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Report: Social Exclusion & Radicalisation in the Balkans. How Saudi Arabia & UAE Bankroll Salafi Radicalisation

Tactics Institute for Security and Counter Terrorism presents its first major report, looking into trends in Islamic radicalisation with a focus on South-eastern Europe.

Click here to download the full report: Radicalisation in the Balkans

Terrorist activity is an individual decision that takes place in a social context and Tactics Institute wishes to contribute to increasing public understanding of the context in which individual biographies and social drivers of radicalisation evolve. To this end, this report brings together high calibre military and counterterrorism experts that combine local knowledge with policy expertise.

In this report, we discuss radicalisation processes in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia, looking at the specific context of radicalisation and its transnational implications. We discuss the Balkan context in relation to the UK’s experiences of community outreach and the ways and means by which counterterrorism policy acquires elements of a community outreach programme.

The report, Social Exclusion & Radicalisation in the Balkans. How Saudi Arabia & UAE Bankroll Salafi Radicalisation explores radicalisation as a path towards terrorism that is neither linear nor inescapable. The report focuses on the economic and social drivers that make particular mindsets susceptible to radicalisation, such as social exclusion and available funding that catalyse the immersion of specific communities into radicalised trajectories, as well as personal triggers, that bridge the gap between a radical mindset and terrorist action.

Clear in this report is the fact that the transnational flow of ideas, people, and capital contrasts sharply with the notion of Homeland Security as a domestically framed policy. The contradiction inherent in political movements such as ‘Take Back Control’ and the victorious Brexit campaign is that the elusive quest for control and the idea of a national policy response to a continental security threat. This idea is as problematic as the belief that the impact of social exclusion and vulnerability can be contained within national borders, regions, and neighbourhoods.

The interplay of global and local social challenges continues to shape and mould the politics of the 21st century across the board, not least in security policy development. Islamic radicalisation is a transnational phenomenon and drawing a single line of causality between lone-wolf attacks and more organised assaults on democracy and open societies is unhelpful and dangerous.

However, in a world of “brand name” terrorism, in which a specific core of ideas translates into particular modes of action, there is a modus operandi for “external actors” who instrumentalise a social condition to construct a militant worldview. From ISIS to al-Qaeda, a specific brand of Salafi and Wahhabi Islam is ultimately state-sponsored, by countries like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. But from state-agency to individual agency there is a wide gulf to bridge. Terrorists have profiles that are often reduced to their bare minimum in public discourse. They come from specific communities, although their socioeconomic profile is not singular; in the case of Islamic radicalisation, they often share similar gender roles, as well as perceptions of “justice” and “community.”

But the social challenge at hand is the emergence of a pool from which individuals with a radicalised worldview can be recruited. Acknowledging the obvious, this is radicalisation specific to Muslims communities. In fact, radicalisation touches specific communities immersed in Salafi discourse.

The report looks in-depth at Salafi Islam as a fringe phenomenon. Islam in the Balkans is directly linked to a sense of national delineation and is, so to speak, “indigenous.”

Across the board, Salafism is imported and foreign. Salafi preaching comes from the margins of the Islamic community, but its outreach is amplified by endowments and direct funding from countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While extremist discourse used to be confined to the outskirts of Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s, the Yugoslav wars brought the same logic of proxy encounters in Europe. The response to the 9/11 attacks on the United States led to a surge in radicalisation, and with the advent of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the phenomenon is now demonstrably deeply rooted in Brussels, Paris, London, and Madrid. The funding of Jabhat Al Nusra and other groups that evolved from “moderate resistance” to IS factions to a core stakeholder in the Caliphate vision has now become transnational and polycentric.

Historically Salafism is a mobilising force. The recent wave of Syrian and Iraqi refugees through the Balkans to Europe has been the source of unparalleled controversy, from Germany to Greece and from Italy to Finland. But perhaps the most significant wave of immigrants was that from Europe to the Middle East in the form of Jihadi fighters or people making their way to the region to become citizens of a Caliphate, burning their passports, and cutting ties to Europe. The war in Syria challenged the notion of the nation-state, the rule of law and created the sense that a post-state dystopia can be created on Europe’s doorstep. Although it was a fringe phenomenon for the millions of European Muslims, Jihadi terrorism painted a picture of European Islam as “the dark side within,” making Islamophobia more politically acceptable.

This report is a first step to understanding the social and biographical context of the people willing to cut those European ties. We open the discussion of both the multifaceted nature of social exclusion and its instrumentalisation, weaponisation, and transnational deployment. One significant case study discussed at length is radicalisation of the Roma population in the Balkans, who are recent converts to Islam. The case study is instructive because it points to a direct relationship between the parameters of social exclusion and terrorist action that we can relate to the Western Europen experience. As a logical consequence of the findings of its research and analysis, this report tends to reverse the order of the discussion throughout; from the securitisation of the challenge of radicalisation to its socialisation.

Salafism and Wahhabism are discussed as length, as is the funding of terrorism, the nature of actualised terrorist action, and the relationship of such movements to organised crime. In this holistic approach, the emphasis is on the political context of this discussion, an essential informer of security policy. The “transaction” of intelligence for tolerating the intolerable and trade for silence, comes with an opportunity cost, often leading to ineffective security.

The report’s contributors are:

Thomas Charles; Director, Tactics Institute

Professor Felipe Pathé Duarte; Geopolitical Analyst and Assistant Professor at the Higher Institute of Police Sciences and Homeland Security, Lisbon; St. Anthony’s College Fellow at the University of Oxford; Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Program Fellow at CSIS, Washington; Analyst for the Portuguese public service broadcaster RTP

Brigadier General Metodi Hadji-Janev;  Security Analyst and Associate Professor at the Military Academy General Mihailo Apostolski in Skopje

Yavor Raychev; Security and Counterterrorism Analyst and PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Granada

Professor Tatyana Dronzina; Lecturer, Department of Political Science, St. Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia

Dr Safet Music; Senior Advisor for the Ministry of Defense of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Associate Researcher at the Center for Global Research, Global Analitica

Click here to download the full report: Radicalisation in the Balkans



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