What is the impact of counter-radicalization policies on multiculturalism and migrant membership in Europe? Many observers see state responses to homegrown terrorist threats as emphasizing assimilation in a way that marks the end of multiculturalism. This project explores instead the hypothesis that current anti-terror practices are producing an increased division of European societies along ethno-religious lines.

Media and political discourse in European countries have announced the “end” of multiculturalism. The main reason behind this “backlash” being the need of fighting “homegrown terrorism”, a danger understood as linked to diaspora ghettoization and ethnic and religious separateness. In this sense, counter-radicalization policies and practices should be at the vanguard of an assimilationist and anti-multiculturalist turn.

Yet is it the case? Several recent studies have shown that multicultural practices continue under different guises. Building on these findings, and through a comparison of Britain, France and the Netherlands, the project explores the hypothesis that counter-radicalization policies do not mark a return to assimilationist policies. Instead, through everyday practices of policing, they perpetuate and reinforce the ethno-religious division of national “communities”. The consequence of these policies is to remove fundamental questions about pluralism and citizenship from the political debate, casting them instead in the technical and depoliticized language of security.

The proposed research is based on a discourse analysis of policy documents, in-depth qualitative interviews and ethnographic observation. It promotes international collaboration with research centers in France (Cultures & Conflits) and the UK (SOAS and Manchester University). In the Netherlands, the project will benefit from collaborations at the University of Amsterdam and at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’. The project contributes to ongoing debates in security studies, migration and transnationalism, and extends our understanding of the relationship between security and the politics of belonging in Europe in a context of growing populism and anti-Muslim sentiment


Multiculturalism in Europe is allegedly “dead”. Between the mobility of labor and the promotion of plural citizenship, on the one hand, and states’ needs to assert their sovereignty against homegrown terrorism on the other, the latter has prevailed; or so we are told (Bleich 2003; Joppke 2004; Turner, 2007). If this were the case, a main tool for this “backlash” against multiculturalism ought to be precisely counter-radicalization policies. This research argues the opposite: My main hypothesis is that rather than promoting “assimilation” or other forms of ethnic homogenization, counter-radicalization policies produce and reinforce a division of society into discrete ethno-religious groups. This “policed multiculturalism” removes fundamental questions about pluralism from political debate, casting them instead in a depoliticized language of security as a bureaucratic exercise in problem-solving.

In this project I am less concerned by normative questions around multiculturalism, the subject of a very large literature (among many others, Taylor 1994; Kymlicka 1996), than by multiculturalism as a set of states’ practices related to the governance of immigrants and ethnic minorities, and their modes of ethno-religious difference (Vertovec, 2010:10). Britain, France and the Netherlands seem relevant cases. In the UK the London bombings of July 2005 perpetrated by British-born Muslims, and a spate of failed or disrupted plots before and after were arguably a turning point. In the Netherlands, the discourses of Pim Fortuyn and Geert Wilders, and the murder of Theo van Gogh have prompted a similar shift. France is usually portrayed as the counterpoint of multiculturalist policies (Rigouste, 2009). Despite the widespread émeutes of 2005 and the recurrent public debate around the Islamic veil, some British and Dutch policymakers have allegedly been looking to the “French model” of “assimilation” for guidance.

Three questions and related hypothesis support my main hypothesis that practices of point in an opposed direction.

First, why is there a contradiction between the political discourse, the media debate and actual counter-radicalization practices? I argue that while politicians, relayed by media outlets, might expect electoral gains from an assimilationist stance, it is not shared by security professionals. I follow Didier Bigo and others in arguing that security bureaucracies and security experts have acquired an unprecedented level of autonomy and legitimacy (Bigo 2008; c.a.s.e. collective 2006; Wæver 1993). Analysis of security policies therefore needs to be carried out at the level of (a) bureaucratic routines and (b) bureaucratic politics and struggles. This is done through the analysis of security professionals’ social positions and trajectories (Allison 1969 ; see also Dezalay 2001; Georgakakis 2008). The project will therefore begin by mapping discourses and social positions (see methods section) in order to understand how counter-radicalization policies targeting communities and ethnic groups have emerged and continue to be sustained. Specific attention will be given to perceived causes of radicalization, mechanisms of radicalization and proposed counter-radicalization measures.

Second, how do counter-radicalization practices operate concretely in relation to questions of diversity and citizenship? Everyday practices of state identification and their related technologies are crucial in establishing and maintaining social identities (Brouwer, 2007; Caplan and Torpey 2001; Guild, 2007; Rose, 1996). The hypothesis is therefore that by routinely operating along ethnic and religious lines, counter-radicalization policies reinforce them. A second step of the study is therefore an ethnographic analysis (through observation and interviews) of counter-radicalization practices (surveillance, ethnic profiling, risk profiling, biometric identification, and techniques of community policing).

Lastly, what is the impact of these policies on the targeted populations? Counter-radicalization policies in European states have engaged in contested community engineering in order to create acceptable forms of “moderate”, “European” Islam (Mandaville 2007). My third hypothesis is that communities have not begun “assimilating”, nor cut their ties with homelands, to the opposite (Brighton 2007). Counter-radicalization has had two effects. First, they have reinforced the feeling of community alienation. Second, through cooperation with sending states - Turkey and Morocco will be analyzed for the important numbers of their nationals in Europe as well as for the deployed policies of attention towards their nationals (Dijkink and van der Welle)– of increasing the links between targeted communities and their states of origin. Through an analysis of politics in the “transnational social field” (Adamson and Demetriou 2007; Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004; Ragazzi 2009), a third step of the study will therefore explore the way in which communities are seen both as a target group and a policing tool, and the consequences of these practices.


This research project is funded by Marie-Curie Career Integration Grant No. 294152 and Netherlands Scientific Organization (NWO) Veni Grant No. 451-11-018. The research project benefits from the support of the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI) at Sciences Po Paris who has kindly accepted to host me as associate researcher.


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