New Research Report: Anti-Muslim Extremism, Radical Islamism and the Spiral of Polarization

The interconnected dynamics of anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamist extremism have been highlighted in a comprehensive study conducted by the Jena Institute for Democracy and Civil Society (IDZ), in collaboration with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) based in London. The study, which scrutinized over one million German-language posts from 2013 to 2017 on social media, reveals the complex relationship between hostility towards Muslims and the propagation of Islamist fundamentalism.

This investigation uncovers how both radical fringes exploit social media to further their ideologies, often referencing each other to assert their victimhood and vilify their perceived adversaries. This mutual antagonism is rooted in a narrative that foretells a looming clash between “Islam” and “the West,” with both sides denouncing liberal democracy and its values of individualism, pluralism, and emancipation. The report details the similarities and distinctions between the Islamist and far-right ideologies, noting their common ground in anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories, and the pursuit of uniform societies dictated by either racial or religious dogmas. A notable difference between the two is the far-right’s emphasis on nativism, contrasting with the Islamist aspiration for a global caliphate independent of geographic origins.

The study’s linguistic analysis reveals a surprising overlap in terminology used by both Islamist and far-right groups, with the latter frequently adopting Islamist jargon. It also notes a significant reduction in the extremity of Islamist rhetoric due to increased moderation, a trend not mirrored in far-right communications. The research indicates that the far-right’s anti-Muslim and openly extremist content significantly outnumbers Islamist discourse.

In response to Islamist terror incidents, there is a marked increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media, fuelled by far-right entities that generalize and denigrate Muslims. Conversely, Islamist extremists capitalize on events like far-right rallies or electoral successes to paint a monolithically hostile Western image, using it as a tool for radicalization. This reciprocal interaction not only amplifies their respective messages but also serves a strategic purpose in polarizing societies.

The study emphasizes that this phenomenon is not isolated to Germany but is evident in many Western countries, where social media serves as a platform for these groups to reach a global audience. It underscores how racism, right-wing populism, and extremism create echo chambers that facilitate the spread of jihadist propaganda, with far-right agitators amplifying the fallout of Islamist attacks to radicalize individuals online.

Concluding, the report stresses that anti-Muslim biases and Islamist extremism are mutually reinforcing, legitimizing each side’s extremist narratives and actions. It challenges the notion that far-right anti-Muslim groups act as a counterbalance to Islamist radicals, arguing instead that their shared attributes and threats to societal openness necessitate a unified response. The study calls for a collective confrontation of Islamist radicalization, anti-Muslim racism, and anti-Semitism, a stance already embraced by many civil society organizations, though it remains to gain full recognition in public discourse.

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