[I]f you recognize another person with regard to a certain feature, as an autonomous agent, for example, you do not only admit that she has this feature but you embrace a positive attitude towards her for having this feature. Such recognition implies that you bear obligations to treat her in a certain way, that is, you recognize a specific normative status of the other person, e.g., as a free and equal person. But recognition does not only matter normatively. It is also of psychological importance. Most theories of recognition assume that in order to develop a practical identity, persons fundamentally depend on the feedback of other subjects (and of society as a whole).--Mattias Iser in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
According to the EU at least 6,000 European young men are said to be involved with Jihadi groups in Syria (the real number is thought to be much higher). Given that a number of these have returned to Europe to commit local terrorist attacks, returning jihadists are now seen as a security threat by the EU (see here). In response, there is now quite a bit of effort to prevent such men from leaving Europe in the first place. My colleague, Marieke de Goede, has detailed some of these pre-emptive policies in her book (2012) Speculative Security: The Politics of Pursuing Terrorist Monies. One striking finding of De Goede is how much surveillance and reporting of possible suspect terrorist money governments is now legally required from non-state actors (like banks and financial institutions). Last week, at a conference she hosted ("European Security Practices After 9/11"), I learned that in many European countries, there is now legislation in the works (or passed) that either demands such surveillance from physicians, school teachers, lawyers, university professors, and even parents (etc.) or tries to draw these elements of civil society into voluntary mentoring and, if necessary, reporting of 'potential' Jihadis. Leaving aside the effectiveness of such tactics (it may, after all, create disincentives for trust and frankness in whole parts of civil society), it is worth wondering to what degree there is any genuine civic society left if it has been fully co-opted by security apparatus and policing practices of government.*
Here I will not list the other kinds of preventive policies that European countries are pursuing and could be pursuing. But I will note two non-trivial lacunae in discussions on these matters. First, most mainland European governments, politicians, media, and other public figurers do not bother with even trying to offer genuine recognition (in the sense quoted at the top of this post) of all their citizens in public life.
For, it is very striking that few major European parties really openly compete for votes of second and third generation immigrant populations as fellow national and European citizens; politicians and media rarely treat members of such populations as part of a shared enterprise or community. Rather, if not silenced they tend to be treated not as individuals worthy of respect, but as the culturally alien 'other' except, of course, when demands are made for public denunciations of some recent terror attack. It is, thus, no surprise that Jihadists are recruited from alienated members of society (see here). That is to say, European polities are not unities in the minimal sense required for long-term political survival (or peace). While there are a lot of further ways to prevent alienation, only recognition tackles the problem head-on. Ideally such recognition would be available from within European nation-states and regions, but that's not happening right now (or foreseeable future).+
Second, and related to the first, European governments and populations refuse to treat the existence of Jihadists and would be Jihadists as a (metaphorical) vote of no-confidence; that is to say, we refuse to acknowledge that as Liberal societies we are failing on an ideological level with some of our own citizens. Rather than treating European violent Islam as the cause of our problems, we should start seeing it as one of the effects. (By this I do not mean to refer to European neo-colonial policies in North Africa and the Middle east, or our roles in arming various groups/countries in these places, or our attitude toward Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc., although undoubtedly some of these are significant factors, too.) Rather, we should treat every European Jihadi also as a rejection of a Liberal vision of the future.
A cynical reader may say, What Liberal vision of the future?
But that's my point. The European Jihadis are an expression of a European malaise. Some of this malaise is institutional (recall), some of that moral (recall) -- as the refugee crisis is exhibiting on daily news --, some of it is economic (with sluggish growth, Eurozone crises, etc.), and some of it is the systematic breakdown of rules-based governance (the hard-core norm of the Weberian state) [recall]. But the underlying problem is that there is no common good that could be the articulated vision from which an emotionally rewarding recognition of each and everyone citizen of the Union is possible.
PS. Of course, the point of such recognition would not be terrorism-prevention (despite the title of this post), but it might be a useful and foreseeable side-effect.**
*In discussion another colleague, Beste Isleyen, noted that such policies may also alter the very nature of freedom.
+To put it as a slogan: we need less Kantian proceduralism and deliberation, and a lot more Hegelian or Smithian recognition. [Never thought I would call for more Hegel.]
**I thank Sarah de Lange for discussion.