Sometime ago, an international team of authors, as part of the work of my European Centre for Democracy Development, completed a major project to monitor manifestations of xenophobia and extremism in a number of European countries, as well as in the United States and Canada. The analysis of this data leads to some sensational conclusions that are detailed below.
Trend 1: The Tightening of Anti-Extremist legislation
The main legislative trend in the monitoring countries during the period under review was the tightening of both anti-extremist legislation. In order to curb radicalisation on the Internet, most of monitoring countries have adopted a range of measures aimed at ensuring control over the distribution of extremist materials online, suppressing the financing of extremism, expanding the powers of intelligence agencies, etc. Lists of terrorist organisations and individuals involved in violent extremism have been considerably expanded, the list of countries which apply deprivation of citizenship and deportation of persons involved in terrorist militias, stripping potential terrorists and their accomplices of their rights has been expanded. It was about increasing the possibilities of the intelligence services to combat terror, to combat the financing of terrorism, and to improve the response system of the prosecution authorities to citizens’ signals of extremist manifestations. For example, in 2019, a special police unit was established in Germany to combat Islamist terrorism and extremism. On 21 June 2018, Canada passed Bill C-59, which also extends the powers of intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance as well as cyber-attacks. In Poland, the Act on Combating Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing was passed on 1 March 2018, and similar legislation was passed in Russia a year later. The capacity of prosecutors to respond to extremism has increased in the Netherlands, which of all European countries has done perhaps the most to build the capacity of the public to report suspicions of such manifestations to public authorities, as well as discrimination against citizens.
Trend 2: A More Expansive Interpretation of Extremism
An important point is the new trend towards an expansive interpretation of extremism already adopted in countries such as Germany, Russia, Poland, as well as partly in Italy and Ukraine, which consider not only violent extremism but also so-called “hateful extremism”, i.e. inciting hatred against members of certain social groups, as a crime. In 2019-20, France(Loi Avialaw, 24 July 2020) and, partly, Britain, where the UK’s Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act was supplemented in May 2019, these initiatives attempted to close gaps in light of “contemporary patterns of radicalisation” and tighten counter-terrorism measures and liability for a number of crimes, which were added into domestic law. In particular, encouraging terrorism, distributing terrorist publications and a range of other acts in preparation for terrorist attacks are now punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Generally speaking, 2019-20 also saw the start of a clear process of rethinking the view of extremism in Britain, which in itself is a landmark phenomenon in the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition. On 7 October 2019, the government’s Counter Extremism Commission, chaired by Sarah Khan, an independent government adviser on extremism, published its findings and recommendations in a report, Countering Hate Extremism. The report defines a new category of extremist behaviour beyond terrorism and violent extremism – “hate extremism” (hateful extremism). It is defined as behaviour that incites hatred, is based on racist beliefs and causes hatred not only to individuals, but also (crucially in the context of Anglo-Saxon law) to “Communities or Society as a whole”.
At the same time, lists of banned terrorist organisations, symbols and terrorists and extremists were expanded in the US, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and a number of other countries. The trend of stripping citizenship from persons who took part in terrorist operations in the Middle East continued. Alongside Canada, France and the Netherlands, which were the first to adopt such laws, Russia (2018) and Germany (2019) joined the trend during the period under review.
Trend 3: The Tightening of Discriminatory Measures Against Muslim and other Foreign Minorities
The tightening of anti-extremist measures has surprisingly coexisted with the introduction (or attempted introduction) of discriminatory measures against minorities, which in many countries have been stigmatized and labelled by authorities “at risk” of extremism. For example, the French Separatism Act, passed in February 2021, clearly infringes on the rights of Muslims. In an attempt to counter Salafist influence, it virtually bans the funding of Islamic organisations from abroad, prohibits home schooling, and stops foreign imams being allowed into France to work in mosques. Countries such as Greece (2020), Italy (2018), the USA (2018) and the Russian province of Yakutia (2019) have passed laws that discriminate against asylum seekers and in some cases foreigners also (see hyperlinks for examples).
The line of restricting the rights of believers was continued. Canada, represented by Quebec, and the Netherlands have taken new steps in this regard. Bill 21, or the Act Respecting the Sovereignty of the State, passed by the Canadian authorities prohibits civil servants from wearing religious symbols, including the Christian cross, the Jewish kippah or the hijab. The Netherlands, on the other hand, passed a law, the “Partial Prohibition of Covering the Face Act,” which was aimed solely against Muslims. In both cases, these laws have provoked a range of anti-Islamic manifestations on a domestic basis. A number of US states have passed so-called “anti-Sharia laws” which have restricted the rights of practitioners of Islam.
As a result of the adoption in Ukraine of the law “On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine (concerning the subordination of religious organisations and the procedure for state registration of religious organisations with legal personality)”, parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate have been subjected to discrimination. In addition, assimilationist tendencies towards linguistic minorities and, above all, the Russian minority, have increased as a result of the entry into force of the new law “On Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language” (2019).
