Rotterdam has been at the forefront of countering violent extremism with its comprehensive anti-radicalisation strategy and efforts to cooperate with cities all over the world facing similar challenges. An estimated 315 Dutch citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq. Of these, approximately 90 have died and 60 have returned back to the Netherlands. In recent years, the number of reported cases of Islamist radicalisation in Rotterdam has increased steadily according to both the police and the Radicalisation Contact and Advisory Point (MAR).
At this moment, in 2019, the Radicalisation Contact and Advisory Point (MAR) has 70 active cases, compared to 60 in 2015 and 20 in 2013. Though the number of cases in Rotterdam is still relatively low when compared to some other cities in the country and may be explained in part by increased awareness levels, the increase is significant and the nature of the reports received has become more complex. Next to the approach on preventing radicalisation, Rotterdam has sought to pay close attention to social tensions, in order to prevent international conflicts from affecting local communities.
One of the founding members of the Strong Cities Network, Rotterdam has been a member of the SCN International Steering Committee since the SCN launch in September 2015, and has made an active contribution to network activities and best practice sharing.
The Dutch National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) is responsible for analysing the national and international terrorist threat against the Netherlands. The NCTV issues threat assessments reports four times a year, which form the basis of the Dutch national counterterrorism strategy. The Dutch National Counterterrorism Strategy 2016-2020 outlines the broader counter terrorism strategy of the Netherlands for the current period. It identifies 5 “intervention areas”: acquire information; prevent; defend; prepare; and prosecute. For each of these areas, multi-agency structures are in place to ensure cooperation between different partners and government levels, including local governments and municipalities.
The Dutch government has been monitoring jihadist extremism for over a decade, issuing regular reports on the development of jihadism in the Netherlands. The conflict in Syria and Iraq sparked an all-time high in jihadist activity and organisations and led to the departure of Dutch foreign terrorist fighters. The Dutch government responded by issuing The Netherlands’ comprehensive action programme to combat jihadism (in Dutch; read a summary in English here) in 2014. The programme outlines many detailed measures to reduce the number of foreign terrorist fighters and prevent radicalisation, tackling extremist content online, and ensuring communication and cooperation at the local level with NGOs and religious groups. The measures have been implemented gradually and the progress of the action programme is regularly evaluated by the government. These evaluation reports are available on the website of the NCTV (in Dutch only).
The [email protected] is the overall security strategy of the City of Rotterdam, aimed at creating a safe city with reduced crime levels. For the most vulnerable areas, the city has appointed ‘city marines’ as part of the [email protected] strategy. These are local on-the-ground city workers that monitor safety, develop new security measures where necessary and engage with the local community to do so. The [email protected] also encompasses crime that undermines society, polarisation and social unrest, radicalisation, extremism and terrorism, high impact crimes and cyber-resilience.
In addition to [email protected] strategy, the municipality has developed and implemented a new anti-radicalisation approach ‘Rotterdam approach to radicalisation, extremism en polarisation 2018- 2022’. This approach pays attention to various forms of extremism, such as right/ left-wing, animal rights and violent jihadism. Furthermore, we try to counteract growing polarisation with this approach. Within this approach, we distinguish four courses of action:
Depolarisation and tension reduction
Polarisation, in the sense of opposing viewpoints, does indeed belong in an open, democratic society. We will continue to invest in the network of key individuals, so that we can identify tension hotspots in time. We aim to rebuild relationships and to invest in a new, less polarised situation. In doing so, we support key individuals and communities who are de-escalating the necessary conversations and steering them toward the right path.
Bolstering Resilience against Radicalisation
Radicalisation, (right-wing) extremism and polarisation are structural phenomena that are not readily eliminated or combated. The solution lies in fundamentally strengthening the resilience of the wider society and the different groups against radical ideologies and extremist excesses before they take root. Promoting social cohesion, encouraging democratic citizenship, encouraging migrants to participate in the labour market and tackling discrimination are all important building blocks in strengthening resilience. The building blocks are embedded by various municipal departments and policy areas, such as Education, Citizenship and Youth Services. Within this programme, we focus primarily on group-oriented activities in the field of prevention that promote the resilience of vulnerable groups of people in Rotterdam. We want to make sure that they are less susceptible to radical messages, extreme ideologies and ‘us/them ways of thinking’. We work on this in the school and home environment as well as the society at large.
In order to increase the expertise of professionals and volunteers about (right-wing) extremism and polarisation, we continue to invest in informative meetings, training sessions and knowledge carousels.
Disengagement and deradicalisation
Depending on the severity and the phase of the radicalisation process, a person-oriented approach is initiated either solely by the municipality or in consultation with relevant partners from the Rotterdam Rijnmond Safety House. This approach can target individuals who have been radicalised by different extremist ideologies. How much someone can actually deradicalise is always difficult to determine. The aim, therefore, is to prevent further radicalisation and to stop radical behaviour altogether (disengagement)
KEY SOURCES & FURTHER READING
Official Strategy Documents & Action Plans
- National Counterterrorism Strategy 2016-2020
- The [email protected]
- Rotterdam's approach to radicalisation, extremism and polarisation 2018-2022 (Dutch, English)
- Rotterdam’s Resilient City Strategy