Terrorism, social networks and jihadist atmosphere


Institutional Communication Service

30 November 2020

On Tuesday at Manor in Lugano, a young woman, suspected by the federal authorities of having links with Islamist terrorism, attacked and wounded two women. The knife attack has brought to back the shadow of Islamic extremism in Ticino. An episode that has rekindled fear of jihadist terrorism that has recently returned to strike cities and countries, in Europe and Switzerland, until now spared by the violence of extremist. To reflect on the issue, we propose the analyses, published on Corriere del Ticino, of the political scientist and expert on the Middle East and the Muslim world Gilles Kepel, Aggregate Professor of the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society at USI and Director of the "Middle East-Mediterranean" chair at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

Though investigations are still underway, Kepel sees a similarity with the attacks that occurred in recent months in Nice, Paris, Conflans-Sainte-Honorin and Vienna, where individuals, who have been probably radicalised on the Internet, have decided to take action alone without any support from terrorist organisations.

Kepel defined this type of extremism as "jihadism of atmosphere", typical of the post-ISIS generation and characterised by angry instigators who encourage "an atmosphere of hatred", with messages spread on social networks that "do not necessarily start from people who invite to kill", but are received by some subjects, sometimes fragile individuals with problems, as an exhortation to "find a target to hit". No country is clear of these phenomena, not even neutral Switzerland, as also demonstrated by the arrests in Winthertur on 3 November of last year of two young Swiss for alleged ties with the perpetrator of the attack in Vienna.

It is, therefore, necessary to understand this new jihadism of atmosphere and how to stem propaganda and hatred on the Internet.


The MEM Freething Platform

The MEM Freethinking Platform, created at USI in 2017 and directed by Professor Kepel himself, works on this and other issues related to the Middle East Mediterranean. With his many years of research and experience in the field, the professor is one of the leading experts in the geopolitics of the Middle East and the Mediterranean and jihadist terrorism that, in recent years, has known different phases that have corresponded to different ways of operating, structures and organisations.

In 2020 the Middle East region, in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse of the oil market, has been at the centre of various upheavals: the peace treaty between Israel and three new Arab states in the Gulf and Africa, Erdogan's nationalism and Islamism, the terrible crisis in Lebanon, the still open conflicts in Libya and Syria.

The diversified activities of the MEM Freethinking Platform aim to provide tools to grasp the complexity of the Middle East Mediterranean region; to contextualise its current developments in global history for a broader reflection on contemporary challenges. This ever-changing region has, in fact, a significant impact on international dynamics, Europe and its political structures.

Professor Kepel will be interviewed on these issues by Maco Damilano in the framework of the Dialogues on our time of L'Espresso (publication date: 10 December 2020).