Fighting Islamophobia and Preventing the Rise of Far-Right Extremism — Denmark & Jordan


ERASMUS+, Key Action 1: training course for youth workers

Dates & venues:

  • 1. training course: Ganløse, Denmark, 15—21 July 2023
  • 2. training course: Amman, Jordan, 12—18 October 2023

Czech team: three participants

Please read the info-pack

Hosting organisation: Copenhagen Youth Network

Project report:

Fighting Islamophobia and Preventing the Rise of Far-Right Extremism, Denmark

From 15-21 July 2023, Fighting Islamophobia and Preventing the Rise of Far-Right Extremism took place in Ganløse, Denmark, bringing together three dozen young people from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Together they explored Islam and possible manifestations of extremism against its suppression both in the European context and from the perspective of Islamic countries.

Basic concepts

After the necessary introductions and a few ice-breaking activities, we got straight down to the business of identifying the various terms that relate to the project’s theme and thus getting a clear idea of what we will be talking about over the next few days:

  • Terrorism – a politically, ideologically or religiously motivated act against a government, the public or any section thereof, accompanied by violence or damage to property, public space or the system
  • Extremism – an extreme view against a particular opinion or entity, not accompanied by violence, according to the model of McCauley and Moskalenko in 2014, extremism is divided into opinion and behavioral. In the pyramid of an opinion, we observe degrees of neutrality, sympathizer, advocate and personal moral obligation. The behavioral, or act pyramid, then depicts the degrees of internal act, activist (protest), radical act (illegal), and terrorism (with the intent to kill). 
  • Hate crime (crime with a motive of violence) – this is a crime based on the characteristics of the person attacked; that is, it is motivated by who the person attacked is, but not by what they do; it can be violence based on disability, gender, race, identity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. 
  • Hate speech – any communication that hurts, humiliates or discriminates against a person without further reference
  • Islamophobia – fear, prejudice, hatred of Muslims posing threats, harassment, abuse, incitement and intimidation. It can be an individual or institutional act.


Narratives, or how we talk about extremism

A big incentive for such extreme behaviour is also the way in which the acts or manifestations in question are spoken about, or with what intention the facts are presented or emotionally coloured. In general, we distinguish the following ways:

  • Acceleration – for example, an event in New Zealand that was pre-announced via Telegram and streamed online, where people took it as a LARP or a video with gamification elements and there was online incitement to violence
  • Conspiracy theory – this is a type of storytelling in which it is difficult to distinguish elements of fiction from fact, where the real purpose is to lead the reader into a vicious circle so that they will believe even untruths or half-truths that are rarely logical but produce strong and borderline emotional responses (often supplying the reader with the answer to what should be done to simply solve the problem)
  • Extreme right-wing ways of communicating influence:
    • Identity struggle – “my identity is threatened by someone else from another group”.
    • Masculinity – men should follow their natural “hunting” urge more
    • Government favoring certain ethnic or religious groups at the expense of the majority
    • Governments, EU, NATO, UN buy too much power
    • Earth is running out of resources, with the balance not being adequately distributed to meet the needs of all
  • – So-called New Forms of Terrorism and ways of communicating their main principles:
    • Anarchism – government is the only common enemy of different groups 
    • Nationalism and anti-colonialism – “our nation” above all
    • New Left Extremism – a war of “legitimate” groups
    • Religious extremism – religiously motivated extremism that has been manifested since the 1980s


Push and pull factors

In extremism, we also distinguish so-called push and pull factors. Pull factors are those that pull the individual from the outside, when he has no choice but to go “for better tomorrows, greater opportunities, etc.” Pressure factors are those that force the individual to leave the environment in which they can no longer live (e.g. they are too discriminated against, the area in which they live is inhospitable and cannot continue to live there, etc.). The clash of identity and ideology is also often discussed here. 

Within these factors, we then distinguish so-called micro-factors, i.e. aspects that help the individual to meet their needs:

  • Personal – if there is a threat to me or my loved ones
  • Group – if the individual is part of a larger group of people
  • Slippery slope – progressive behaviour leading to more radical actions
  • Helper – the individual is themselves radicalised when they try to help someone else already expressing extremist tendencies
  • Status seekers – individual wishes to gain power, dominance, fame and take risks 
  • Escape – this is a push factor that draws the individual into a new reality; can happen accidentally
  • “unfreezing” – opening up to new people


Extremist groups use various forms of propaganda to publicise their intentions. The following propaganda methods can be distinguished: 

  • Bandwagon effect – everyone is doing it, you should do it too
  • Testimonial – statements by well-known personalities or experts (often illegitimate)
  • Grassroots appeal – an idea or person that is associated with ordinary people (“I’m just like you, so what I’m saying affects you, and you should take it into account.”)
  • Glittering generalities – frequent use of words with positive emotional overtones (justice, freedom, etc.)
  • Personal attack or name-calling – associating a person with a name, idea or image in a negative sense, where the speaker completely avoids the subject itself; used to discredit and denigrate the person

In communication, extremist groups also often use arguments full of logical fallacies to achieve their goals. We can distinguish several cases of these communication fallacies:

  • Slippery slope – small steps that lead to a chain reaction of big changes, ignoring the necessary step between these states; for example, If you start smoking cigarettes, you will soon end up in hard drugs.
  • Card stacking – accepting material completely without its original context, piling new and new contextually unrelated arguments on top of it
  • Hasty generalization – inductive reasoning that is based on drawing conclusions without applying sufficient evidence
  • Beginning the question – repeating the statement “A is true because it is true”
  • Straw man – distraction; e.g. How could he cheat on his taxes if he is such a good father?
  • Non sequiter – inference without assumption; for example, A is equal to B and A is equal to C, then A must be equal to C
  • Guilt by association – false correlation between two events
  • Faulty cause/effect – Unrelated cause and effect, e.g. We have been in business for fifty years and therefore our products are the best. 
  • – Either/or (Either/or fallacy) – polarity, without specifying a spectrum of possibilities between the extremes; for example, You are with us or you are against us. 

