Hate Speech International https://www.hate-speech.org/ Investigating Extremism Mon, 06 Nov 2017 17:42:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.12 New report: The ticking ‘jihadist’ timebomb https://www.hate-speech.org/new-report-the-ticking-jihadist-timebomb/ https://www.hate-speech.org/new-report-the-ticking-jihadist-timebomb/#respond Mon, 06 Nov 2017 17:29:01 +0000 https://www.hate-speech.org/?p=3347

In a new report from HSI, Houda Mzioudet and Rhiannon Smith discuss radicalization in Tunisia and whether the country’s Transitional Justice process can help diffusing a ‘jihadist’ timebomb in the country.

The 29-page report offers insight into radicalisation and violent extremism in Tunisia, looks at its root causes and gives an overview of the Transitional Justice process and its role in the struggle against radicalization in the country. Its key findings are:

  • Transitional Justice Allows Grievances To Be Aired, But Justice Must Also Be Seen To Be Done: If the perpetrators of human rights violations made public through the TDC hearings are not prosecuted or held accountable in some form, there is a risk that the process of publically airing human rights abuses and grievances will actually reinvigorate public anger and frustration, potentially radicalising a new cohort of disenfranchised Tunisians.
  • Transitional Justice Can Help Redress Past Abuses Against Islamists But Not At The Cost Of Justice For Other Victims: By introducing reforms and establishing justice mechanism which appear to favour one section of society over another, the legitimacy and effectiveness of transitional justice mechanisms is likely to be undermined and could create a backlash which reignites tensions. There is a danger that a zero-sum approach to justice will lead to a cycle of repression and retribution which is likely to facilitate further radicalisation rather than preventing it.
  • Transitional Justice Mechanisms Can Help Seek Justice For Terrorism But Should Not Be Used As An Excuse For An Arbitrary Crackdown On Islamists: Excessive use of violence by the state legitimises the use of violence by those opposed to it, facilitating radicalisation. Transitional justice mechanisms should aim to create wide reaching institutional and systemic reforms which can tackle the root causes of the systemic grievances that led to the 2011 revolution and have also contributed to elevated levels of radicalisation among Tunisian youth.
  • Transitional Justice Mechanisms Can Help Bridge The Gap Between The Citizen And The State But Face Challenges in Implementation: Many of the grievances that sparked both the Tunisian revolution and the apparent acceleration of young Tunisians joining jihadist groups have their roots in the corruption and inequality that is endemic at an institutional level in Tunisia. Institutional change is by its very nature both excruciatingly slow and difficult to achieve. Transitional justice mechanisms have the potential to begin the process of reforming institutions and bridging the gap between the citizen and the state thereby treating, or at the very least recognising, the underlying cause of some of the country’s current problems. However, this is dependent on the state not obstructing or undermining the transitional justice process.

The report can be downloaded in PDF format by pressing the following link: Tunisia’s Time Bomb.

(Front page illustration: freestock.ca, under CC BY 3.0 license)

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New report: The Future of Chechens in ISIS https://www.hate-speech.org/new-report-the-future-of-chechens-in-isis/ https://www.hate-speech.org/new-report-the-future-of-chechens-in-isis/#respond Mon, 09 Oct 2017 16:07:52 +0000 https://www.hate-speech.org/?p=3342

The most prominent North Caucasians among the ISIS ranks have been the Chechens. In a new report from HSI, Anna Borschevskaya takes a closer look at Chechens in ISIS, and discusses their possible role in the future.

Øyvind Strømmen

The report discusses the history of Islamist extremism in the North Caucasus and the role of Chechnyans in ISIS, providing profiles for several well-known examples of Chechnyans fighting with the terrorist group. It also discusses the failure of Russian authorities in addressing the root causes leading to radicalization, noting that radical Islamist ideas may find a receptive audience in Russia, even if ISIS itself falls.

The report is available in PDF format here: Future of Chechens in ISIS.

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Mapping Libya’s Jihadists https://www.hate-speech.org/mapping-libyas-jihadists/ https://www.hate-speech.org/mapping-libyas-jihadists/#comments Wed, 07 Jun 2017 20:28:29 +0000 https://www.hate-speech.org/?p=3327

Six years after protests first erupted in February 2011 against the brutal and repressive rule of Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi, Libya remains a country beset by deepening political fragmentation, bloody internecine conflict and accelerating economic decline.

by Jason Pack – edited by Rhiannon Smith

The Islamic State (ISIS) capitalised on this instability and in late 2014 established a satellite branch in Libya, successfully seizing territory around the central coastal city of Sirte and expanding its influence across the country. By December 2016, an anti-ISIS military campaign supported by US airstrikes and led by militias aligned with Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) – Libya’s internationally recognised government established under the December 2015 Skhirat Libyan Political Agreement – had succeeded in driving ISIS out of Sirte. However, the group is far from defeated and ISIS fighters are regrouping in the vast deserts and remote communities of southern Libya.1

Yet, while ISIS undoubtedly continues to pose a threat to security and stability in Libya, the group is neither the strongest nor the most dangerous jihadist2 group in Libya currently. Since those uprisings that culminated in Qadhafi’s violent death in October 2011, after 42 years in control, jihadist groups have grown in power and influence, often with funding from wealthy international backers. Although they remain largely on the fringes of Libyan politics and society, jihadists of all colours and stripes can influence developments in Libya due to the transitory and almost fickle nature of the country’s political and military alliances, as well as and the increasing polarisation and instability of institutions at the level of central government.

These jihadist networks also pose a threat to security outside Libya, as demonstrated by the horrifying suicide bombing against a Manchester arena on 22 May that killed 22 people and injured many more. The attack was claimed by ISIS and conducted by Salman Abedi, a British Libyan whose parents fled to the UK in the 1990s due to their connections to the al-Qaeda linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).3 Abedi visited Tripoli shortly before he carried out the attack, and although at the time of writing it remains unclear whether Abedi received direct training or support for his attack from ISIS cells in Libya, or from associates closer to home, his familial connections to Libyan jihadist networks are significant.4 It is therefore crucial to understand who these Libyan jihadists are, how they interact with other actors, and what influence they can exert.

The Origins of Jihadism in Libya

Under Muammar Qadhafi’s authoritarian rule, political parties were banned, public engagement  severely restricted and any opposition  ruthlessly repressed. Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released

Under Qadhafi’s authoritarian rule, political parties were banned, public engagement was severely restricted and any opposition to the ‘brother leader’s’ highly personalised Jamahiriya (state of the masses) system of government was ruthlessly repressed. In this depoliticised environment, the mosque often provided the only space for alternative political socialisation, and Islamism became the best tool with which to engage in political activism and opposition.

While many of those resisting Qadhafi during the four decades before the 2011 uprisings espoused non-violent political Islamism, there were others who sought to oppose the regime through violent struggle, including using connections to global jihadist networks. Some Libyans travelled overseas to join jihadist groups, viewing jihad as a tool through which to transform local politics in Libya after their return. This trend was most pronounced in Benghazi and Derna as a result of Qadhafi’s systematic marginalisation of these eastern cities. The country’s east had been the seat of power of King Idris al-Sanussi, the first ruler of an independent Libya, whom Qadhafi overthrew in a bloodless coup when he seized power in 1969.

