The webinar, “The Heart of the European Threat: France’s Terrorist Problems” was organised by the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) on 11 January 2022. The exploration of France’s long and varied history with terrorism, despite its notorious spate of Islamist extremist terrorist attacks since 2015, took centre stage during the presentations.
Making the observation was Dr Marc Hecker, Director of Research and Communications at the French Institute of International Relations, who linked the etymology of the word “terrorism” to the terror of the French revolution. He also traced the influence of anarchism, decolonisation, the far left and far right, as well as Islamist extremism in the evolution of terrorism. Giving a historical overview, Dr Hecker highlighted the trend towards lone actor terrorism, particularly since 2015, and the government’s judicial, police, military, and deradicalisation measures that have been implemented in response.
Dr Laurence Bindner, co-founder of the JOS Project, drew on her work in extremist propaganda analysis to contextualise and outline the drivers of rising far right extremism in France. In highlighting its key characteristics and online ecosystem, Dr Bindner presented the ideological parallels between far right and Islamist extremism, their surprisingly symbiotic relationship with one another, and the concerning potential for reciprocal radicalisation as they fuel each other.
The two speakers engaged in a lively Q&A session, moderated by ICPVTR Senior Fellow Raffaello Pantucci. Webinar participants got to hear from Asian and European experiences as questions drew comparisons between Singapore and France’s deradicalisation programmes. This had prompted an ensuing discussion on the challenges of measuring the progress and success of deradicalisation programmes.
While both speakers agree that most counter-programming focused on Islamist extremism, Dr Bindner noted that nascent counterspeech projects have been employed to combat far right extremism in recent years.
Appraising the future landscape, Dr Hecker drew attention to a dramatic reduction in Islamist terrorist lethality in the second half of the 2010s. He added that there has been intense debate within France about the combination of factors that drive terrorism, noting that the dissolution of extremist groups would not offer a foolproof antidote to terrorism. Dr Bindner echoed this sentiment, concluding with a sombre warning about a potential migration of conspiratorial thinking to broader audiences that could lead to more individual violent action.
Watch it here on RSISVideoCast Youtube Channel: