted by individuals, groups, corporations or states. We aim to include in our definition of violent extremism all ideologies advocating, maintaining or generating Structural, Cultural and Direct Violence. It is relevant to underline that no society, religious creed or worldview is immune to violent extremism; the definition includes, among others, right or left movements, ethnical, national, class, gender or fundamentalist religious movements. We understand the violence generated by violent extremist ideologies in all its dimensions: direct, cultural and structural violence. The main acts of violence that interest to this Plan of Action are hate speech, hate crimes, terrorism and structural violence. We understand hate speech as the advocacy of hatred based on nationality, race or religion.
Hate speech is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. Hate speech should be considered as the propaganda and indoctrination processes of violent extremist movements to legitimize their violent ideologies. It is particularly dangerous when promoted by officials and medias. We understand hate crimes as prejudice-motivated criminal acts, that occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his/her perceived membership to a certain social group: sex, ethnicity, disability, language, nationality, religion or gender identity. We understand structural violence as acts of violence promoted by institutions and states that have adopted violent extremist ideologies and put limitations on groups of people constraining them from achieving the quality of life that would have otherwise been possible. These limitations could be political, economic, religious, cultural or legal. Structural violence generates non-natural violence and deaths provoked by stress, shame, discrimination and denigration that results from lower status and lack of dignity. We understand terrorism as an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, groups or states, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. This definition was the result of the work of Schmidt and Jongman in “Political Terrorism. A new guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories and Literature”, 1988.
Violent extremism undermines our collective efforts towards maintaining peace and human security, fostering sustainable development, protecting human rights, promoting democracy and justice, responding humanitarian crisis and providing access to the basic services in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Several violent extremist ideologies are present in the region generating an exceptional level of hate crimes, hate speech, terrorism activity and structural violence in all the region. A general lack of social cohesion, lack of confidence in governments and authorities, political violence and the persistent presence of unresolved and legitimate collective grievances have fueled violence and polarization to a level with no precedents since the mid XX century. Extreme-right populist, racist and islamophobic movements are pressuring governments towards intolerance and hate. Fanatic and fundamentalist violent extremist ideologies are gaining political power and radicalizing the public opinion of different countries against human rights and fundamental freedoms. In terms of peace and security, violent extremist groups are contributing significantly to the cycle of insecurity and armed conflict affecting our region.
The Mediterranean region remains one of the most insecure areas in the world, due to the existing armed conflicts fueled by the weapons trade, failed states, military occupations, dictatorships and repressive governments. Civilian population is put in danger, national and regional stability are largely undermined, there is an exacerbation of connections with transnational organized crime to increase their financial resources, and the generation of significant revenues from human trafficking. On the other hand, the need to protect citizens from the consequences of both intentional and unintentional human acts, as well as natural hazards and technical failures, has become an important strand in the European security discourse. The global economic expense on counter-terrorism is much bigger on the one devoted to conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. By responding to this threat, violent extremism has provoked an over-reaction among states, conceiving action for their own propaganda ends, as well as systematic human rights violations and deprivation of essential freedoms. It is also worrying both by the rise of hatred speech, mostly perpetrated by totalitarian movements, who are gaining political space. Concerning the different components of sustainable development, it is important to note that violent extremism not only deprives people of their freedoms, but limits opportunities to expand their capabilities. Current development challenges, such as inequalities, poverty and poor governance, violent extremism exacerbates those grievances (such the unequal access to justice), and creates a vicious cycle of decline, which particularly affects marginalized groups and can affect the social cohesion.
While poverty cannot be proven to have a direct causal relationship to terrorism it is clear that extremist violence impact has been born most heavily by citizens in developing countries, even if recruitment and radicalization to violent extremism also happens in developed countries. Most governments in the region are spending increasingly large amounts of revenue to deal with the threats and consequences of violent extremism, taking away resources from other activities. The investment in Homeland and Defence Security and other counterviolent extremism measures have direct effects in several countries, where a notorious allocation of the budget has been dedicated to this sector to the detriment of other socioeconomic activities. The perception of insecurity increases this trend.
There is no doubt of the massive and systematic human rights violations committed by violent extremist groups in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Ranging from the right to life, as well as and the right to liberty and security of person, to freedom of expression, association, and thought, conscience and creed. Those groups also violate the rights of women and girls, including through sexual enslavement, forced marriages and encroachment on their rights to education and participation in public life. The overly broad application of counter-terrorism measures has had a profound detrimental impact on the enjoyment of human rights. Criminalising or otherwise prohibiting or sanctioning conduct without a clear definition is incompatible with the principle of legality, a basic rule of law precept. Counter-violence initiatives may compromise human rights and fundamental freedoms of the population they target, undermine the work of human rights defenders as well as the independence of civil society. Several governments in the region already routinely label political opponents, journalists, and human rights defenders as “extremists” or “terrorists”. In terms of humanitarian action and access to basic services, the region is facing a situation where the number of forced refugees and internal displaced persons is the highest on record, a situation to which violent extremism has been a significant contributing factor. The inaction about asylum policies implemented in the current migrant crisis in Europe has been aggravated by the choice of the securitization of borders as the main state’s response.