Libyans were amongst the so-called Afghan Arabs, volunteer fighters who travelled to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight with the Afghan mujahideen, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban, against the Soviet army. Upon their return to Libya, these Libyan Afghan Arabs provided important connections to global extremist networks and constituted a driving force behind jihadist attempts to overthrow the Qadhafi regime from the 1990s onward. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) was arguably the most influential of these Islamist opposition groups, and its ideological and operational legacy persists through inter-generational connections to jihadist networks within Libya and the Libyan diaspora.  Libyans continued to join the ranks of jihadist groups overseas, as shown in records from 2006 and 2007 of a strong Libyan contingent among fighters who joined al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). AQI was the Iraqi Sunni al-Qaeda affiliate that was founded in 1999 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and later evolved into ISIS under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Because none of the jihadists’ attempts to overthrow Qhadhafi’s regime succeeded, the leaders of Libya’s three key Islamist movements – the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – agreed from 2006 onwards to abandon violent opposition to Qadhafi in return for their survival. As a result, Islamist political actors and jihadist militias were initially slow to participate in the 2011 uprisings against Qadhafi. However, when they did join in, they drew upon their global networks to acquire the funds, arms, and experience they needed to carve out their own fiefdoms in Libya’s chaos.

Jihadists in Benghazi: BRSC and Ansar al-Sharia

Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council logo.

Two of the most well armed and well organised Islamist militias that formed in eastern Libya during the 2011 uprisings were the 17 February Martyrs’ Brigade and the Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade. After the fall of Qadhafi, these militias were integrated into the Ministry of Defence’s Libya Shield Force under the Libya Shield 1 unit led by Wissam Bin Hamid. However, Libya Shield 1 was dissolved in 2013 after it was involved in killing 32 anti-militia protestors in Benghazi; its constituent parts, along with members of Ansar al-Sharia, formed the jihadist Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC).5

Ansar al-Sharia is a jihadist group which was formed in Benghazi by former revolutionary fighters in 2012 and now has branches in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. The group has links with al-Qaeda and calls for the establishment of Shari’a (Islamic) law. Ansar al-Sharia fighters were implicated in the September 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi which killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. Although the group advocated violence to achieve its aims, waging a campaign of assassinations, kidnappings and attacks against members of the former regime and their families in Benghazi, it also sought to increase its popular support through the provision of social services and charity and expanded into towns such as Derna, Ajdabiya and Sirte.6 Ansar al-Sharia became the largest jihadist organisation in Libya and strengthened its links to neighbouring Tunisia by running training camps for Tunisian and other foreign fighters and facilitating their transport to active jihad fronts including Syria and Iraq. The UN put Ansar al-Sharia on its al-Qaeda sanctions list in 2014, highlighting the group’s connections with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Mourabitoun (a splinter group from AQIM led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar), both North African jihadist groups with a presence in southern Libya.7.

Mohamed al-Zahawi. Still image from a video eulogy released by Ansar al-Sharia.

Ansar al-Sharia was significantly weakened following the death of the group’s leader, Mohamed al-Zahawi, in January 2015, and the defection to ISIS of many of the group’s members, including notable figures such as Ansar al-Sharia’s spiritual leader Abu Abdullah al-Libi.8 Furthermore, as ISIS expanded in Libya, tensions between the two jihadist groups grew as they competed for recruits, funding and territory. However, although Ansar al-Sharia and ISIS affiliates clashed in Derna and elsewhere, they have remained united in their fight against eastern strongman Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar and his anti-Islamist Operation Dignity campaign in Benghazi, which was launched in early 2014. Nevertheless, in recent months Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) forces have gained the upper hand in Benghazi, retaking the Ganfuda neighbourhood from the BRSC and bombarding the last remaining jihadist enclaves in the centre of the city.9. Ansar al-Sharia’s declaration on 27 May 2017 that it had formally dissolved itself highlights the extent of the setbacks suffered by the group.10

Jihadists in Derna: DMSC and ISIS

During the 1980s and 1990s, many of the Libyan jihadists travelling to fight in Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas came from the small eastern city of Derna. Later the city renewed its distinction, supplying a new generation of Libyan jihadists to fight with al-Qaeda in Iraq in the 2000s and then with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In 2012, fighters from Derna created the al-Battar Brigade, which eventually pledged allegiance to ISIS and fights to this day in both Iraq and Syria.11 As a city, Derna was marginalised under Qadhafi and remained politically isolated following the 2011 uprisings. The prominent role of Libyan jihadists in Derna meant that, by 2012, jihadist groups occupied the local governance and mediation roles that elected local councils played elsewhere in Libya. A lack of security prevented voting from taking place there during the 2012 and 2014 parliamentary elections or duringand the Constitution Drafting elections in 2014, while secular courts were suspended and gender segregation was enforced in schools, universities and offices.

Throughout this period, various Islamist and jihadist groups battled between themselves for control of the city. Key players included al-Qaida-linked jihadist groups such as Abu Saleem Martyr’s Brigade (named after the infamous 1996 Abu Saleem prison massacre in which over one thousand mainly Islamist inmates are believed to have been killed by the Qadhafi regime) as well as an Ansar al-Sharia branch led by former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Sufian bin Qumu and the Islamic Youth Shura Council (IYSC), which in June 2014 formally pledged its allegiance to ISIS.12 In November 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader or ‘Emir’ of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, declared the establishment of an official Islamic State ‘province’ or wilaya  in eastern Libya, centred on Derna. The IYSC and its ISIS-aligned allies then succeeded in consolidating control over strategic areas of the city and imposing ISIS’s strict and brutal social codes.13

Many of Derna’s al-Qaeda-aligned jihadist groups refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS in part because it was a group imposed from outside Libya and in part because of ideological and strategic differences between ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya. ISIS wanted to focus on top-down state-building and expanding its territory, while al-Qaeda was more concerned with resolving local socio-political grievances churned up by the 2011 uprisings. Although Derna’s powerful Islamist groups had already enforced strict interpretations of Shari’a law prior to the establishment of ISIS in the city, ISIS’s rule brought a new level of violence, cruelty and intolerance and resulted in practices which were alien to Libyan society such as the marriage of child brides to foreign fighters and the sanctioning of public executions, beheadings and even crucifixions.14

In December 2014, jihadist militias opposed to IYSC and ISIS joined together to form the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC) coalition and sought to limit the groups’ growing power in the city. The DMSC also spearheaded efforts against Khalifa Haftar, whose Operation Dignity forces have been leading an offensive against Islamist groups in Benghazi and Derna since May 2014. Tensions between the DMSC and ISIS boiled over in June 2015 when ISIS killed Salim Derbi and Nasir Attiyah al-Akar, two top DMSC commanders. After this, the DMSC was able to harness widespread local anger against the group to evict ISIS from the centre of Derna, before completely driving ISIS affiliates from the outskirts of the city in April 2016. Since then, the DMSC was has been engaged in sporadic fighting with Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) forces as the latter seek to drive all jihadist groups out of eastern Libya. Following the Manchester attack on 22 May and a subsequent ISIS attack against Coptic Christians in Egypt that killed at least 26 people, the Egyptian air force launched several airstrikes against DMSC positions, in coordination with the LNA. The DMSC is primarily focused on securing Derna from the LNA, and given ISIS no longer has a presence in Derna, it is likely that the airstrikes are  an opportunistic attempt by Egypt to be seen ‘doing something’ while also supporting its ally Haftar.

Jihadists in western Libya: Belhadj, Ghariani and Tripoli’s Salafists

The Umar al-Mukhtar Brigade was one of the most organised Islamist brigades to fight against Qadhafi in western Libya in 2011 and comprised a core group of former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) members and other jihadists, as well as non-jihadist Libyans seeking more sophisticated military training. It was led by Abdul Hakim Belhadj, the former emir of the LIFG and a Libyan Afghan Arab who was tortured and imprisoned by Qadhafi for several years. Following the fall of Tripoli on 20 August 2011, Libya’s interim authority the National Transitional Council (NTC) appointed Belhadj to head the newly established Tripoli Military Council. With financial and political support from Qatar and backing from his close ally Ali al-Salabi, head of the radical faction of the Muslim brotherhood in Libya, Belhadj established the Islamist al-Watan political party.15 However the party failed to win any seats in Libya’s first elections in 2012, and though he remains influential Belhadj now focuses on furthering his many business interests in Libya.

Many other jihadist militias were also able to infiltrate Libya’s nascent post-Qadhafi state through the Supreme Security Committee (SSC) and the Libya Shield Forces (LSF), umbrella structures established to organise militia involvement in police and military functions respectively.16 The Interior Ministry’s SSC absorbed several Tripoli-based brigades that adhered to mainstream Saudi Salafism practices.17 The Tripoli branch of the SSC was led by powerful Salafi commander Hisham Bishr, with another Salafist, Abdurrauf Kara, commanding the Special Deterrent Forces (RADA) and Haitham al-Tajuri leading the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade.18 Although these forces formed a key component of the Libya Dawn (Fajr) coalition that evicted the elected parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR), from Tripoli in July 2014 and fought against Haftar’s Operation Dignity forces, they are now aligned with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and constitute its main power base in the capital.

Sadiq Ghariani, here seen lecturing in Bayda, Libya. Photo: ليبي صح, WikiCommons, under CC BY SA 3.0-license.

An important rallying figure for many of Libya’s Islamists and jihadists is Sadeq al-Ghariani, who was appointed Libya’s Grand Mufti, the highest religious authority in the country, shortly after the 2011 uprisings. He is a controversial figure who has issued a series of extreme fatwas (religious edicts), including a call for the gender segregation of universities and workplaces.19 He is based in Tripoli and supported the Libya Dawn coalition against Haftar’s forces in the east. Al-Ghariani once implied that Haftar was a greater a threat to Libya than ISIS and argued against launching the anti-ISIS offensive in Sirte. Interestingly, there are longstanding tensions between al-Ghariani and many of the powerful Salafist brigades in Tripoli due to ideological and doctrinal differences in their religious practices.20

Al-Ghariani is also the symbolic figurehead of the hard-line Islamist political faction led by Khalifa al-Ghwell, the prime minister of the now-defunct National Salvation government, which is both against the UN-backed GNA in Tripoli and against Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) forces in eastern Libya.21 Ghwell is from Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, which is located to the east of Tripoli and draws its power both from its position as the country’s commercial hub and from the central role played by its revolutionaries during the uprisings. Militias from Misrata were a key contingent of the Libya Dawn faction in 2014 and a number of the hard-line Islamist militias from the city now support Ghwell and his Islamist faction in Tripoli. However, Misratan militias also comprised the majority of the GNA-aligned al-Bunyan al-Marsus forces that fought against ISIS in Sirte, and many Misratan militias continue to support the GNA in Tripoli. In late May, following the Brak al-Shatti massacre and Manchester attack, there was a significant shift in power in favour of the GNA after pro-GNA militias managed to evict the hard-line, anti-GNA militias from key positions across the capital. However, further shifts in militia allegiances or the broader political power balanceAny shift in allegiances among pro-GNA militias in western Libya could easily lead to the collapse of the GNA and potentially strengthen various jihadist factions.

Jihadists in Central Libya: ISIS

In late January 2015, shortly after al-Baghdadi recognised the ISIS wilaya in Derna, ISIS affiliates in Tripoli attacked a prominent hotel used by Libyan government officials and Westerners, killing 10 people. 22 A few days later, ISIS released a gruesome video showing 21 Christian Egyptians – who had been kidnapped in Libya – being beheaded on the shores of Sirte. These spectacular attacks marked ISIS’s zenith in Libya as the group increased recruitment and extended its territorial control. Many recruits came from neighbouring countries, and ISIS actually launched recruitment campaigns specifically aimed at foreign fighters, even establishing training camps for Tunisian fighters near Sabratha, a coastal city near the border with Tunisia. But Libyans constituted a significant number of the group’s rank and file.

By mid 2015, ISIS had taken control of Sirte and established its headquarters there. Sirte is a coastal city in central Libya that was a stronghold of Qadhafi loyalists and had been largely abandoned by Libya’s central authorities since 2011. Powerful revolutionary militias from Misrata and Benghazi acted in effect as an occupying force in the city.23 This marginalisation created fertile ground for jihadist groups to put down roots, and as fighting intensified between the Libya Dawn and Dignity factions for control of the oil-rich Oil Crescent region to the south-east of Sirte, Ansar al-Sharia’s Sirte branch expanded its influence and social activities within the city, laying foundations upon which ISIS could build.

Although the powerful Misratan 166 brigade fought against ISIS in and around Sirte in the first half of 2015, ISIS proved resilient and for the next year Misrata focused on fighting Haftar’s forces instead. However, when two ISIS suicide bombings in May 2016 killed Misratan fighters in Abu Grein, a village situated roughly halfway between Misrata and Sirte, the direct threat posed by ISIS’s proximity to Misrata appears finally to have provoked Misratan militias to launch a concerted counter-offensive against ISIS. By this point the UN-brokered and internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) had been established in Tripoli. It set up the al-Bunyan al-Marsus (steadfast wall) operations room to coordinate a military campaign to defeat ISIS in Sirte, although in reality the Misratan militias directed operations rather than the other way around.24

This map put out by ISIS itself in August 2016, acknowledged that its control had been limited to a few city blocks of Sirte by mid-August. In December, al-Bunyan al-Marsus forces declared that Sirte had been liberated.

The al-Bunyan al-Marsus (BM) forces made relatively swift gains against ISIS throughout summer 2016, pushing the group back to the outskirts of Sirte. However, ISIS was able to use guerrilla tactics, sophisticated booby traps and suicide attacks to prevent the forces ranged against it from achieving a swift victory. The GNA formally requested support, and on 1 August 2016 the US Africa Command launched Operation Odyssey Lightning, conducting 495 precision airstrikes against ISIS positions in and around Sirte by the time the operation officially concluded on 19 December 2016.25 BM forces declared Sirte liberated on 5 December, yet some military operations continued to the south of the city, where many ISIS fighters and commanders had fled during lulls in the fighting.

