C Explanatory memorandum by Mr Jordi
Xuclà, rapporteur for opinion
1 The report prepared by our
colleague Mr Liam Byrne, rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs
and Human Rights, constitutes a welcome contribution to the Parliamentary
Assembly’s long-standing work aimed at devising common approaches
to the fight against terrorism on the basis of Council of Europe
It is worth recalling that, in Resolution 2091 (2016)
on foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, the Assembly made
a call to “make active use of all communication channels, including
the Internet and social media, and draw on the expertise of the
best available public relations specialists, to spread information
about the heinous crimes committed by Daesh, and counter-narratives
aimed at exposing extremist discourse and dissipating illusions
about the real situation in the territories held by Daesh and the
fate of its recruits, in particular by using testimonies of returnees
who have witnessed first-hand the nature of Daesh” (paragraph 21.7).
3 Thus, Mr Byrne’s report seeks to devise, on the basis of well-documented
research, proposals aimed at putting into practice the need to develop
counter-narratives to terrorism. As rapporteur for opinion, I intend
to bring some additional elements and food for thought in order
to better shape the phenomenon under consideration, and to propose
some amendments to the draft resolution and draft recommendation
aimed at strengthening the message of the report, making the language
used more consistent with the previous Assembly documents, and ensuring
that the Assembly is fully involved in future work on the issue.
4 I am aware that, although the title of Mr Byrne’s report contains
no direct indication of the type of terrorism it is dealing with,
it focuses on Daesh and Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism, as directly
stated in paragraph 3 of the explanatory memorandum, and does not
address terrorism inspired by other ideologies.
5 While the reality on the ground is more complex and there
are a number of terrorist groups in addition to those mentioned
above, I agree that these two terrorist entities have developed
sophisticated propaganda systems based on abusive exploitation of
religious beliefs, and have been successful in enrolling thousands
of individuals in their criminal activities, including from and
2 What do we mean
6 According to a study published
by the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) in 2015,
counter-narratives are routinely suggested as responses to the vast
amounts of propaganda from groups such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda. The
idea of this concept is to use them in order to prevent terrorism
from gaining momentum.
There is no universally accepted
definition on what a counter-narrative is. It is a broad and ill-defined concept
that is used in many different ways. There have been some efforts
to identify its main categories, but actual counter-narratives differ
substantially. Mr Tobias Gemmerli from DIISNote
three main categories of counter-narratives currently being promoted,
- direct counter-narratives
which confront the ideology and lifestyle of extremism;
- positive alternatives which, among other things, support
- improving digital competences and the ability of vulnerable
people to reflect critically.
Also, Dr Kate FergusonNote
the idea that these efforts take place within a political, policy
or military context, and that they are in essence reactive. Using
them could therefore be in practice a recognition of the terms laid
down by the declared opponents. In doing so, they may in fact end
up reinforcing the very narratives they are attempting to stifle.
2.2 What drives people
There is a widespread idea
that people who become extremists have two main characteristics:
- poverty: from which there appears
to be no escape fosters resentment towards those who have more. If
the choice is to die a martyr or to die a beggar, martyrdom is the
- ignorance: the poor have no chance to have a decent education
and thus are susceptible to easy manipulation. Clever people play
on their prejudices and superstitions. Once extremists get those
people in their grasp, indoctrination is easy.
10 However, the reality is quite different. Many people who are
willing to become martyrs and die for a cause come from the middle
class; they have received a proper education (even a university
education) and were well raised (“well-fed and well-read”).
According to many researchers, the real motives that drive
people to extremism may be summed up as follows:
- a desire for meaning and for
order, especially in countries that are submerged in chaos and corruption. Extremists
promise clear-cut solutions to every problem (“here’s how things
will change if you follow these rules and ONLY these rules”);
- desire for change: the old order must be overthrown and
that can only happen through violent action. The extremists come
to the front, promising to create a new form of government, by developing
a strong sense of victimhood (“we are not responsible for the sorry
state of our country, others have brought us down”).
3 The role of victims,
former terrorists and ex-prisoners
12 Victims of terrorism have a
potential for effective counter-narratives because they are able
to humanise the individuals’ violent perception of the “enemy”.
Victims’ narrative could reinforce dissatisfaction with the dangerous
methods that violent extremists use to carry out their objectives.
Moreover, it is often the case that communities vulnerable to radicalisation
and recruitment are also affected by violent extremism directly
or indirectly, so victims can be a powerful emotional narrative.
13 On the other hand, former repentant terrorists and ex-prisoners
carry a certain weight in terms of the respect that potential recruits
might have towards them. As former terrorists, having experienced
the reality of violent extremism first-hand, they can speak of their
disillusionment and the consequences of joining a violent extremist
organisation or committing an act of terrorism. Former terrorists
also have a unique role to play in understanding the cycle of radicalisation
and the narratives involved.
4 The role of specific
groups of society
According to a reportNote
on “Women and Terrorist Radicalization”
by an Expert Roundtable of the Office for Democratic Institutions
and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation
in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR), women can be an ideal counterpart in the
battle against terrorism. They can counter violent extremism in
numerous capacities, within a framework of initiatives tailored
to the specificities of each context.
15 Within the family, as well as in society at large, women need
to be able to answer their children’s questions about their religious,
cultural and political identity. This is essential since most processes
of terrorist radicalisation take place between the ages of 12 and
20, when personalities and values are shaped. In this context, inability
to openly discuss and address critical questions could leave a vacuum
that risks being filled with violent extremist narratives.