Very often, it also works with emotions and emotional blackmail. In the messages, we then distinguish, for example, appeals to fear, guilt, participation or status.


Social media and gamification

Social media, gamification and online space in general play a major role in radicalisation and extremism today. For example, memes are widely used in the shared chat space. This is one of the many forms of propaganda that is very difficult to sanction and ban, as it is a form of entertainment and an online entertainment industry. Often the public does not even know that it may be promoting extremism. It uses a symbol or a character out of context, which is then put into a different context – for example, the cartoon character Pepe the Frog, or the twin numbers 88 or 14. It often uses elements of humour to easily evoke repressed emotions, and is a bonding element between those who get the joke and those who do not – for example, YODO = You only die once. Online space also plays a large role in extremism, where, for example, on platforms such as 4chan and 8con, in addition to the originally intended exchange of animated images and GIFs, threads promoting this extremist ‘fun’ behaviour have also emerged.

Extremists then often refer to themselves as “red-pilled”, i.e. those who, like the Matrix, have seen the light and now see reality for what it is. Whereas they label others as “normies”, a kind of “herd normals” who understand nothing and have no critical thinking skills. One of the extreme groups, including the American Elliot Rodger, for example, are the so-called “incells”, i.e. men who throw themselves into voluntary celibacy, later exhibiting elements of mysoginism and hatred of women.


Gamification often manifests itself in the case of online streaming or online gaming, which targets the entire strategy of the game or the reality depicted towards one group, thus promoting competition and strong hatred towards these people. Thus, the black market is populated by well-known games such as the shooter Counter-strike or the racing game Theft-auto, which have been modified in various ways to encourage the murder of only one ethnic group during missions or to rob only those with the same type of appearance, etc. And rather than banning these games and removing them from the online space, which won’t be effective anyway due to the large mass of people re-uploading and sharing, we need to highlight the problem and educate all potential players against their unfortunate influence. Constantly remind them of what is reality and what is just a game. Because especially during the covid lockdown period, this strategy to extremise individuals has become unprecedentedly successful and has caused several unfortunate events.


Local situation

It was also interesting to observe and uncover in the discussions the realities of the countries we gathered from in Denmark. For example, that Morocco has pushed for the establishment of 15 March as the International Day for the Fight against Islam. In Jordan, there is a proliferation of fake imams who recruit their followers for suicide missions under the auspices of the religious services, which even the local people fear. The younger generation in Turkey is leaning more and more towards atheism, and what a role President Erdogan is playing in this. In Egypt, they even have an institute, the Observatory of Islamophobia, which has been working since 2015 to combat extremist tendencies and to bring about greater cooperation between the Christian and Muslim communities in the country. In Hungary, there is currently a very right-wing Prime Minister who is encouraging a xenophobic debate in society. Germany is experiencing a social crisis in which more than 60% of local people are afraid just to meet a Muslim out on the street (even though they have never actually known one personally), as a public survey has shown. And a France teetering on the edge between freedom of speech and expression and the fight against discrimination and hate speech, with the Charlie Habdo incident still vividly remembered today. There are over 200 mosques in Denmark, and the coexistence of all religious groups seems to be more peaceful, given the economic benefits they bring to the country. Similarly, the situation in the Netherlands is less extreme than in other countries, despite isolated incidents of protests, minority extremist political parties, etc. In Bulgaria, there is a large ethnic minority of Turks and Muslims, so they are seen as one of the locals, and conversely, hate speech there targets Roma and members of the LGBTQ+ community rather than Muslims, even after the refugee wave in recent years.

Life on the project

In addition to a lot of theory, which gave us the basis for many discussions and debates both during programme time and during breaks and in the evenings, we also had the opportunity to try out many of the activities ourselves. For example, to try to draw a person who could most easily experience hate speech in a European context and then to think about their background, what helps them, what they would need to fulfil their own needs and how they experience such hate speech emotionally. Or, we tried a simulated debate about basic human values, with half of us taking a yes view and looking for suitable arguments, and the other half taking a no view. We also got to experience first-hand what it is like to be a member of a minority or disadvantaged group, and had to use a step forward to illustrate whether our character could afford it or not – it was nice to see afterwards that sometimes it matters what cards fate has dealt us. In addition, we also tried to find examples of fallacies of reasoning from real statements on the internet that would serve as propaganda for right-wing extremism – and some of the examples were truly almost incomprehensible.

Every evening, except the first and last, we also had an intercultural evening, where each country presented us with a curiosity, a game, a dance or brought something good to taste from their own country. Moreover, that we always enjoyed it so much that we did not go to bed before midnight any day. I was especially captivated by the Bulgarian bride-stealing activity, the physically demanding but beautiful Jordanian dabke dance or the tongue twisters (understand, basic phrases) in Arabic prepared by the Egyptian team. 

I am grateful to Yoana for the valuable insight she provided in just a few days, and for her perspective on the many cases and examples we encountered during the program. I also thank Szeherezada for the examples of grant opportunities and her clear explanation of all the organizational details involved in the project. And, of course I am grateful to Halmat for organizing and covering the whole event. Finally yet importantly, I would also like to thank the Erasmus+ programme for co-financing the project and making it possible for me to go to Denmark.

Lada Matyášová

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