Despite ISIS being evicted from the city, Sirte’s future remains uncertain. Control of the oil-rich region around Sirte is highly contested by warring factions: the oil facilities and ports provide whoever controls them with valuable political leverage, especially at a time when the country’s economy is in dire straits. This central region marks the geographic and strategic ‘frontline’ between rival political factions in the west and east of the country. Since December 2016, the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB), a coalition of Islamist militias that aim to retake Benghazi from Haftar’s forces, has sought to take control of the Oil Crescent region from the LNA. After many failed attempts, in early March 2017 coalition succeeded in routing the LNA as far as Ajdabiya before the LNA drove the BDB back to its base in Jufra 11 days later.26 Shortly after, hostilities between Misratan-led, GNA-aligned militias and the LNA escalated in south-west Libya, culminating in GNA-aligned forces attacking the LNA-controlled Brak al-Shatti airbase on 18 May, killing as many as 140 LNA fighters.27 The backlash against this massacre led to a withdrawal of some Misratan forces from the area, however the situation remains volatile.

A zero-sum mentality favours jihadists

What Libya’s jihadist groups do, and how they interact with other factions, matters. The rise of jihadist groups and factions in Libya is both a cause and an effect of the lack of governance, instability and conflict which is currently plaguing the country. No single political or military faction has the power or resources to control the whole country, yet the zero-sum mentality that pits each faction against every other means that well-organised jihadist groups have as much chance as any other group of exerting power over specific cities or regions, as ISIS demonstrated in 2015. Although some mechanisms for negotiating a political solution to the crisis are in place, the recent escalation of conflict between rival factions in central Libya threatens to push the country into full blown civil war, a scenario that would play to the strengths of the currently weakened but resilient jihadist groups. Libya’s jihadists do not constitute a discreet entity in terms of ideology, organisational structure, allegiances or location, so they can never be completely defeated in a military sense. The key to reducing the power and influence of these factions is to address the marginalisation, insecurity and normalisation of violence that have facilitated jihadist recruitment and given a sheen of legitimacy to their brutal tactics.


  1. “ISIS in Action”, Eye on ISIS in Libya, 10 January 2016, http://eyeonisisinlibya.com/isis-in-action/isis-fighter-says-tunisian-journalists-killed-in-derna/
  2. For the purposes of this article, Islamism refers to any form of social or political activism advocating that public and political life should be guided by Islamic principles, including calling for the implementation of Islamic law. Islamists can be violent or non-violent. In this article, jihadism or jihadist will be used to refer to Islamists who advocate the use of violent struggle to implement their interpretation of Islamic practices.
  3. Alia Brahimi, “Why Libya is still a global terror threat,” The Guardian, May 25, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/25/libya-global-terror-threat-manchester-attack-gaddafi
  4. Jason Pack, “20th-century Libyan jihadism’s role in Manchester attack,” Al Monitor, May 28, 2017, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/05/libya-jihad-manchester-attack-isis-salman-abedi.html#ixzz4iSgZfKik
  5. “Libya: No Impunity for ‘Black Saturday’ Benghazi Deaths”, Human Rights Watch, 13 June 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/06/13/libya-no-impunity-black-saturday-benghazi-deaths
  6. Mohamed Eljarh, “Benghazi’s Epidemic of Assassinations”, Foreign Policy, 30 October 2013 http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/10/30/benghazis-epidemic-of-assassinations/
  7. Mattia Toaldo and Mary Fitzgerald, “A quick guide to Libya’s main players”, ECFR, December 2016, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict#
  8. Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar al Sharia Libya fights on under new leader”, Long War Journal, 30 June 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/06/ansar-al-sharia-libya-fights-on-under-new-leader.php
  9. “Other Jihadi Actors”, Eye on ISIS in Libya, 21 March 2017, http://eyeonisisinlibya.com/other-jihadi-actors/15-21-mar-lna-liberates-ganfuda-retakes-oil-crescent-and-attacks-south/
  10. “Other Jihadi Actors”, Eye on ISIS in Libya, 30 May 2017, http://eyeonisisinlibya.com/other-jihadi-actors/24-30-may-ansar-al-sharia-officially-disbands/
  11. Ibid; Charles Lister, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency, (London: Hurst, 2015)
  12. “ISIS in Action,” EOIL, 3 November 2014 http://eyeonisisinlibya.com/isis-in-action/action-3-november-2014/
  13. Maggie Michael, “How a Libyan city joined the Islamic State group,” Associated Press, 9 November 2014 http://bigstory.ap.org/article/195a7ffb0090444785eb814a5bda28c7/how-libyan-city-joined-islamic-state-group
  14. Rhiannon Smith, “A House Divided: Jihadis Battle for Derna”, Tony Blair Faith Foundation, 10 July  2015 http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/religion-geopolitics/commentaries/opinion/house-divided-jihadis-battle-derna
  15. “Profile: Libyan rebel commander Abdel Hakim Belhadj”, BBC, 4 July 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14786753
  16. Jason Pack, Karim Mezran, and Mohamed Eljarh, “Libya’s Faustian Bargains: Ending the Appeasement Cycle”, Atlantic Council, 5 May 2014, www.atlanticcouncil.org/images/publications/Libyas_Faustian_Bargains.pdf
  17. Libyans have traditionally adhered to conservative Sunni interpretations of Islam, eschewing the more extreme Salafist interpretations of Islam often adhered to countries such as Saudi Arabia, and which advocate a return to the traditions of the Salaf (devout ancestors).
  18. Lucy Provan and Rhiannon Smith, “Islamists tasked with drugs crackdown in Tripoli”, New Statesman, 7 February  2013 http://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2013/02/islamists-tasked-drugs-crackdown-tripoli
  19. “A comment too far?” The Economist, 3 September 2014, http://www.economist.com/blogs/pomegranate/2014/09/libyas-mufti
  20. Mattia Toaldo and Mary Fitzgerald, “A quick guide to Libya’s main players”, ECFR, December 2016, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict#
  21. “Anti-ISIS Coalition”, Eye on ISIS in Libya, 18 October 2016, http://eyeonisisinlibya.com/the-anti-isis-coalition/anti-18-oct-16/
  22. Chris Stephen, “Ten Killed as Gunmen Storm Luxury Hotel in Libyan Capital”, The Guardian, 27 January 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/27/libya-gunmen-kill-guards-take-hostages-luxuy-hotel-tripoli
  23. “ISIS in Action”, Eye on ISIS in Libya, 25 May 2015, http://eyeonisisinlibya.com/isis-in-action/action-25-may-2015/
  24. Alia Brahimi and Jason Pack, “Tactical lessons from the eviction of ISIS from Sirte,” Atlantic Council, 23 May 2017, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/tactical-lessons-from-the-ejection-of-isis-from-sirte?utm_content=buffer5b874&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
  25. “AFRICOM Concludes Operation Odyssey Lightening”, AFRICOM, 22 December 2016, http://www.africom.mil/media-room/pressrelease/28564/africom-concludes-operation-odyssey-lightning
  26. “Other Jihadi Actors”, Eye on ISIS in Libya, 7 March 2017, http://eyeonisisinlibya.com/other-jihadi-actors/islamist-benghazi-defence-brigades-seize-oil-crescent-ports/
  27. “Anti-ISIS Coalition”, Eye on ISIS in Libya, 23 May 2017, http://eyeonisisinlibya.com/the-anti-isis-coalition/17-27-may-gna-aligned-forces-attack-brak-al-shatti/
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Migration and Jihadism in the Sahel https://www.hate-speech.org/migration-and-jihadism-in-the-sahel/ https://www.hate-speech.org/migration-and-jihadism-in-the-sahel/#respond Wed, 12 Apr 2017 14:53:06 +0000 https://www.hate-speech.org/?p=3316

Political rhetoric conflating migration across the Mediterranean with the apparent rise of violent jihadism in Europe reached new heights in 2016. But is there a demonstrable link between migrants, jihadist groups and the lucrative smuggling networks which link Africa to Europe, and if so, how can it be managed?

