Jihadist terrorism, radicalization, and extremism can be combated provided that the phenomenon is scientifically mapped and known. These are the motivations and goals of the Commission of Experts set up by the Prime Minister’s office tasked with analysing the current state of Jihadist radicalisation and extremism in Italy. The first meeting was held on Thursday, September 1st, with an introduction by the promoters of the initiative: Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Under-Secretary Marco Minniti, Security Officer of the Italian Republic.
The Commission is independent, comprising scholars in various disciplines: lawyers, sociologists, psychiatrists, experts in international politics, and journalists. They have been assigned a working period of 120 days to study Jihadi radicalization in Italy, map out the phenomenon, convene experts in dedicated hearings and draw up a final Report for the Prime Minister. Alessandro Orsini is a member of the Commission, one of the major Italian experts in terrorism, author of the book: “Isis: i terroristi più fortunati del mondo e tutto ciò che è stato fatto per favorirli” (Rizzoli). Professor of the Sociology of Terrorism, he was recently appointed by LUISS University in Rome to coordinate the Observatory on International Security tasked with monitoring the evolution of the Jihadist threat across 44 Countries. The project will be officialised in October at the Research Centre on Democratization processes (ICEDD).
“There is widespread concern – he said – expressed also by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano. In my opinion concern has grown with the outbreak of military action against ISIS in Libya.” Some noted that the Commission took office shortly after the start of US bombings against ISIS in Sirte, but Orsini recalled: “the project was conceived before the attack in Libya.”
It is the task of the Commission to map out the situation and communicate relevant information to the government to enable utmost control and prevention.
To date, the geographic areas most interested by the phenomenon are those already identified in Northern Italy. The region of Lumbardy registered the highest number of “Jihadist conspirationists”, understood also as scheming to establish a Jihadist cell. The reasons for the cluster in Northern Italy are yet to be fully investigated; it could be a combination of various causes.
What is sure is that studies on terrorism in Italy are lagging behind, while Italian academia has failed to focus investments on the scientific study of terrorism. “Also in this case – Orsini remarked – the reasons are many. In our Country the phenomenon has not been perceived as it has in Countries that are certainly more at risk.
Data on Jihadist plots have shown that Italy ranks last in terms of Jihadist hate.”
The classification is based on the number of Jihadist plots directed against Western cities. France and England top the list, while Italy and Spain traditionally occupy the last positions, although the situation is unfortunately changing, little by little. Thus one of the reasons for the delays on the part of Italian Academia could repose on the fact that our Country has not been a target of Islamic terrorists compared to other European countries.”
However – Orsini remarked – such delays risk having negative repercussions on our ability to understand this phenomenon and develop targeted prevention measures. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers is trying to encourage the study of terrorism in many ways.”
Lone wolves, networks of youths caught in the grips of Jidahism, spread on the Internet. Nonetheless, prevention is not a “mission impossible.” “If we look at the statistics we will find that in most cases intelligence services are efficient, meaning that they manage to prevent the attacks and identify the terrorist cells. In fact, in England and France the number of thwarted Jihadist plots is much higher than those that succeeded.
Those who claim that we are powerless are blatantly wrong. Investing in the study, prevention and countering of terrorism is of utmost importance, for such investments make governments stronger and weaken the terrorists.”
It’s clear that if a terrorist organization targets a Country and strenuously focuses on it, it will ultimately succeed in carrying out an attack. “As I always say – Orsini pointed out – the value of intelligence can’t be measured on the basis of successful attacks against a given Country but on the basis of those it manages to thwart. If we adopted the criteria whereby the best secret services are those that registered no attacks we would have to conclude that the world’s best intelligence services, namely those of the US, UK and Israel, are the worst because they suffered horrible terrorist attacks.”
According to the sociologist we need to extend our glance beyond intelligence alone. “Prevention – he explained – can be done also through the public narration of those who influence collective representation on the radio, TV and the press. For example, saying that ISIS threatens to reach Rome without adding that ISIS is suffering dramatic defeats and that it is an irrelevant phenomenon in terms of military capacities, isn’t a good idea.” It is equally important to promote interreligious dialogue and above all – the scholar underlined –
“it is necessary to step up the fight on prejudice and discrimination against Muslims. Surveys show that in some cases discrimination and prejudice lead to radicalized Islamic extremism.”
We hope that the Italian academic realm will make stronger investments in the study of terrorism. “The Italian political realm is already acting in this direction. But my impression is that Italian universities, with some relevant exceptions, are lagging behind compared to universities of other European countries. The deficit registered at national level is not political but academic. Islamic terrorism can be fought when you know it, and in fact American universities make important investments in the study of this phenomenon, supplying the US government and its intelligence with all the information needed for effective monitoring and prevention of terrorism.”