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West at a Crossroad, with Polarisation Creating the Next Wave of Jihadist Radicalization

By Guy Van Vlierden

24 January 2020

The West appears to be at a crossroads, in terms of radicalization. It is extremely hard to predict which kind of radicalization will be the bigger threat in the coming years — Jihadism or the extreme right. However, it is crystal clear that both movements are reinforcing each other. There are reasons to believe that the early success of far-right political parties in some countries contributed to an unprecedented increase in the number of foreign terrorist fighters. Similarly, the way in which the possible return of foreign fighters and their relatives is handled now, may become a breeding ground for the next wave of radicalization among Muslims in the West.

If the aim of terrorism is to gravely undermine society, then the so-called Islamic State has achieved great success. Its ability to invoke fear has contributed to the polarization of society that we are experiencing today. Many Western countries see a rise of far-right political parties, fuelled by a mix of terrorism and migration issues — which are often, rightly or not, conflated in the debate. In many countries centrist parties are adopting a tougher line, not only in security matters but also on identity, citizenship and let’s be frank — their policy towards Islam.

Shift to the Right

According to the recently published ‘Global Terrorism Index’, the number of arrests linked to right-wing terrorism has increased in Europe for the third year in a row.[1] Even some respected political parties have started to back some of their ideas—adopting an increasingly aggressive tone. What is worrisome is that principles that have been sacrosanct for decades are being questioned now — and not only by fringe extremists. In Belgium, the second largest political party on the Dutch speaking side — the far-right ‘Flemish Interest’ — is currently campaigning against the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters. The party says such fighters don’t belong in Belgium, but on the gallows in Iraq.[2] And in the Netherlands, even the party of the prime minister appears to condone the execution of its own citizens.[3]

That is quite an accomplishment for a terrorist group, and in terms of influence on a society, more disturbing than the casualties it has inflicted. The so-called Islamic State has tasked itself explicitly with creating this polarization, or, its own words “eliminating the grayzone.[4] While it is clear that extremisms from both sides are mutually benefitting from each other, we should be worried about the vicious circle that is unfolding. There are reasons to believe that the early success of far-right political parties in some countries contributed to the disproportionate number of foreign fighters that went to go fight in Syria and Iraq.[5]

The Case of Belgium

In Belgium, burdened with the highest per capita figure in Western Europe, that position is best explained by the presence of two highly active recruitment organizations when the Syrian war began. But, why were these recruiters so successful? Why were they able to attract so many young people? No obvious difference seems to exist with neighboring countries like the Netherlands in terms of socio-economic background of its Muslim population. Also, the argument that integration was easier for foreigners in the Netherlands has also been struck down.

One thing that differs, however, is that Belgium has an established and highly influential far-right political party. When it was established more than a quarter of a century ago, it was known as ‘Flemish Bloc’. It then tripled in size in 1991 by nabbing 17 seats (up from three) and reached its peak with almost 25 percent in the regional elections in Flanders in 2004. Although the ‘Flemish Bloc’ — renamed ‘Flemish Interest’ in 2004 — has never governed until now, it has had a major impact on the debate about migration and Islam for decades. They have directed hateful messages to the Muslim community through billboards, printing leaflets and dropping them in their mailboxes and even on national television. As a result, there is an entire generation of Belgian Muslims who feel they are unwanted.

A Bleak Picture

When studying jihadists it is evident that the sense of rejection by society is a powerful tool for recruitment. “For more than 50 years now, Muslims have been humiliated and forced to beg for simple rights, such as places to pray and locations for ritual slaughter.” That’s what Fouad Belkacem, the founder of Shariah4Belgium, told his followers. “Even when a Belgian Muslim speaks both official languages fluently, he constantly risks to be treated like his grandfather back in the seventies”, he continued.[6] Needless to say, the climate hasn’t improved in the past few years. While we can hope that the boundless cruelty of the Islamic State has chased away a significant part of its potential followers by now, in terms of rejection, the picture is as bleak as ever. We should realize how important it is, at a time when the immediate terrorist threat in the West has somewhat subsided, to handle the aftermath in a way that doesn’t make things worse.

Repatriation of Foreign Fighters

The main issue, nowadays, is the eventual repatriation of foreign fighters and their relatives. Most specialists advocate that the least dangerous option is to repatriate and prosecute these people at home. Meanwhile, the moral argument that children should be taken out of harm’s way is beyond any reasonable discussion. Still, many Western governments refuse to act, making all kind of excuses to keep these people — children included — away. As predicted a long time ago, their ostrich policy is resulting in terrible chaos. Many of these jailed fighters and families have escaped which means valuable sources of information have disappeared and potentially dangerous individuals are now roaming freely.

Apart from ethics and security, there’s another — rarely mentioned — argument in favor of repatriation. By not doing so, we are confirming that these people are indeed second class citizens who are not entitled to normal principles and procedures. By denying these children the basic right to live, and the adults the right to fair and just prosecution, we are confirming that they have never been full members of our society.

What do we think will radicalize the next generation of potential jihadist recruits the most—banning the headscarf or preventing the building of mosques? Or will it be allowing their five-year-old nieces and nephews to die like animals and excluding their brothers and sisters from our holy resistance against capital punishment? “I know how terrorists are made”, a former head of Denmark’s State Security recently wrote. “I know how hate is created, and the desire for revenge. And that is exactly what we promote”.[7]

The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.


[1] Institute for Economics & Peace. Global Terrorism Index 2019: Measuring the Impact of Terrorism, Sydney, November 2019,

[2] Truyts Philippe, Vlaams Belang start petitie: “IS-terroristen horen niet thuis in onze stad, maar aan de galg in Syrië of Irak”,, November 14, 2019,

[3] Zuidervaart Bart, VVD vindt doodstraf voor Nederlandse IS’ers acceptabel, Trouw, November 7, 2019, at

[4] Hussain Murtaza, Islamic State’s Goal: “Eliminating the Grayzone” of coexistence between Muslims and the West, The Intercept, November 17, 2015,

[5] Van Vlierden Guy, Molenbeek and Beyond. The Brussels-Antwerp axis as Hotbed of Belgian Jihad. In Varvelli Arturo (Ed.), Jihadist Hotbeds. Understanding Local Radicalization Processes, ISPI Milano, July 15, 2016,

[6] Van Ostaeyen Pieter, Statement by Fouad Belkacem Sharia4Belgium,, September 20, 2014,

[7] Bonnichsen Hans Jørgen, Debat: Højrefløjens mørke sniger sig ind på midten, Århus Stiftstidende, November 25, 2019,


Original Headline: The Vicious Circle of Polarization: How the West is Creating the Next Wave of Jihadist Radicalization

Source: European Eye on Radicalisation