Øyvind Strømmen

These are the main questions sought answered by threat analyst Dominic MacIver in a new report published by HSI. The report highlights smuggling routes through the Sahara, where migrants, drugs and cigarettes are smuggled northwards, while other contraband – including Libyan weapons – are smuggled southwards.

It has been suggested that some of the jihadist militants operating in the Sahara earn revenue from their role in smuggling. These claims often include the notorious AQIM commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who has been given the nickname “Mr. Marlboro”, a nickname that has not gone unquestioned.

Claims that the Islamic State’s Libyan branch generated income via its involvement in the smuggling of drugs, antiquities and people through the coastal town of Sirte – held by IS from February 2015 to December 2016 – have never been proven and were likely exaggerated. MacIver does however point to a structural connection between jihadism and smuggling. Both jihadist groups and smuggling networks could be seen as part symptom and part cause of wider state failure in the Sahel region.

“Jihadist groups and smuggling networks are able to take root due to the power vacuum created by a lack of security, stability and state control in the region”, MacIver writes, “Meanwhile, the population of vulnerable of determined individuals created by such conditions provides the opportunity for illicit profits. As state security forces deteriorate or resort to corruption and repression, jihadist groups may find more malleable recruits in the from of marginalised young men who feel abandoned by their governments. Smugglers, for their part, find customers and middlemen willing to risk it all to seek a better life elsewhere”.

The report is available in PDF format here: Migration and Jihadism.

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New report: Neo-Nazis in the North https://www.hate-speech.org/new-report-neo-nazis-in-the-north/ https://www.hate-speech.org/new-report-neo-nazis-in-the-north/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:46:42 +0000 https://www.hate-speech.org/?p=3298

A new report from HSI looks at the violent past and present of the Nordic neo-Nazi organization calling itself the Nordic Resistance Movement.

Øyvind Strømmen

The self-declared Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) is currently the largest and most active neo-Nazi organization in Sweden, where it originated, as well as in Norway and in Finland. In total, the organization may have as many as 300 activists across the Nordic countries, as well as a broader network of sympathizers.

The Nordic Resistance Movement fights – in the words of its former leader Klas Lund – for “a Nordic national socialist republic including the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and optionally the Baltic states”. It has also attempted to establish itself in Denmark, and its website includes a section in the Icelandic language.  More worrisome than its utopian vision of a National Socialist Nordic region, however, are the organization’s links to violence.

While the organization claims to resort to violence only in self-defence, both its national socialist ideology, which is violent in itself, and the blood-stained history of the organization say otherwise.

Members of the Swedish Resistance Movement, the predecessor of the NRM, demonstrating on the Swedish National Day in 2007. Photo: Peter Isotalo. Released to the public domain.

HSI has been following the development of the NRM for several years, and also assisted Esa Henrik Holappa – a co-founder and former leader of the Finnish branch – in leaving the organization and in breaking with his past. In this report, we present the history of the group and an overview of its current activities. HSI also worked together with the Finnish broadcaster YLE in connection with the defection, and the report includes a previously published article written by YLE journalist Marko Hietikko, whose work on Holappa’s defection was recently given a prestigious Finnish award.

The report can be downloaded in PDF format here.

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New report: AQAP functions as a death squad for hire https://www.hate-speech.org/new-report-aqap-functions-as-a-death-squad-for-hire/ https://www.hate-speech.org/new-report-aqap-functions-as-a-death-squad-for-hire/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 15:38:53 +0000 https://www.hate-speech.org/?p=3293

In a new paper released by HSI, Martin Jerrett and Mohammed al-Haddar argue that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, functions as a death squad for hire, harnessed by the Sana’a government against opposition forces.

Øyvind Strømmen

The paper – available as a downloadable PDF file – argues three main points. First, that the bulk of AQAP attacks have been against alternative power structures to those established and supported on the ground by Sana’a authorities. Second, that AQAP personnel are given license to operate and recruit by Sana’a and are not seriously interdicted in their movements or are given safe houses and safe passage across the country. And, third, that AQAP functions as an executive, if extra-judicial, arm of the state.

“While it operates in the so-called ungoverned spaces, it serves as an adept proxy security enforcer for Sana’a”, Jerrett and al-Haddar writes. “The benefits for the state are evident, as using AQAP provides the convenience of plausible deniability of the group’s actions”.

They continue: “The degree to which the lower ranks of AQAP are wittingly involved in this prescribed role as state enforcer, and the degree to which AQAP is its own entity, remain open questions. There is an element of the conspiratorial to such questions, but Yemeni politics has a long history of complexity and nuance that is often beyond the comprehension of Western observers, as first noted by Paul Dresch in his discussion of the Yemen civil war in the 1960s”.

Jerrett has worked on Yemeni issues since 2009, and served as a political officer with the United Nations from 2014 to 2016, advising on South Yemen. Al-Haddar comes from Hadramawt in southern Yemen. Since 2009, he has been authoring a blog covering South Yemen politics and history.

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Hungary’s far right? No longer the fringe https://www.hate-speech.org/hungarys-far-right-no-longer-the-fringe/ https://www.hate-speech.org/hungarys-far-right-no-longer-the-fringe/#respond Wed, 08 Mar 2017 12:51:28 +0000 https://www.hate-speech.org/?p=3279

ANALYSIS: The far right in Hungary has gained a lot of attention in the European media in the last few years – but its transformation has received little notice.

Péter Krekó

“Be a border hunter” – official recruitment message of the Hungarian police.

A few years ago the most radical rightist party in Hungary was unquestionably Jobbik, which spread harsh anti-Semitic and anti-Roma rhetoric and cultivated an extensive network of paramilitary satellite organizations. Its rival for conservative hearts and minds was Fidesz, a mainstream party of government which sold itself as a more centrist force. When the leader of Fidesz, Viktor Orbán, was re-elected prime minister in 2014, he held an international press conference to guarantee that neither the far left nor the far right would have an important voice in Hungarian politics.

The picture today is totally different. Jobbik has shifted considerably towards the center and downplayed its radical rhetoric, targeting a broader electorate, including even left-wing voters. Fidesz – the government party – has radicalized its rhetoric and actions.

Jobbik has taken major steps to distance itself from fascism and from the blatant anti-Semitism it was known for just a few years ago. In December the party leader even sent Hannukah greetings to the Hungarian Jewish community. The party that burned EU flags at a rally only five years ago recently launched a European political programme that included a proposal to deepen integration in several fields and create a “European wage union”. The party that has had extensive ties with Russia seems to be slowly abandoning this line and has launched a “Western opening” to improve its relations with Western European countries and the United States.

