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Narratives of Islamist organisations in Western Europe
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This book addresses debates around radicalisation and political violence, and presents a timely analysis of the politics of emotions in narratives of political activism and violence. Drawing on extensive primary data consisting of texts, audios, and videos produced by five Islamist organisations active in the UK in the 2000s and Germany in the early 2010s, the book explores how collective actors move from moderate politics to (violent) extremism. The book develops an innovative theoretical and methodological framework at the intersection of world politics, peace and conflict studies, critical terrorism research, literary studies, and transdisciplinary emotion research. In the first part, Clément problematises previous categorisations of Islamist activism and reconstructs organisations’ phases of activism in a data-driven, systematic way. In the second part, the analysis centres on how organisations legitimise changes in activism narratively. Specifically, the book delves into the performance of collective emotions in and through narrative and interrogates their effects on (violent) collective action. By introducing the concept of ‘narrative emotionalisation’, Clément adds to our understanding of narrative deployments in the context of political violence. While organisations couch radical changes in activism in a strikingly similar romantic narrative, the compared analysis across cases reveals that ‘narrative emotionalisation’ fully unfolds only in phases of extremism. By exploring how non-state actors manage collective emotions, this book extends beyond the ideology-centric and strategic-rationalist approaches to group radicalisation. It offers an insightful and nuanced account of non-state agency and emotion dynamics in political conflicts.

Open Access (free)
Maéva Clément

The chapter critically discusses the literature on radicalisation and extremism and carves out three central research desiderata to understand better collective changes in attitudes and actions. First, it argues that ideology-centric accounts neglect group dynamics and cannot account for change. Second, radicalising organisations’ relationship to violence has remained conceptually unclear, underspecified, and static. Third, the dominant assumption that extremist organisations’ preference for violence is strategically rational has led to overlooking alternative explanations at the group level. Conversely, the research presented in this book anchors the analysis at the group level and focuses on how organisations’ practices evolve. It draws on an elaborate methodology, accounting for qualitative changes in activism and exploring organisations’ narrative performances of collective emotions. The introduction presents the book’s qualitative, interpretative research framework. Its theoretical foundations build on insights from world politics, peace and conflict studies, critical terrorism research, literary studies, and transdisciplinary emotion research. The introduction discusses key aspects – emotions in the public sphere, issues of emotional governance, prevention imaginaries – which are picked up in the concluding chapter.

in Collective emotions and political violence
Maéva Clément

Chapter 1 problematises empirically the complex borders between radicalisation, extremism, and violence, on one side and Islamism, Salafism, and Jihadism, on the other. It then situates the five organisations studied – Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, al-Muhajiroun, Die Wahre Religion, Millatu Ibrahim, and the Muslim Association of Britain – and highlights preliminary differences and common patterns between organisations. It presents critically their respective organisational structure, membership policy, political goals, online and offline activities, and interaction with public authorities. Thereby complementing and questioning existing empirical approaches to some of the more well-known organisations discussed in this book, and interrogating previous categorisations of Islamist activism. By highlighting the ephemeral character of some of their activities and the ambiguity maintained by most of the five organisations towards political violence, this chapter offers a nuanced approach to the fluctuations between moderation and extremism.

in Collective emotions and political violence
Group moderation, radicalisation, and extremism
Maéva Clément

Chapter 2 turns to the reconstruction of the five organisations’ phases of activism over the study period. As group radicalisation is an emergent and partly contradictory process, the chapter argues that a more accurate characterisation of changes in activism would draw on the data-driven, empirical reconstruction of (alternate) phases of moderation, radicalisation into/within extremism, and/or (moderation within) extremism. To this end, the chapter introduces the coding frame ‘Group moderation and group radicalisation’, developed to trace discourse-based and action-based forms of activism in the organisations’ textual, audio, and video data (corpora). The results of the qualitative content analysis are interpreted through comparison within and across organisations. The chapter discusses the merits and limits of reconstructing longer-term phases of activism instead of focusing on ephemeral activities and short-lived change. It ends with the temporal delineation of phases of moderation, radicalisation (if any), and/or extremism (if any) for each of the five organisations. These phases of activism are the cases studied in the remainder of the book. One organisation – the Muslim Association of Britain – presents only a moderate phase and subsequently provides contrast in the narrative analysis.

in Collective emotions and political violence
Maéva Clément

Chapter 3 argues that the (growing) rejection of non-violent politics is mediated by group narratives in and through which collective emotions are performed. The chapter presents the theoretical approach underpinning the analysis of organisations’ narrative deployments (Chapter 4) and processes of emotionalisation therein (Chapter 5). It starts by discussing emotion and affect in social scientific research, then conceptualises collective emotions, and problematises how collectives engage in the politics of emotion. The chapter centres on the representation of emotions in language and, more specifically, in narratives. Focusing on romantic narratives, it shows how they create specific meanings about one’s collective in a political context, order and (de)legitimise other social actors, and provide collective and individual orientation for political action. While all narratives draw on emotions/affect, some do so more intensely than others. Bridging the scholarship on narrative and emotions, the chapter introduces the original concept of ‘narrative emotionalisation’ and expounds on the four combined sub-processes that participate in a fully emotionalised narrative: i. emotion meanings become the only legitimate form of knowledge; ii. conflicting emotion meanings (gradually) disappear, and a distinctive emotional tone crystallises; iii. strict emotion rules are established and enforced with sanctions; iv. the performance of emotions is consistent across narrative occurrences. The author argues that, through emotionalisation, a romantic narrative legitimises a collective orientation towards political violence and demands decisive collective action.

