De Volkskrant interview with David Kenning, January 2016

 Read in Dutch original

                                  "The IS camp is winning'

                                   By: Janny Groen January 15, 2016

                     Irish philosopher Kenning is concerned about terrorism

He experienced first-hand how a small number of terrorists in Belfast could radicalize an entire community. Now he sees it happening in the West again. So the Irish philosopher David Kenning comes out of retirement. His message focuses on social cohesion. Kenning investigated the motivation of suicide bombers and developed national anti-recruitment campaigns

The Irish philosopher, psychoanalyst and anti-radicalization adviser David Kenning (61) is concerned about the resilience of Western democracies. He retired six years ago with creative aspirations – he was composing music and writing a novel. But because he sees signs of an impending democratic decay, Kenning has gone back to work.

In the past he investigated the motivation of suicide bombers and developed anti-recruitment campaigns for jihadists in more than twenty countries. He shares his expertise with Western governments and municipalities, including the City of Amsterdam.

The Irishman, who with his long grey curls looks like an aged rock star has a personal mission. He is motivated to prevent parts of Europe becoming the Belfast of The Troubles, the years between 1969 and 1997 when the city was torn apart by the violent conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Kenning was born and raised in Belfast and the Troubles-years provided him with intensive first-hand experience of community conflict.

The psychological strategies of Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Geert Wilders are similar to those of IS -- David Kenning”


He sees parallels he says. He says that the psychological strategies of Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Geert Wilders, "the demagogues of the extreme right," are similar to those of Islamic State. "Both camps are setting out to divide the people, to polarize, and radicalize the moderate middle. We, the non-Muslims, are being set against the Muslims. Something similar happened in Belfast, but between Catholics and Protestants who formerly lived together in mixed communities. The war rhetoric drove those communities further apart. That process took place rapidly. Distrust took root everywhere. "

Belfast taught him that only a few terrorists are needed to radicalize an entire society. "You were you aware of your personal safety, you were constantly afraid of 'The Other'. I see the us-them divide grow in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and particularly in the United States. When I hear Trump say that no Muslim country enters more and see how popular he is, then I fear that such a general radicalization is already underway. It is not yet sufficiently penetrated to us, but the IS camp has the upper hand. "

“We responded to 9/11 just as Al Qaeda wanted. We played their game and blew new life into terrorist groups”  -- David Kenning

He sums up: "Before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the Muslim world was relatively stable. We now have to contend with a Caliphate, with jihadi forces in Syria and Iraq and militias in at least five Arab and North African countries that are attacking the state. The Taliban are gaining ground in Afghanistan. The terrorist threat to the West has increased, and more young Muslims are recruiting for the jihad. European intelligence services are overloaded. In addition, we don't yet know how the flow of refugees will impact on our democracies."

All this, according to Kenning, are the consequences of the US-led militarism that took off after 9/11. "Al Qaeda was a marginal, relatively unknown terrorist group. It has been magnified massively by military intervention, Western (not Muslim) propaganda and the on-going use of apocalyptic language. The civilized West went to war against Islamic barbarism: the clash of civilizations. We responded just as Al Qaeda wanted. We played their game, and breathed new life into terror groups. "

What would have been a better strategy?

“As President Hollande said that France is at war with IS, then he has a problem”

                                                                                                  David Kenning

"Investing more in the exchange of security at national and international level, in forging effective political coalitions, in the deployment of special-forces and particularly in psychological warfare. In short, focusing on influence. I hear the criticism though: the process is too slow, too boring. Then I say: look at the enormous cost of the current approach.

He points to the systematically overreacting to the terrorist threat in the West, on the French response to the attacks in Paris on November 13, he finds unwise. "The state of emergency, the thousands of searches, could well become counter-productive. President Hollande said that France is at war with IS, then he has a problem as almost all the terrorists were French. Whether IS was involved is irrelevant. Will bombing IS in Raqqa increase security in France? It will only worsen the case. And because of this state of emergency, the 99 percent of French Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism, feel they are public enemy number one. "

 Was he supposed to do nothing?