“The future cannot be stopped – already the most popular among young people.” Jobbik campaign billboard, 2014.

Jobbik remains marginalized internationally, and is still excluded from the far-right ENF group in the European Parliament, since Marine Le Pen’s group finds it too extreme. But Jobbik’s attempted makeover has not gone unnoticed by its former extremist allies. In January, some members of the former Hungarian Guard paramilitary organization protested against Gábor Vona (one of the founders of the Jobbik movement), asking him to return the vest of the Hungarian Guard he wore on his parliamentary inauguration back in 2010.

Fidesz is moving the opposite way. Once one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, Viktor Orbán is now a supporter. Orbán, who a few years ago took pride in his role as an EU vice president and called for a “strong Europe”, now insists that policies designed in Brussels are the biggest threat Hungary faces. The party that launched a policy of opening towards Muslim countries a few years ago now uses strongly Islamophobic rhetoric. Orbán himself has openly claimed he does not want any Muslims in Hungary. The government ran a xenophobic anti-migrant campaign for months, spending millions of euros, and Orbán has also stated that protecting “ethnic homogeneity” is vital for economic success, because “too much mixing causes trouble”. While Islamophobia has become Orbán’s ideological stock in trade, however, his family maintains business interests in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

In short, in Hungary today we observe the parallel mainstreamization of the extreme and extremization of the mainstream.

The strategies of the two parties are based on opposing projections of the future: Orbán is betting that the Western political mainstream will collapse (a view strengthened by the UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU and the election of US President Donald Trump), while Vona believes the mainstream is strong and the West will survive. Orbán thinks the world is undergoing a radical transformation that calls for radical responses, while Vona sees moderation as the key to political success.

Jobbik, to be sure, is not free of extremist elements, but the extreme right is no longer the only source of hate speech. Orbán, the most radical politician of his own party, delivered a State of the Union speech recently that Cas Mudde,  a Dutch expert on European radicalism, characterized as a genuine right-wing populist manifesto.

Orbán’s government has been busy erecting a fence on the country’s southern border, deploying the military against refugees at the borders and, more recently, deciding to keep refugees detained in shipping containers while their asylum applications are pending. The Hungarian police have even recruited border guards from the general population and called them “border hunters”.

In many European countries, centrist parties have had trouble staving off electoral challenges from far-right forces. In Hungary, the solution to this problem was pretty simple: the main governing party itself became a far-right force.

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New report on the Boko Haram https://www.hate-speech.org/new-report-on-the-boko-haram/ https://www.hate-speech.org/new-report-on-the-boko-haram/#respond Fri, 03 Feb 2017 18:53:24 +0000 https://www.hate-speech.org/?p=3270

A new report from HSI discusses the history and evolution of the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram.

Boko Haram – or Jamā’at Ahl al-Sunnah li-l-Da’wah wa-l-Jihād – as the group calls itself – is only the latest in a series of radical Islamist groups to emerge in the north and northeast of Nigeria. In April 2014, however, the group rose to international notoriety when it kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria.

Its history goes further back. In 2003 and 2004, members of the sect skirmished with the police. In 2009, tensions came to a head, when a mosque in Maiduguri was stormed and members of the group were massacred. The founder of Boko Haram, Mohammad Yusuf, later died in custody. In the following months, the sect re-emerged as an armed group. Since then, it has changed and evolved its tactics several times, and today, it is amongst the most well-known terrorist groups in Africa.

Boko Haram has also been tied to the self-declared Islamic State, its leader – Abu Shekau – declaring his allegiance to IS. While there is little evidence to suggest extensive contact between the two groups, the declaration has created further interest in Boko Haram as a phenomenon.

In mid-2014, Boko Haram gained control of considerable territory in and around the state of Borno, and in January 2015 the area was estimated at about 50,000 square kilometres. By the end of 2016, however, the group had lost most of its territory, and now also suffers from internal conflict.

In a new report published by HSI, Maren Sæbø – a Norwegian journalist and historian focusing on African Affairs – outlines the history and evolution of Boko Haram, explores its organization and aspirations, and concludes by looking at what may possibly happen in the future. HSI hopes that the report can provide both media professionals and the broader public with a better understanding of one of the most notorious terrorist groups of today.

The report can be downloaded in PDF format here.

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The Kotleba phenomenon https://www.hate-speech.org/kotleba-phenomenon/ https://www.hate-speech.org/kotleba-phenomenon/#comments Tue, 03 Jan 2017 20:06:02 +0000 https://www.hate-speech.org/?p=3108

Slovakia People’s Party Our Slovakia gave Europe its first neo-Nazi governor and built on fear, distrust and discontent to take its first seats in Slovakia’s parliament last year. It is poised for new gains in 2017.

Tomáš Nociar

A decade has passed since uniformed young men and women staged infamous marches in several Slovak towns, reminding many Slovaks of paramilitary groups like the Hlinka Guard of the interwar period. The marches were arranged by Slovak Togetherness (Slovenská pospolitost), a marginal extreme right-wing group led by Marián Kotleba, and were the source of his first publicity.

Slovenská pospolitost marching. Marián Kotleba is in the middle of the front row. Photo: Matúš Tremko, under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license.

In 2013, Kotleba surprisingly won the second round of gubernatorial election in the Banská Bystrica region of central Slovakia. As a result, this controversial politician, previously known for his part in street clashes with the police, became the first elected regional governor with a neo-Nazi background in post-war Europe. The election breakthrough in Banská Bystrica was a sign of things to come, including the success of Kotleba’s People’s Party Our Slovakia (Ľudová strana Naše Slovensko, LSNS) in last year’s elections. His unexpected regional success could well be seen as a warning from the voters, since the extreme right’s crossing of a political threshold by winning important offices was a slap in the face to Slovakia’s political establishment. Kotleba’s party took more than 8 per cent of the vote, opening the door to parliament by taking 14 seats.

The roots and extremism of Kotleba’s party

2014:  Banner at the Banská Bystrica administration building put up by Kotleba, ‘Yankees go home! Stop NATO!’ Photo: Ján Krošlák, SME, under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license.

Kotleba’s People’s Party Our Slovakia was formed in 2010 as a direct successor to his former political project, Slovak Togetherness-National Party, the first and only political party in Slovakia’s short history to be dissolved by the Supreme Court. The party was found to have failed to comply with the constitution. As a relatively young party, LSNS is bit of an exception to the rule when looking at the current rise of the far right in Europe.

Most of the successful far-right parties in Europe have a mixture of nativism, authoritarianism and populism at the core of their political agenda, belonging to what the Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde calls the “populist radical right”. Kotleba’s LSNS, however, is the third example of a successful extreme right party gaining seats in the national parliament of an EU member state, after Greece’s Golden Dawn and – arguably – Hungary’s Jobbik. 1

Illustration: Marijke Strømmen

What makes Kotleba’s party more extreme? Several authors in the field distinguish between successful new populist parties and less attractive old extreme right parties, associated with fascism. Italian political scientist Piero Ignazi points out how the latter group is not only characterized by nativism and authoritarianism, but also by an anti-democratic nostalgia for interwar fascism, expressed through references to the myths, symbols and slogans of fascism, or to fascist ideology in general. With Kotleba’s party in mind, several examples illustrate these sympathies towards fascism. In addition to nostalgia for the wartime Slovak state, the most striking example may be the party’s 2012 electoral manifesto, entitled 14 Steps for the Future of Slovakia and our Children. If the title sounds familiar, it is because of the infamous neo-Nazi slogan known as the 14 words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The similarity speaks for itself, and the inspiration appears obvious.

