Call It Verbal Terrorism: Extremism Begins With Hate

Many research studies on preventing and countering terrorism focus on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). But terrorism begins with a seed of hate which is expressed, in multiple ways, by the many extremists who have come to roam the internet and the psysical sphere. They spread pathogenic hate verbally, as text, or in multi-media, either actively or passively.

Groomer-Led or Abstract Radicalization

When we investigate which actions lead to violence and how instances of violence come about, we tend to ignore the larger phenomenon of hate, which has come to spread not only classically, e.g. via talk or cassettes containing highly problematic speech. More and more, hate speech spreads digitally, either via active grooming or more passively, but equally dangerously, via media content of ‘abstract radicalization’ postet or hosted online. ‘Abstract radicalization’ is being accomplished, for instance, by static material of content, e.g. wrongful Islamic interpretations such as deviant tafsir explaining the Qur’an and Hadith violently, in ways that were shaped during times which do not match life as it is, nor should.

The Right Terminology

While it is true that acts of violent extremism constitute the bloodiest form of terrorism, verbally expressed terrorism of both hate and violence is highly problematic in two ways: hate is psychologically and socially lethal, and it has the potential to pave the way for events of actual violent extremism. Two terms should be mentioned: ‘Counter-Terrorism’ (CT) as well as ‘Preventing and Countering Extremism and Radicalization’ (P/CER), which encompass both: the fight against hate and overt violence. Talking about terrorism comprising all forms of extremist radicalization does not minimize the despicable occurrence of violence. It is holistic. However, we are to distinguish between the analysis of terrorism in social science, and of terrorism in the near sense, for which a generally accepted legal definition is yet to be found.

Exact Wording, Whether Hate or Violence

Let us consciously take this holistic stance – call terrorism what it is: terrorism. The word terrorism, while, admittedly, it has certain weaknesses, grasps the phenomena of both expressions of hate and overt violence, is understandable to common people and more established than the rather cryptic, academic acronym P/CER, and does not cause us as scientists, nor our audiences, to underestimate extremist hate speech. When using the word terrorism, we should either use exact phrases to describe ‘abstract radicalization’ and groomer-led hate speech, on the one hand, or acts of violence, where these occur, on the other. In a responsible, preventative way.

Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip
April 2020


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