"They need to be aware that France has to deal with a potentially tricky domestic terrorist problem. He should take a deep breath, and be much more circumspect. Security measures alone are never enough. Strong political leadership is required. It must be communicated in a strategic way, more focused on the moderate middle, strengthening social cohesion and the French values f equality and fraternity. "

Kenning says he understands that fear levels in Europe have increased. "But that is disproportionate in relation to the actual threat. We are reacting the way IS wants - and they want to sow fear. I'm not saying that there is no terrorist threat, nor that there would be no deaths. But this constant attention to terrorist threats strengthens the position of the extreme right plays and terrorist groups in the map."

“We must not let fear paralyze us” -- David Kenning

You advise not to mention terror threats?

"Public safety is primarily a matter for the intelligence and security services. That information should be shared only sparingly with the public, so that everyone can get on with their lives. If you have lived 25 years in Belfast in violent circumstances, then you know you have no other choice. In Belfast there were sometimes ten attacks a day. The first day I met my date (now his wife, ed.) and went out together, in 1974, we had just got into a bar when a bomb exploded. We are lucky to still be alive. But we should not be paralyzed by fear. "

But social media fear can spread fear more quickly amongst the population?

"Social media and hysteria work hand-in-hand, whether it’s fashion, celebrities or war. But fear is always much more widespread in societies that are under pressure. Then we get rumours and conspiracy theories, weird imaginings and calls for witch-hunts. The poor De Witt brothers were assassinated in 1672, already under such conditions in The Hague. "

Rational people can imagine very well that there are more deaths in natural disasters or in traffic than in terrorism. What explains the fear of terror?

"The message that both IS and the extreme right conveys is that 'The Other', that the enemy is among us. This reinforces the fear. Distrust undermines the cohesion of a society, something I have personally experienced in Belfast. The feeling you have when you have drink with a friend in a bar, you're going to whisper what you’re thinking because you are afraid that someone else will hear what you say and misunderstand it. And then they’re waiting for you outside. Distrust that is fed constantly to reach a tipping point can lead to paranoia, mass hysteria. Think of McCarthyism in the forties and fifties in America. The Cold War, a period full of anti-communist suspicion which broke a lot of democratic values.

Trump may be a reincarnation of McCarthy. He exploits people’s fear, fulminates against the current leadership that he says is failing. He says only he can lead the country to the right path. "The danger of radical Islam is exaggerated by the extreme right and as a result, Islamophobia is growing, also in Europe. IS is thus becoming more attractive to young Western Muslims. "

“IS offers people without any social status a starring role” David Kenning

Islamophobia helps IS?

Trump has already featured in recruitment videos of IS. IS operates on and exploits victimhood. It offers individuals without any social status a starring role. Dutch, French and British fighters have been given star status. They are important pawns what they see as a world-historical conflict. "

Also well educated people with IS. Doctors, lawyers - people with good jobs. They too are victims of Islamophobia?

"A “victim”can be an intensely subjective state of mind. Due to personal circumstances, a divorce, a domineering father, death of a loved-one, wealthy young people can feel as much a victim of circumstance as petty thieves.

"And it’s not only Islamophobia that’s a push factor. The adolescent mindset plays a key role. There must be a reason why so many of the people who travel to Syria are under 24 years of age – and few are much older. They choose the IS ideology, not because of its theological content, but for psychological and symbolic reasons. Adolescents seek simple solutions to their problems. They opt for a black and white view of the world. "For some young people, the IS ideology as a balm for the tortured soul. My friend Olivier Roy (a French Islam expert, Ed.) talks about the Islamization of radicals rather than the radicalization of Islam. "

For the Grey middle, The Netherlands can play a leadership role - David Kenning

The major challenge is to strengthen the grey political centre, says Kenning. This is something that the Netherlands can take the international lead in, he thinks. "The Netherlands has always been a trading nation. Negotiation is in the Dutch DNA. You cannot be a fundamentalist and a trader simultaneously. Traders must be able to move in the other, give and take, compromise. "

For seven years Kenning studied the theories of the Dutch philosopher Spinoza. "With his political philosophy, he stressed the importance of pragmatism and practical value of unity. Spinoza has given us much to learn. I see him as an untapped national treasure. "

A treasure that this Irishman wants to exploit. He wants this year to establish one in reading Spinoza think tank, calledStates of MindToday which is detached from political parties and business. A citizen think-tank to study the power of togetherness and will develop concepts to strengthen the moderate middle, democracy.   /Ends