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Assesing The Specter Of Radicalization In Europe


We're getting a range of perspectives this morning on the implications of the terror attacks in Paris. The next one comes from Peter Neumann. He's a professor of security studies at King's College in London and is an expert in terrorism and radicalization in Europe. He joins me on the line from London. Thanks so much for being with us.

PETER NEUMANN: Thank you. Good morning.

MARTIN: Can you place this attack in larger context for us, Peter? When you look at the Madrid train bombings in 2004, the London tube attacks in 2005, Charlie Hebdo this past January, where do Friday's attacks fit into this grim list?

NEUMANN: Well, I mean, they are definitely on the scale of London and Madrid 10 years ago. And that's what I found surprising because a lot of experts, like myself, were expecting for Islamic State to be happy to continue with these fairly small-scale attacks that we've seen over the past 12 to 14 months, these so-called lone operator attacks where they were telling people, if you are in Europe, please strike. Do whatever you want to do, but do not expect us to organize anything for you. And what this attack has been has been a fairly complex and coordinated attack. And a lot of people are surprised because they didn't expect the Islamic State to be capable of that at this point in time.

MARTIN: France knows it has a problem with radicalization. Young Muslim men, in particular, who may have grown up in France feel disconnected to French society and are attracted to the message ISIS is putting out there, are then radicalized. They go to Syria, train and then return. You have looked closely at this phenomenon. How has France tried to crack down on this?

NEUMANN: The problem with France is that it has been largely in denial about what you were just talking about. And the response so far has been almost exclusively a security response. And people are only starting to understand quite how isolated and marginalized a lot of people in French society feel. If you are a 20-year-old in a suburb of Paris, perhaps of immigrant background, and you're looking at these Facebook pictures of people in Syria - of people like yourself - you are seeing yourself. You're seeing yourself, but you're seeing someone who is incredibly empowered and who is a hero in his society, who's recognized, who feels at home, all those things that you do not experience in French society. And on the basis of that, it can be weirdly empowering, that sense of being part of that project.

MARTIN: I want to ask you about a revelation that's come out of the investigation. French authorities said they've found a Syrian passport by the body of one of the bombers. That passport has now been traced back to Greece and Serbia, where the holder allegedly tried to get asylum. We've already seen Poland say they aren't going to accept any more Syrian refugees because of this. How do you see these attacks and these revelations affecting the migrant crisis in Europe?

NEUMANN: This is potentially very, very dangerous because, clearly, a lot of European countries are already on the edge because of the refugee situation. If now that situation gets mixed up with the terrorism problem, then you can see how, in a lot of European countries, a polarization will happen. The far right may try to take advantage of this at a point when already, in a lot of European countries - Denmark, Sweden, countries that we consider to be very liberal - far right parties are already leading in the opinion polls. And they think that is politically potentially the most damaging devolvement. Of course, terrorism is terrible for the people who die in acts of terrorism. But politically, there is a real strategic danger to the health of European societies and to the idea of Europe as being a place where people of different religions and ethnicities can happily live together.

MARTIN: The French president, Francois Hollande, has called this an act of war. What do you think that means? What is the response that's likely to come after these attacks?

NEUMANN: I'm not quite sure what he intended to do with that. I don't think it's particularly helpful. For the Islamic State, very clearly, it is a war. It wants this to be a confrontation between itself representing Islam and the West representing their enemy. I don't think we should do them that favor. I think it does play into their hands. I understand that perhaps politically, it makes President Hollande quite popular because it is a strong statement. But it's not entirely clear to me what would follow from that and what would be possible as a result of declaring a war that isn't already possible. There are already military strikes happening in Syria. The military is already involved on a very significant scale. I don't think necessarily - practically - it changes anything.

MARTIN: Peter Neumann is a professor at King's College London. He's also the director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization. Thanks so much for talking with us, Peter.

NEUMANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.