More recent examples can be found by taking a brief look at the mindset of some party members and activists. These include three of the party’s candidates for parliament: Rastislav Rogel, the frontman of the infamous Slovak neo-Nazi band Juden Mord (Jew Murder) and a man who questions the holocaust and encourages the use of “Sieg Heil” in song lyrics; Marián Mišún, known for his anti-Gypsy rhetoric, including his text “The final solution to the Slovak Gypsy problem!” (“Konečné riešenie slovenského cigánskeho problému!”); and Marián Magát, Slovakia’s most notorious admirer of Hitler and the leader of a neo-Nazi paramilitary group called Action Group Resistance. Magát’s 88th position on the list of candidates can hardly be seen as a coincidence in this context, since it is well known that the number 88 is popular in the neo-Nazi movement as a code for “Heil Hitler” since “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

While none of these candidates made it into the parliament, another one did: the youngest parliamentarian elected, Milan Mazurek, 22, known as a Holocaust denier after he stated on social media: “I do not advocate any regime, but regarding the Third Reich we only know lies and fairy tales about 6 million Jews and soap. Nothing but lies are taught about Hitler.”

In fact, Kotleba’s family business also demonstrates a tendency towards fascism and extremism. Together with his two brothers ­– also party candidates in last year’s election – he runs a street-wear shop called KKK – English fashion (KKK – Anglická móda) that has been a subject of police investigation for selling neo-Nazi materials. When asked if KKK stands for Ku Klux Klan, the reply was that it symbolizes the three Kotleba brothers.

Using the populist agenda

Advertising a party event. The title reads: “Do not believe the media! Come and hear the truth!”.

In spite of the examples above, it would be inaccurate to claim that Kotleba’s rise is a sign that society is becoming fascist, or that Slovakia is reverting to the politics of the 1930s. The party and its leader have succeeded despite their failure to shed their fascist legacy, something that other European far-right parties have done.  The idea of abandoning democracy and issues like anti-Semitism are no longer at the core of the party’s agenda, unlike in Kotleba’s previous, unsuccessful political project. Instead, they send signals to those who are more extreme that, while the party strives to present itself as more moderate, it is still made up of the same extreme right believers.

Now, however, typical party slogans target the political elite and the Romani people, sometimes called Gypsies, with phrases like, “We will take care of the thieves with ties, as well as parasites in settlements.” Building an image as the defenders of the people against a corrupt elite and ethnic minorities has proven more effective in drawing voters. From this perspective, Kotleba’s party is more similar to such parties as the French Front National and the Italian Lega Nord than to interwar fascists or current neo-Nazi movements. In a nutshell: People’s Party Our Slovakia is a party led by an extreme right-wing activist who has turned to a xenophobic, populist agenda to attract voters.

Kotleba’s impact on Slovak politics

The rise of right-wing extremism in Slovak society became a hot topic after the March 2016 elections. Most of the post-election debates dealt with the presence of an extreme right-wing party in parliament and how mainstream parties should respond: involve it or ignore it in the legislative process?

Unfortunately, the debates largely missed the point that the rise of the far right is first and foremost a symptom of a failure in mainstream politics, an observation confirmed by exit polls that identified social problems and corruption among the key motivations for Kotleba’s voters. A more recent survey suggests that most voters believe politicians do not work for the public interest but for their own and their sponsors’ benefit. This leads to a rise of general distrust in the political establishment, as well as increased scepticism about democracy, with a quarter of Slovaks saying they would welcome dictatorship. These views are most popular amongst those with the lowest levels of education and income. Another risk group is young people, for whom Kotleba’s People’s Party Our Slovakia is the most popular choice.

Milan Mazurek, here holding a speech at the socalled Independence March in Warszawa, Poland, where he was introduced by a speaker from the National Radical Camp, which sees itself as the ideological descendant of the pre-WWII ultranationalist and anti-Semitic group by same name. Photo: Screenshot from a video of the speech released on YouTube.

Amidst this public mood, Kotleba and his party can afford to sit back and wait. According to the most recent poll, support for LSNS has risen from 8 to 11 per cent since the elections. Another strategy of the party has been to act as an anti-establishment provocateur in order to gain media attention. An illustrative example is the nomination of the 22-year-old Mazurek for the parliamentary human rights committee. Mazurek is known not only for Holocaust denial but also for shouting expletives about Allah and “Allah is Satan” at a Muslim family who was attacked by rock-throwing extremists during an anti-immigrant demonstration in Bratislava.

Other examples of the party’s recent anti-establishment and populist initiatives include proposals to remove the system of state funding of political parties from the national budget and to cut the number of members of parliament. They also want to define NGOs receiving international grants as foreign agents, a legislative proposal similar to those applied by the illiberal governments of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. After Brexit, the party also launched a petition for a referendum on Slovakia leaving the European Union. The most publicized post-election provocation, however, was when the party questioned the ability of the state to protect its own citizens and the establishment of party-run, vigilante “train patrols”, led by MP Peter Krupa, who drew attention for carrying a gun in parliament. The ostensible goal of the patrols was to ensure the safety and protection of passengers against potential Romani “troublemakers”. However, the party also introduced it as a first step towards the establishment of a militia. Slovak media immediately started to speculate that the party’s state funding was being used to achieve this goal.

In other words, Kotleba’s success in the parliamentary elections led to a bizarre situation, which – somewhat provocatively, of course – might be called state-sponsored extremism. On one hand, the party is regularly described as an extremist group in official government reports. On the other hand, the election results made it eligible for state funding. Within the parliamentary term of four years, the party is expected to receive 5.2 million euros in all from the national budget.

Responses and counterstrategies

The party’s presence in the national parliament also triggered the adoption of several measures that supposedly counter extremism.

The first was the creation of a coalition government between parties covering a broad political spectrum. The social democratic Smer, the conservative party Sieť, the inter-ethnic (Hungarian-Slovak) party Most-Híd (formed by dissidents from the Party of the Hungarian Coalition in 2009 and dominated by ethnic Hungarians) and by the Slovak National Party, formerly seen as both far right and anti-Hungarian, are all part of the coalition that was presented by its leaders as a barrier to extremism.

Following an election campaign dominated by the refugee issue, the strongest party, Smer, also started to attack Romani and so-called political correctness, an obvious attempt at winning back former social democratic voters by adopting some of the rhetoric of the far right.  Other parties, most notably the liberal Freedom and Solidarity party (Sloboda a Solidarita), have also tried this approach.

Another kind of anti-extremism measure was part of a Ministry of Justice initiative to amend anti-extremist legislation with new classifications of racially motivated hate crimes. The most significant change was to transfer the issue of extremist criminality from the district courts to the Specialized Criminal Court. However, in a situation where more than 200,000 people in a country of five million citizens vote for what might be seen as an extreme-right party, there are serious doubts that any kind of legal measures can serve as an effective tool. Kotleba’s party is mainly a political problem, and should primarily be fought politically.