Thus, if we analyse law-making activities, we can see that the authorities of most monitoring countries have considered Muslims, people from Arab countries and migrants, as well as linguistic minorities (Ukraine) as potential targets of radicalisation. Moreover, policies towards these groups include, on the one hand, restrictive measures such as banning entry to the country (US), simplified deportations (US, Canada, Italy, Greece, Netherlands), legally reduced grounds for asylum (US), and the creation of significant integration difficulties (US, Greece, Russia-Jakutia). On the other hand, measures to foreceable assimilate these minorities have been on the rise (language discrimination in Ukraine, anti-Niqab campaign in Europe, anti-Sharia laws in the US), all with aim to force the minority to adopt the lifestyle and values of the majority. Like so many of these restrictive measures, assimilation concerns those groups whose exclusion is seen as a threat to public security. But while in the West the focus is on migrants and Muslims, in Ukraine this group includes all linguistic minorities, especially the Russian-speaking minority.
Trend 4: The Tightening of Discriminatory Measures Against the LGBT Community
Special mention should be made of the persecution of the LGBT community by the authorities in certain countries, who view them as a source of risk to so-called “public morals” or as an “irritant” in terms of public order. Following Russia, which amended its administrative code in 2013 to prohibit the promotion of homosexuality among children, Hungary adopted a similar law in June 2021. A little earlier, in 2019-20, several Polish municipal and regional councils continued the sad tradition of passing resolutions calling their territories “LGBT-free zones“. In total, more than 100 municipalities have passed such resolutions, mostly in Southern-Eastern Poland. US President D. Trump’s administration, which has been rather lukewarm on LGBT rights from the beginning, unlike the previous administration, banned transgender military personnel from military service and refused to provide protections prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation for students and employees. LGBTQ refugees have been banned from entering the country to escape discrimination. Part of this discriminatory legislation was introduced under the banner of protecting religious minorities.
Trend 5: More of the Same when it comes to Law Enforcement
Law enforcement practices followed legislative practices. The list of banned organisations was expanded, and procedures for blocking radical and extremist websites were improved. Moreover, so-called “radical” mosques were closed in a number of monitoring countries, potentially dangerous individuals were stripped of their citizenship and deported. Finally, a system of reporting of radicalism and discrimination by various civil organisations and individuals to law enforcement agencies was put in place. A clear trend during the period under review towards a decrease in the number of convictions against a background of an increase in the number of registered hate crimes is also a serious signal. The number of unreported crimes, for various reasons, continued to be high. This trend was characteristic of such monitoring countries as Poland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Ukraine.
Discussion & Conclusion: The Tension between Expanding Security Concerns and Assimilationist Contraction of Minority Rights
All this suggests that in the internal conflict that has arisen decades ago between democratic values and the preservation of minority identity on the one hand, and security interests and an assimilationist model of integration on the other, the authorities of most monitoring countries are opting for the latter. This is less true of the US and Canada (due to their historical integration patterns), although these tendencies are also present there, and more so of Western Europe. It should also be noted that nationalistic, assimilationist tendencies towards minorities have prevailed in Ukraine, not due to security issues, but due to the chosen way of forming a new identity for a multiethnic state based on the culture of the ethnic majority.
Some positive integration practices in relation to minorities – assistance to migrants and refugees to start their own businesses as well as to study in Germany; French leader Macron’s announcement of his intention to teach Arabic language to Maghreb immigrants and start training imams; protection of LGBT and Roma rights in the Netherlands; achieving gender equality in Canadian law enforcement agencies – have sadly been more than offset by widespread discriminatory practices against minorities. For example, it has been reported that racial and religious profiling against Muslims and blacks (in the US, Canada and Britain, etc.), Latinos and natives (US), and Roma (in Greece) still continue apace. Moreover, violations of the human rights of Muslims occurred in a number of countries, as well as discrimination against refugees years after the so-called ‘Refugee Crisis’.
In some monitoring countries, the legislative and law enforcement bias towards toughening, combined with continuing pressure on minorities, especially the Islamic minority, has failed to change the situation in these countries (Xenophobia levels have been rising). The number of hate crimes also increased, although Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and Greece stand out as countries where a positive trend can be observed, indicating that the authorities are building effective policies to counter bias-motivated crime. Nevertheless, the abundance of active extremist organisations, as well as the number of “lone wolves” committing an increasing number of vigilante and terrorist attacks, suggests that there is a powerful infrastructure, largely international in nature that opposes state power and democratic values. All this suggests that these trends will continue in the coming years.
Dr Valery Engel is a Senior Fellow at CARR and President of the European Centre for Democracy Development in Latvia. See his profile here.
© Valery Engel. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).