in Collective emotions and political violence
Maéva Clément

Chapter 4 analyses the narrative deployments of the organisations across their phases of activism (the cases) and explores the extent to which they reproduce a similar, ideal-typical romantic narrative. It starts by presenting the narrative approach, explaining how the codebook ‘Romantic Narrative’ was developed and adapted to the context of Islamist organisations active in Western Europe in the 2000s/early 2010s. The analysis of the ‘Romantic Narrative’ shows that in phases of radicalisation, as in phases of extremism, organisations reproduce an ideal-typical Islamist romantic narrative, whereas this is not the case in phases of moderation. The moderate cases constitute political issues and subjects in starkly different ways. The chapter then turns to the in-depth interpretation of the meanings attributed to narrative categories, zooming in on the cases of radicalisation and extremism. While the analysis points to some differences in creedal beliefs and the prioritisation of goals, the organisations are narratively speaking identical in phases of radicalisation and extremism. The chapter ends with a preliminary conclusion on the narrative changes accompanying an organisation’s move away from moderate politics.

in Collective emotions and political violence
Maéva Clément

Chapter 5 zooms in the organisations’ performances of collective emotions in and through narrative. It summarises the four sub-processes of ‘narrative emotionalisation’ conceptualised in Chapter 3 and discusses how they can be explored hermeneutically. The four sub-processes are: i. emotion meanings become the only legitimate form of knowledge; ii. conflicting emotion meanings (gradually) disappear, and a distinctive emotional tone crystallises; iii. strict emotion rules are established and enforced with sanctions; iv. the performance of emotions is consistent across narrative occurrences. The chapter then turns to characterising the extent to which each sub-process unfolds within the cases. Key differences emerge by contrasting the phases of radicalisation with the phases of extremism. The cross-case comparison stresses the strong and consistent performance of collective emotions in phases of extremism (full narrative emotionalisation). By contrast, in phases of radicalisation, organisations’ narrative deployments display some of the sub-processes inconsistently and/or less comprehensively – the narratives are only partially emotionalised. The cross-case comparison highlights how the strong incentivisation to engage in political violence hinges on the consistency and intensity of ‘narrative emotionalisation’.

in Collective emotions and political violence
Open Access (free)
Maéva Clément

The concluding chapter discusses the central research insights and contribution to the research gaps carved out in the introduction. Group radicalisation and extremism are mediated and legitimised narratively. The ‘Romantic Narrative’ commonly shared by the four organisations – in their phases of radicalisation and/or extremism – substantiates the collective turn to political violence. While organisations couch changes in activism in a strikingly similar narrative, the subsequent analysis of ‘narrative emotionalisation’ reveals that organisations’ respective narrative performances are not equally emotionalised. Organisation’s narrative deployments are only fully emotionalised in phases of extremism. The chapter discusses the book’s theoretical, methodological, and empirical significance for the scholarship on radicalisation and political violence, as well as its contribution to the study of emotions in (world) politics. Therein, it addresses some limits and outlines avenues for future research, including comparative research across phenomena/political settings, the study of narrative resonance across time and space, and narrative emotionalisation by institutional actors in the context of political violence. Finally, the chapter presents some critical implications for political practice and prevention. Far from being a side story, accounting for (changing) performances of collective emotions helps us understand better the collective turn to political violence.

in Collective emotions and political violence

In the social sciences, recognition is considered a means to de-escalate conflicts and promote peaceful social interactions. This volume explores the forms that social recognition and its withholding may take in asymmetric armed conflicts. It discusses the short- and long-term risks and opportunities which arise when local, state and transnational actors recognise armed non-state actors (ANSAs), mis-recognise them or deny them recognition altogether.

The first part of the volume contextualises the politics of recognition in the case of ANSAs. It provides a historical overview of recognition regimes since the Second World War and their diverging impacts on ANSAs’ recognition claims. The second part is dedicated to original case studies, centring on specific conflict phases and covering ANSAs from all over the world. Some examine the politics of recognition during armed conflicts, others in conflict stalemates, and others still in mediation and peace processes. The third part of the volume discusses how the politics of recognition impacts practitioners’ engagement with conflict parties, gives an outlook on policies vis-à-vis ANSAs, and sketches trajectories for future research in the field.

The volume shows that, while non-recognition prevents conflict transformation, the recognition of armed non-state actors may produce counterproductive precedents and new modes of exclusion in intra-state and transnational politics.

Risks and opportunities for conflict transformation
Maéva Clément
,
Anna Geis
, and
Hanna Pfeifer

Many contemporary violent conflicts involve armed non-state actors (ANSAs) as conflict parties. Governments are often hesitant to enter informal talks and negotiations with ANSAs, and yet in many violent conflicts such ‘talks’ are initiated at some point. Engaging with ANSAs is considered risky. Talking and negotiating usually imply gradual steps of recognising and legitimising the counterpart. In successful cases, ANSAs can be transformed into non-violent political parties and their legitimate goals eventually become incorporated into state policy. But recognition can also backfire by creating counterproductive precedents and new modes of exclusion in politics. In unsuccessful cases, armed non-state actors might escalate the violent struggle. At the same time, mis-recognition, which individuals or collective actors experience as humiliation, disrespect or false representations of their identity, can be seen as a major cause of political resistance and escalation.

By conceptualising the (mis-/non-)recognition of ANSAs, pointing to potential ambivalences and addressing its meaning for conflict transformation, the introductory chapter provides the broader analytical frame and contextualisation for the edited volume. It links the concept of recognition as developed in international political theory to research on ANSAs in peace and conflict studies. What forms of (non-/mis-)recognition of armed non-state actors occur in violent conflicts? Which risks and opportunities arise in processes of conflict transformation when state actors recognise armed non-state actors or, conversely, deny them recognition? The theoretical-conceptual considerations presented here draw on examples from the case studies as discussed in the individual contributions to the volume.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition