Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Topic Debate: Elections, Economy, and Extremism

Background: Since early April the headlines in Europe have been consumed by the flare-up of the Euro-debt crisis, following nearly three months of relative economic calm as banks received assistance from the European Central Bank. In mid April, the Economist reported that the entire Euro area was in a recession while in early May BusinessWeek reported that the unemployment rate for the seventeen countries that use the euro hit a record high.

Adding to the financial anxiety and grim prospects of social and political instability, May brought National Elections across much of Europe. The election results showed a noticeable shift to the left in some countries. Notably, Greece and France, where the voters chose candidates that reject the austerity measures imposed by the EU-led bailout, signaling widespread dislike for the plan.

Following the elections, news of trending extremist groups began to capture the headlines. Below are some articles and reports discussing the renewed fears of Euro-extremism:

  • On 8 May, the Kuwait News Agency’s European extremist groups changing political landscape stated, “Alongside, the economic and financial crisis, Europe is facing a greater menace with the emergence of extremist right –wing political parties whose agenda is based on xenophobia, anti-immigration, and a virulent hostility toward Islam and Muslims.” The same day, the Jerusalem Post published an article highlighting a new threat of extremism, Extremism in Europe. According to jpost, “Extremist parties on both the far-Left and the far-Right are on the rise, apparently exploiting the economic turmoil that has swept across the debt-ridden continent. The co-opting of extreme solutions to the Muslim immigration issues also seems to be playing a part.”
  • On 25 April, Europol released the EU Terrorism Situation And Trend Report: TE-SAT 2012 The report opens by stating, “2011 presented a highly diverse terrorism picture in which the most notable trend was the increasing prominence of lone and solo actor plots.” Continuing through the report, Director of Europol, Rob Wainwright says, “In 2011, the total number of terrorist attacks and terrorism-related arrests in the EU continued to decrease. This is a welcome development, but terrorism and violent extremism still represent a significant threat, and we must remain vigilant. Sadly 77 people in Norway and another 2 in Germany were killed in 2011 by ‘lone actors’. Looking ahead, lone actors will continue to pose a threat, whether inspired by political or religious extremism. Organized underground groups also have the capability and intention to carry out attacks.”
  • In his article, Europe’s Other Crisis, Christopher Caldwell argues that the “lone wolf” acts of terror may not be a singular act. One particular situation mentioned in his article tells of a French-born French citizen who waged a personal jihad, ambushed four soldiers near Toulouse and shot three children and a Rabbi near a Jewish school within a week. Before he died from gunfire, the man told the soldiers that he regretted not having done more of what he did. The article takes the position that the killer was not a ;lone wolf in that, “He had a measure of community support and a great deal of family support. His brother professed himself ‘proud’ of his relation to the murderer. His mother refused to convince her son to surrender to police…” Calwell’s observation is that, “All western European countries have some version of this problem, which involves immigration, Islam, dissent from established European culture, and organized violence. Although it has been temporarily overshadowed by budgetary and currency woes, it is Europe’s most significant chronic problem. What to do about it depends on where one thinks the problem lies.”

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