Terrorist groups’ violent narratives and their growing traction among local populations

Online round-table discussion: Terrorist groups’ violent narratives and their growing traction among local populations:  Lessons from Italy, Western Balkans & Central Asia

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The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), in cooperation with Internews Central Asia’s office in Bishkek and the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD), organised on 30 of October 2020 an online round-table discussion dedicated to “Terrorist groups’ violent narratives and their growing traction among local populations: Lessons from Italy, Western Balkans & Central Asia.”

This event is part of the 18-month long project, “Strengthening Resilience to Radicalisation and Disinformation in Central Asia”, that aims to strengthen citizens’ capacity in countering violent extremist narratives and disinformation campaigns that lead to radicalisation. The project supports media professionals, civil society organisations (CSO), government institutions, religious leaders and active citizens in Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

This online round-table discussion marked the conclusion of the online fellowship training programme, within the same project, and it provided a stage for prevention of violent extremism (PVE) experts from Europe and Central Asia to share their insights from their latest research projects and effective practices in countering violent extremist narratives and their impact among local populations.

Samuel Doveri Vesterbey, ENC Managing Director, introduced the panel discussion with a reflection on the need to think globally on the dissemination of extremist narratives and the “how” and “why” that causes these to easily spread. The Director questioned the audience and pannel on what makes radical discourses attractive to some people and what is the role of culture, geography, economics or language in the equation. The event featured opening remarks by Dr. Murat Seyrek, Senior Policy Advisor at EFD, and Marc Friedrich, Head of Unit at Foreign Policy Instrument (FPI), who congratulated all partner organisations involved in this initiative, on the positive and much needed demonstration of solidarity towards journalists.

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During the online panel discussion Dr. Francesco Farinelli, Programme Director at EFD and Professor Gerta Zaimi, Researcher at the International Strategic Studies Centre of the University of Florence shared their views on the evolving situation in their regional contexts, noting that there is a paradigm shift being fueled by the Covid-19 pandemic and its social-economic consequences. Extremists groups are adapting themselves to new strategies and ways of reaching out to communities, instrumentalising low trust levels towards public institutions and rising unemployment rates, among other problems. More specific, in his presentation Dr. Farinelli focused in jihadi terrorist groups’ violent narratives and related radicalisation issues in Italy whereas Dr. Zaimi  demonstrated how external actors are challenging traditional Islam in Western Balkansin in her presentation.

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The third and final speaker, Ikbalzhan Mirsaiitov, a Conflict Prevention Advisor at Internews, focused on messages from banned organizations in social networks, leading to radicalisation among young people in Central Asia and he encouraged journalists and civil society representatives to foster intra-religious dialogue by providing media platforms for a closer interaction between different groups. This is the main counter-strategy the expert advised in order to prevent the influence of the radical discourses taking place online on a daily basis.

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Stay tuned for the upcoming Internews and ENC study on the impact of Covid-19 on media consumption of vulnerable communities in Central Asia to be published soon! The study will provide a mapping of media and information consumption among  vulnerable community (labour migrants, refugees/stateless persons and ethnic minorities) during the Covid-19 pandemic, while identifying their vulnerabilities and risks of social exclusion.