Growing up in the blind spot of society – Children of far-right violent extremist families

Past research on violent extremism and terrorism has had a clear focus on jihadism in comparison to far-right extremism. When researching children raised in extremist families, it quickly becomes clear that there are far more publications on children of Islamist parents than on children in far-right extremist families as well. PREPARE is unique in that it focuses on risk and protective factors for children of both Islamist and far-right violent extremists; the project thus addresses the gap in knowledge on children growing up in far-right extremist families. Experts at the PREPARE workshop on the 11th of May also noted, while most of the conversation at the workshop revolved around returnee children, that the topic of children of far-right violent extremists shows to be neglected by researchers, the judiciary and governments alike. But how can this discrepancy in attention on Islamist versus far-right violent extremism be explained?

Why has far right extremism been ignored?

The contemporary approach to national security in Western countries was built around the threat of Islamist extremism after 9/11, resulting in a stigmatising narrative and an almost exclusive focus on this one form of violent extremism that is still visible today. In contrast, far-right extremism has been largely neglected. Policymakers do not tend to prioritise investing in research on the topic since Islamist extremism has been seen as a bigger security threat. One expert at the workshop stated that Islamist extremism is often easier to identify than far right extremism since far-right extremists are often of a higher social status than Islamist extremists. Therefore, indications of far-right extremism may be more socially accepted and easily overlooked.

There are also practical challenges to researching far-right extremist families: the number of children returning from Syria and Iraq is known, and thus, those children are more visible, one expert pointed out. In contrast, the scale of the issue of far-right violent extremist families is much more difficult to assess. The problem, therefore, seems more vague to the public, and the affected children are harder to identify for research purposes.

Why is it essential to include both Islamist and far right extremist families in PREPARE?

Children whose parents are Islamist violent extremists and children of far-right violent extremists share a range of the same risk and protective factors. At the same time, other experiences are unique to each group respectively. Therefore, training or tools developed based on research on only one of the phenomena may have limited use when dealing with children whose parents are violent extremists of the other type. As an expert at the workshop remarked, the level of trauma and acceptance, and thus the level of stigmatisation and discrimination, highly differ between children of Islamist violent extremists and children of far-right violent extremists. For returnee children, experiences connected to living in a war zone and stigmatisation as reflected in media reports, for example, will have unique impacts on their development.

Moreover, it cannot be assumed that the parenting styles of Islamist and far-right violent extremists and their relationships with their children will be identical. One aspect influencing parenting styles is gender roles. While both jihadist and far-right ideologies propagate traditional gender roles, one expert hypothesized that the role of women varies between ideologies. Differing views on gender may have distinct implications on the experiences of boys and girls growing up with violent extremist parents.

How does PREPARE address this research gap?

Literature in English on risk and protective factors for children in far-right violent families is scarce. PREPARE, however, takes into account literature from different languages. A range of German organisations have published articles on children with far-right extremist parents, including practical guides for youth welfare offices and counselling centres. This body of literature from Germany has proven to be very insightful and, in addition to articles identified in English, Spanish, French, and Dutch, will inform the development of the Child Vulnerability and Intervention Tool that will be created as part of the project. Furthermore, as part of the PREPARE project, interviews will be conducted with experts on both Islamist and far-right violent extremist families, which will help shed light on the blind spot in research that far-right violent extremism has been so far.

Lilly Riedel (ICCT)