What generates populism and radical forms of expression? A Stimulating Workshop by the PRIME Youth

BİLGİ PRIME Youth workshop series continues. The European Institute has hosted German colleagues for the second part. With the moderation of Prof. Thomas Faist, values, stereotypes as well as other root causes were debated.

October 23, 2020

The online workshop series under the scope of ERC-funded PRIME Youth Project has continued with its second part. Hosted by European Institute of İstanbul Bilgi University, the workshop on "Radicalization and Nativism" was held on October 19, 2020.

In the current political, social, and economic context of the European Union, which has been hit by substantial crises, the escalation of fear and prejudice among youth necessitates more attention. Irrespective of being native or immigrant-origin, a number of young groups are taking radical stances to show their responses to globalization-rooted threats such as deindustrialization, isolation, denial, humiliation, precariousness, insecurity, and anomia. These are the social groups that are specifically vulnerable to discourses that culturalise and stigmatize the “other”. Throughout Europe, it is possible to see that while a number of indigenous young groups are shifting to right-wing populism, a number of Muslim youths are shifting towards Islamic radicalism. The common denominator of these groups is that they are both downwardly mobile and inclined towards radicalization.

Exploring the socio-economic, political and psychological aspects of radicalisation among the European youth is then considerably important. In this sense, the online workshop “Radicalization and Nativism” has witnessed a fruitful debate, with the contribution of esteemed colleagues, on the question of what generates populist discourse and radical form of Islamist within the same societies at the same time.

The workshop was moderated by Prof. Thomas Faist of Bielefeld University, one of the scientific advisors of the project. Prof. Faist opened the workshop with a warm welcome speech underlining the importance of the PRIME Youth research project in relation to the similarities to the perceived threats of natives in the US coming from the Socialists and Catholics in the late 19th century. 

The workshop continued with the presentation of Prof. Ayhan Kaya, the Principle Investigator of the Project, of Bilgi University. Prof. Kaya scrutinized social, economic, political, and psychological sources of radicalization among native European youth and Muslim-origin youth with migration background, who are both inclined to express their discontent through ethnicity, culture, religion, heritage, homogeneity, authenticity, past, gender, and patriarchy.

EU’s articulation of radicalisation

In the first session of the workshop, Dr. Ayse Tecmen, post-doctoral researcher at European Institute of İstanbul Bilgi University realized a presentation titled “EU’s Articulation of Radicalisation: Deconstructing the Discursive Formulation of Radicalism through Counter Measures”. She discussed radicalization and its prevention as a key pillar of EU’s counter-terrorism strategy. Tracing the methods of cooperation and the proliferation of prevention strategies, she analysed the EU’s radicalization discourse through a discourse-historical analysis focusing on the interplay between EU strategies and social, and cultural developments. This illustrated that the EU mainly reacts to the internal and external dynamics influencing the political and public debates. Dr. Tecmen noted that in the EU’s discourse escalation of radicalization to terrorism remains the central premise but in the mid-2010s “root causes” of radicalisation were introduced to partly address individual socioeconomic and psychological factors provoking radicalization. 

Using values to guide analysis

The presentations were followed by Dr. Aysenur Benevento, ERC research fellow at European Institute. She argued that narrating is purposeful; and that we use it to present ourselves in ways that connect or disconnect with the social and political milieu or to suggest different views of how things should be. Dr. Benevento explained why values analysis is important to conduct such researches. She asserted that values analysis is grounded on the idea that values guide individuals’ narratives. People interpret, adopt, and modify existing values of their cultures to be part of or differentiate themselves from other cultures. There is also a broader process for comparing the value enactments across narratives. In the PRIME Youth project context, the narratives represented and organized via the four countries and the native/Muslim status will allow the research team to analyze and compare similarities and differences across groups of people.

Being careful not to stereotype people leading to conflict and discrimination

Lisa Kiefer (Projekleiterin Aktion Gemeinwesen und Beratung e.V.) made a presentation expressing the practical aspect of their project, called as CleaRTeaching, implemented in schools in Germany. She shared the findings of the project which aims to prevent radicalization and to strengthen democratic attitudes in schools. She noted that teachers see students’ concerns and problematic stances they might develop, including cultural suspicion, Islamism, or Islamophobism. She said that assuming the non-linear nature of radicalism, “we should be careful not to stereotype people leading to conflict and discrimination”. Kiefer also discussed the polarization among the youth and the rise of both Salafi extremism and far-right extremism. She argued that monitored and structured processes introduced at an early age could prevent attacks and conflicts originating from these groups’ tensions. Therefore, schools and extracurricular partners can be sensitized to possible indicators of radicalisation.

A German example: How to explain joint fighting within extremist perspective

As the last presenter of the workshop, Denis van de Wetering from Bielefeld University, Institute for Interdisciplinary Conflict and Violence Research discussed his findings from interviews with 18 former right-wing German extremist men between 2015 and 2016. “In the interviews, former right-wing extremist men addressed that they are repulsed by interactions that enforce the superior/subordinate. They noted that they commit violent acts to establish dominance, which results from the combative negotiation of internal orders among right-wing extremist men.” he briefly summarized. Also he pointed out another finding that physical and emotional involvement in fights was essential to establish their significance within the right-wing extreme social order. He further discussed that joint fighting creates mutual trust and collectivity in search of confrontation. In this case, solidarity acts to invalidate social norms against hurting others and legitimizing violence.

*** The first part of the BİLGİ PRIMEYouth workshop series was held under the title of “Radicalization and Political Extremism” on October 8, 2020 to share the initial findings mostly with the French colleagues. BİLGİ PRIME Youth (Nativism, Islamophobism and Islamism in the Age of Populism: Culturalization and Religionization of What is Social, Economic and Political in Europe) has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

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by Fatma Yılmaz-Elmas and Ayşe Tecmen European Institute, İstanbul Bilgi University