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The Challenges Of Fighting Radicalization In The City Of Turin

The phenomenon of political radicalization has undergone a series of important changes since the early years of the 21st century. After the attacks of 9/11 and the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the global fight against terrorism, governments have had to deal with processes of radicalization of their citizens, who have become the protagonists of attacks in their territories, as happened in France.

The events of 6 January 2021 have also shown the consequences of the increase in far-right propaganda that has taken place in recent years, a phenomenon that has developed mainly among the younger sections of the population and that has required the study of new forms of fighting these movements. In particular, the administration of Turin decided to organize, together with the RAN group (Radicalisation Awareness Network), a European-style association committed to providing support in the fight against extremism, a conference to share the results and the state of the art on the prevention of radicalization, on the occasion of the discussion in the Italian parliament of two bills related to the fight against this phenomenon. During the conference, several practitioners active in the prevention of radicalization processes discussed new strategies to counter extremism.

A New Approach to Deradicalisation

The discussion revealed the need to approach this fight using a multidisciplinary tool: various associations such as GRIST, the Italian group for the study of terrorism, numerous academics, members of the police force, social workers, and the offices of the public prosecutor's office have contributed to tackling the various cases of religious and political extremism, linking them to issues such as integration, social inclusion, and dialogue. The European Union also decided to fund projects related to the fight against radicalization, establishing the project carried out by the foundation “Benvenuti in Italia” and titled Exit Europe. Several examples of issues responsible for the radicalization process were mentioned: besides propaganda of political groups, social isolation is one of the factors considered most dangerous. A social worker then explained how this issue was dealt with in a recent case she followed: a user convicted of various crimes such as aggression carried out in a group and robbery at the age of 16 was followed for more than three months by two social workers, who undertook a psychological process with the user to overcome his emotional isolation.

From the studies carried out, it appears that the new forms of extremism have led to a demographic change of those involved: the first contacts with ideas and propaganda, especially of the far-right, occur at a very young age, and by exploiting the anonymity of the Internet, several groups have started online recruitment campaigns, manipulating the weaknesses and insecurities of adolescents to recruit new elements, who will organize violent actions without ever meeting in person, but holding online meetings. During the conference, an agent from the anti-terrorism section of the DIGOS (General Investigations and Special Operations Division) shared one of the latest operations that took place in Turin: the arrest of a far-right group planning violent actions in the area, whose main theorist was identified in the figure of a boy who was still underage.

The Experience of Turin

The multidisciplinary working group, part of the Turin municipality's program, has written a document analyzing recent developments in the fight against terrorism and pointing out various best practices, such as the establishment of two different types of policies, with which the administration is trying to fight the radicalization phenomena on two different levels: the fight against discriminatory phenomena and the construction of alternative proposals accepted by vulnerable people. The prevention of violent phenomena is divided into three areas, one general, with a broad target audience and the aim of which is to inform citizens of possible radicalization processes, developing among the population a feeling of responsibility, belonging to the life of their community and closeness to local institutions.

The focus of the action then narrows down to those individuals at risk of recruitment into terrorist organizations, and attempts are made to break the isolation of these individuals, increasing their self-esteem, their contact with the society as a whole and providing them with more opportunities to freely discuss and share their ideas, even radical ones, without being judged. Finally, individual paths are activated for those who have already joined terrorist groups and planned violent actions: practices will be used to rehabilitate them and to manage their stay in prison, and finally to increase their dialogue with specialists for breaking away from the armed struggle.

The contribution of the administration and the examples of the various operators in the city of Turin makes it clear how important it is to have a local approach to the issue of security and radicalization. It takes into account the specific situation of the population and the environments in which the police forces and associations involved in combating the phenomena of political extremism have to operate, increasing the dialogue and cooperation between the police forces, social workers, schools and religious organizations, through common training that can grasp the reasons behind a process of radicalization. The studies carried out by the working group will therefore have to provide a realistic picture of relations between citizens, avoiding false alarmism but trying to spot the radicalization phenomena in the Turin population.

A greater power of action entrusted to local institutions could help fight new forms of violence. At the same time, the authorities must avoid diminishing or discrediting the spaces for dissent that citizens can exercise, thus creating an efficient alternative to increased indiscriminate surveillance of the territory.

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