Another OSCE/ODIHR report on
“Youth Engagement to Counter Violent Extremism and Radicalization that
Lead to Terrorism”Note
argued that young people should
be equipped with the knowledge and skills to understand and reject
violent extremism. They need to understand that extremism in all
its forms and terrorism are not the solution to the injustices and
conflicts they experience or identify with. Both formal and informal education
can prove critical in countering those incidents among young people.
17 Today’s terrorists and extremists are yesterday’s young people
looking for acceptance, identity and opportunities. If we build
momentum through educational initiatives that can provide young
people with safe spaces to share their concerns, we will create
a positive chain reaction that will eventually reinforce young people.
18 Protecting and safeguarding
the security of those who present counter-narratives and alternative narratives
is quite essential. Direct engagement in a battle of ideas can put
individuals or groups in danger of being targeted, both physically
and emotionally. Outspoken civil society figures, former extremists,
victims or even religious leaders may become targets of future attacks.
rehabilitation for terrorism offenders
19 Psychological rehabilitation
of terrorism offenders consists of efforts to re-establish their
human capacity and their role in society, achieve self-efficiency,
and be able to reintegrate into society. It focuses on character building
and well-being of violent offenders in order to have a more peaceful
state of mind and a more favourable attitude towards society. States
should invest more in psychological rehabilitation, in order to achieve
real integration and avoid a possible return of offenders to their
prior state of mind.
6 Possible challenges
20 According to some experts,
broad counter-narrative campaigns are not effective, as the propaganda
of groups such as Daesh or Al-Qaeda only attracts a few individuals,
and addressing the many in an attempt to reach the few is a scattergun
approach that carries the risk of unwanted or even counter-productive
side effects. Also, under this perspective, there is a risk of demonisation
of a whole group of people or community because of the extremists,
so one must always exercise caution in this respect.
21 In addition, the lack of knowledge about why and how the narratives
and propaganda of groups such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda attract audiences
makes it difficult to construct attractive counter-narratives, even
if the relevant audiences could be identified. As a result, confrontational
counter-narratives which engage directly with a narrative to expose,
correct or ridicule it, run the risk of being automatically rejected.
22 Messages against violent extremism should always be carefully
worded so as to avoid attacking a religion and ideology that many
Muslims share, hence the need to have a full understanding of Islamic principles.
Those involved in formulating counter-narratives should therefore
take a nuanced approach, in consultation with scholars, when refuting
extremist narratives, in order to avoid alienating large swathes
of the Muslim population.
7 Integrated response
23 States and international organisations
should recognise that no single response to terrorism, as there are
many different pathways to acting violently with reference to ideology,
and many different reasons why individuals or groups become attracted
to extremist propaganda and its narratives.
A roundtable meeting organised by the Hedayah Countering Violent
Extremism (CVE) Research Centre and the International Centre for
concluded that there is too much
focus on the internet as the medium of counter-narratives. While
it was agreed that the internet, including social media, is an effective
tool, the right entry points into the community must be found, so
that the message is available in physical and virtual places that
are easily accessible to the target audience, in order for it to
have any effect. Some violent extremists also use cultural elements
and symbols, including public rallies, bands and figurines to convey
25 With regard to individuals or groups that are already attracted
to extremist narratives or propaganda, the grievances that they
seek to address through ideology must be identified on a case-by-case
basis. They may be foreign or domestic political grievances, individual
or personal, real or perceived.
26 Last but not least, in the broader population, the focus should
be on bolstering general resources through capacity-building and
inclusion, but also by embracing diversity, openness and freedoms
to avoid feelings of marginalisation and the polarisation of society.
8 Proposed amendments
27 As I mentioned above, I wish
to propose some amendments to the draft resolution and draft recommendation
prepared by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on the
basis of the excellent report by Mr Byrne. The purpose of my amendments
is to strengthen the message, make the language more consistent
with previous Assembly documents, and ensure that the Assembly is
fully involved in future work on the issue of developing counter-narratives
to terrorism. In this part, I will refer only to some of them, which
seem to me of special importance.
28 In particular, I suggest including a mention of terrorists
acting alone, which is a new worrying phenomenon and a direct result
of radicalisation. The Council of Europe is currently working on
it and is preparing a recommendation of the Committee of Ministers
on the issue; the draft recommendation refers to it in paragraph
1, and I believe that it should also be referred to in the draft
29 When it comes to defining credible messengers who could be
involved in spreading counter-narratives, it is important to specifically
mention women, victims of terrorism, repentant former terrorists
and ex-prisoners, as is explained above.
In addition, I wish to stress the role of education in preparing
active citizens with a sense of responsibility. Accordingly, I propose
an amendment which repeats the wording used in Assembly Resolution 2091 (2016)
31 I also believe that the Assembly should continue its work
on the issue of formulating the “overlapping consensus” that would
unite diverse communities on the basis of common values. Moreover,
it is important that the Assembly contributes to this work, which
could be initiated at expert level, as it is suggested in the draft recommendation.
32 I fully agree with the rapporteur
of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on the importance of
communication in the fight against terrorism and on the need to
develop suitable counter-narratives to terrorist propaganda. The
Council of Europe should play, via its appropriate mechanisms, a
greater role in gathering member States’ experience and best practice
in this field, thus confirming its indispensable role in the fight