The first chance to do so comes in regional elections later this year. Taking into account the recent results of far-right candidates in countries like France or Austria, however, the strategically unfortunate initiative of the governing coalition to change the electoral system from a two-round system to a one-round system could easily lead to another electoral victory for Kotleba, even though he is still an unpopular and distrusted politician for most Slovaks. The last attempt to defeat Kotleba failed, providing strength to the Kotleba phenomenon. The next attempt could easily become a farce, further strengthening the Slovak extreme right.


  1. Later, Golden Dawn’s sister party – the National People’s Front in Cyprus – also entered parliament, a story largely overshadowed by the second round of presidential elections in Austria, which took place at the same time as the Cypriot parliamentary elections.
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Hate speech, free speech https://www.hate-speech.org/hate-speech-free-speech/ https://www.hate-speech.org/hate-speech-free-speech/#comments Mon, 26 Dec 2016 11:33:27 +0000 https://www.hate-speech.org/?p=3101

The Europeans and the Americans differ on how they distinguish between hate speech and free speech.

Nenad Zivanovski

José Clemente Orozco, El demagogo, 1946. In the Mexican public domain.

Any discussion of the relationship between freedom of expression and hate speech in a democracy raises a series of polemical questions: Are the two in conflict? Does the right to free expression include the right to offend? Does banning hate speech equate to state censorship of opinions and attitudes? There are no simple answers, and the potential for polarization is great.

The American right to freedom of expression is expansive, and is often extended to include hate speech. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1791, prohibits the Congress from passing laws that limit freedom of expression and of the press. The present European approach emerged from a very different history. Fascism and National Socialism in the 20th century made the continent intolerant of the promotion of racially, ethnically and otherwise discriminatory ideas and attitudes in the public discourse. If we allow ourselves to generalize, we could say the United States allows hate speech, while European law and international law both prohibit and punish it in many cases.

The European approach

There is little doubt that every democratic government will employ many means, including legislation, to ensure freedom of expression for its citizens. Freedom of expression, however, does not mean people can say or shout whatever they want in public, if there’s a risk that aggressive or offensive speech may jeopardize the freedom of others.

For Foucault, the discourse on freedom of expression is at the top of government discourses: it sets the rules for all further discourses. Which speech will be allowed, and which will not, by individuals and by the state? His theory of power includes the key point that power is not the visible, coercive force used by the state, but rather something subtly steered through language. If, as Foucault claims, power comes from the use of language, then the abuse of language can also lead to the abuse of power.1

From a European point of view, the case of National Socialism and fascism proves the point. Totalitarian movements achieved their social supremacy by promoting racial theories and hatred of opponents in the public discourse, and the media became a powerful tool in the dissemination of what we today call hate speech. If this kind of speech had been prevented through prompt intervention, could it be that the consequences – too – would have been avoided? After all, restrictions against hate speech would have allowed for the restriction of freedom of expression for those who would have abolished the rights of others.

“No freedom for the enemies of freedom” is a key idea supporting this view. In the end, such an attitude can serve as a justification for the introduction of so-called “militant democracy”. The most ardent advocate of militant democracy was Karl Löwenstein, a German emigré scholar to the United States. As a result of his research into the state of democratic states prior to World War II, he came to the conclusion that the most glorious value of democracy was also its fundamental weakness. The problem was tolerance: democracy and democratic tolerance were used by the opponents of democracy to undermine it. Löwenstein argued that European fascist movements were very successful in exploiting the exceptional conditions offered by democratic institutions. In his view, excessive “formalism in the rule of law” opened the possibility for fascists to destroy democracy. “Militant democracy” was the alternative: the suppression of anti-democratic movements was needed as a measure of self-defence: “The political technique [of fascism] could be defeated only in its field and with its methods, or more simply, ‘you should be fighting fire with fire’.”2

Later, the United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson offered a similar argument, stating that the Bill of Rights should not be turned into a “suicide pact”. Justice Jackson was very much aware of Nazi tactics, having been the chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. “I have had the opportunity to learn how sinister abuse of our freedom of expression […] can tear apart a society, brutalize its dominant elements, and persecute, even to extermination, its minorities,” he wrote in a later opinion.3

After the war, in an attempt to prevent the revitalization of the Nazi movement, the Constitution of West Germany followed the ideas of so-called militant democracy, and the trend throughout Europe has been to restrict freedom of expression when it comes to discriminatory speech.

The American approach

Compared to democratic societies in Europe, the United States have a different approach.4 One of the stronger arguments for the broad protection of speech, including hate speech, is the fact that free speech has traditionally been important for minorities, allowing them to express opinions which seem absurd or even offensive to the majority. Many great thinkers believed that protecting offensive speech is a moral duty, as summed up in a sentence often said to be a quote from Voltaire5: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

In On Liberty, first published in London in 1859, the English philosopher John Stuart Mill gives another classic defence of free speech:

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any object is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.

More recently, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell formed a hypothesis according to which democracy requires the highest degree of tolerance:

It is an essential part of democracy that substantial groups, even majorities, should extend toleration to dissentient groups with different opinions, however small and however much their sentiments may be outraged. In a democracy it is necessary that people should learn to endure having their sentiments outraged.

These and similar arguments are used by those who advocate for a broad understanding of free speech, even in connection with hate speech.

U.S. constitutional law largely protects hate speech, too, focusing on “speech”, rather than on “hate”. Consequently, the American viewpoint is usually that speech that is somehow offensive should be met with counter-speech rather than with state regulation, even in instances where other major countries – such as Canada, Germany and various members of the European Council – do not allow for freedom of expression to take priority over other values, such as dignity, honour, equality or public order.6

In the real world, of course, the question is not so black and white. In spite of high ideals, hate speech is not consistently allowed in the United States, nor is it always banned in Europe.7 Instead, one could say that laws sometimes support hate speech, protecting it, while at other times they do not. This is the case on both sides of the Atlantic.


  1. Levin, Abigail, The Cost of Free Speech: Pornography, Hate Speech, and their Challenge to Liberalism, Niagara University, New York, 2010.
  2. Lowenstein, Karlo, “Militant Democracy and Fundamental Rights, I”, American Political Science Review 31 (June 1937).
  3. Walker, Samuel, Hate speech: The history of an American controversy, University of Nebraska Press, 1994.
  4. For more see: Boyle, Kevin, 2001, “Hate Speech: The United States Versus the Rest of the World?”, Maine Law Review.
  5. In fact, they are a later summary of Voltaire’s opinion, given by S. G. Tallentyre in his 1907 work The Friends of Voltaire
  6. Beham, Mira. 2004: ”Govor mržnje u politici i medijima”. Objavljeno u Vacic, Z. (ur.) 2004 Etika javne rijeci u medijima i politici, Centar za liberalno demokratske studije, Beograd, 2004.
  7. Brugger, Winfried, “Ban On or Protection of Hate Speech? Some Observations Based on German and American Law”, 17 Tulane European & Civil Law Forum, 1 (2002)
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