Addressing the Roots of Hatred

Interview with David Morin

By Khaoula El Khalil | August 17, 2021

“If hatred is a tsunami, a storm, we can build a dike to contain the water. We must ensure that hate speech remains persona non grata in our society and, in my opinion, there is nothing worse than desensitization to hate speech,” said David Morin during our interview for 404 Magazine. Concerned about the rise of hate speech, he called on all sectors of society to mobilize and control this scourge. We could not approach hatred without having his point of view and benefiting from the expertise of this leading academic in Quebec. Mr. Morin wears many hats in the field of the prevention of radicalization and violent extremism: he is a full professor at École de politique appliquée de l’Université de Sherbrooke, co-holder of the UNESCO Chair in the prevention of radicalization and Violent Extremism (UNESCO-PREV), to name just a few of his positions.

“Hatred is everyone’s business, not just the victims of hate speech or the government.”

Regarding your background, how did you come to be interested in civil and international terrorism, extremism, radicalization, and hatred?

I have been working on security issues for almost 25 years. In 2000, I obtained my DEA in International Relations and Security, Military Systems, at the Institute of Political Studies in Toulouse. Subsequently, I joined the army where I was deployed in the former Yugoslavia, and it was there that I became interested in violent extremism and terrorism. Since the mid-2010s, the pervasiveness of the attacks in Western territories has engendered a marked interest in issues of violent extremism and radicalization, whether in Quebec, Canada, and of course, Europe.

Last March, you published a book called “The New Age of Extremes?: Liberal Democracies, Radicalization and Violent Extremism,” co-directed with Sami Aoun and in which some forty researchers and specialists offer a multidisciplinary analysis, as well as keys to understanding the phenomenon of violent extremism in the West. Why did you choose this multidisciplinary approach to understand the phenomenon, and why did you not impose a definition in the book?

The big question this book seeks to explore is: “Have we seen a rise in violent extremism in the West over the past 20 years?” And if so, try to explore the causes. I think one cannot understand radicalization and violent extremism without resorting to all kinds of subject areas that shed light on certain aspects of these processes. We need psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, political scientists, jurists, but also philosophers, etc. to think about the issue of violent extremism and its intrusion into Western societies. In this book, we tried to invite all these people to think about this question through their disciplinary field, but also their national and social context. Unfortunately, in recent decades, terrorism and violent extremism have been strongly associated with Islamism. What interested us was addressing other forms of violent extremism. In fact, there is a lot of talk in the book about the independence nationalism of the “Euskadi ta Askatasuna” (ETA).

The idea being to reflect on the contribution of disciplines to causes, national situations and solutions, so we finally decided not to impose a definition.

What is a hate-motivated act? How can our readers recognize one?

A hate-motivated act is motivated by hating another for all kinds of reasons: their skin color, religion, political opinions, sexual orientation, particular disabilities, etc. Finally, the hatred for another leads us to make a move, which can be a word or a physical aggression against another, motivated by the question of otherness: the one who is different from me, the one whom I do not understand, the one I can be afraid of sometimes, etc. The hate-motivated act itself also falls under criminal law. Afterwards, we often distinguish the crime from the hate incident. I think there is also a lot of anger in hate: fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hatred. The philosopher Averroes touches on something very interesting: analyzing hatred. It is the product of something, and it is important to be interested in the causes of the disease. I think it’s important to look at the source to see what can generate anger and fear, try to analyze hatred, and work on causes that may be legitimate. Hate is not acceptable, but the causes of anger can be, for example: social inequalities, discrimination, etc. I’d rather be interested in hate as a process than as a fait accompli or a symptom.

“I would rather be interested in hate as a process than as a fait accompli or a symptom.”

In 2020, you launched with your colleagues, Ghayda Hassan and Vivek Venkatesh, from the UNESCO-PREV Chair, a massive open online course (MOOC): “From Hate to Hope: Cultivating Understanding and Resilience Capacities”. Can you explain to us what are the objectives of this project and the strategies proposed in this course to fight against hate?

This course aims to prevent online hate speeches and enables engagement of discussions. In the course, we find several testimonies of ex-extremists who explain their thought process. Thus, they can prevent people from falling into the same traps as they did and helps them understand the logic behind violent engagement and radicalization. Finally, it helps to show that, in many cases, it is a dead end: the causes of engagement may seem reasonable, but the means to try to achieve our goals as a radicalized individual and the use of violence is highly counterproductive. The course also allows you to work on a form of resilience in our society vis-à-vis hate speech: how do we approach this collectively? Hate is everyone’s business, not just the victims of hate speech and the government. What is troubling is not necessarily the clatter of hateful people but rather the silence of ordinary people. We have to find how we could collectively mobilize the whole of society to counter hate speech. People should not stop being outraged by hate speech, because there is nothing worse than a society that trivializes such speech.

According to several reports, including those from the Observatoire sur la radicalisation et l’extrémisme violent (OSR), reports related to hate crimes and incidents in Quebec are on the rise, especially in 2020. How do you explain this increase?

We are seeing a trend increase. In fact, hate crimes and incidents increased just after the Quebec Mosque attacks. This creates a paradox: on the one hand, the Quebec Mosque attack generated empathy and compassion among a large part of the Quebec population. On the other hand, it spread hate speech often associated with the ultra-right who felt more justified in insulting veiled women in the streets, to put a pig’s head in front of a mosque, to put swastikas on a car or in certain neighborhoods, etc. It is always difficult to know if there are additional hate crimes or if communities have reported more of them to law enforcement, because they were concerned that it could lead to attacks. Nonetheless, in recent years, we have seen a more aggressive, hate speech and tone emerge in the public sector. Without saying there really is a complete trivialization, I get the impression one hears it more and one gets used to it more; which is always a sign of concern to me.

How did the pandemic exacerbate this situation?

I believe the pandemic has increased this. The pandemic has generated a great deal of fear, anxiety and anger among a significant portion of the population. If you put that into perspective, with the fact that people have found themselves looking for information and answers on the internet, being much more connected, being less socially in touch with the rest of the world, you have an explosive cocktail, which increased the number of extremist groups and speeches that succeeded in reaching people who were usually less likely to join. In addition, extremist groups have been seen attempting to seek more members and popularize their conspiratorial views on social media. It also resulted in a few actions being taken, particularly death threats against elected officials, the media and certain minorities. Communities, whether Jewish, Muslim or Asian, have seen the number of hate messages skyrocket. The pandemic is a fairly favorable context for the dissemination of hate speech, but the trend was already increasing in Quebec and Canada. Just look at some election campaigns, whether by our American neighbors or in Western European countries where people, who strongly speak discriminatorily or walk a thin line of what is hateful or not, happen to have very high electoral results.

“Communities, whether Jewish, Muslim or Asian, have seen the number of hate messages against them skyrocket.”

According to a Statistics Canada report on hate crimes reported by police, there is a problem of underreporting these. Victims of hate crimes are less likely than victims of other types of crime to report their victimization to the police. To what is this due, and why is it necessary to report a hate crime or hate case?

Underreporting is a phenomenon well known to criminologists. There are several reasons for this, but two of them seem important to me. The first is you’re not quite sure if it’s worth declaring. Take for example, a woman who is insulted in the street because she is veiled, she asks herself the question: “is it worth it for me to go through the reporting process?” The second is the fact of being heard, listened to, of telling oneself that there will be a file that will be opened, a follow-up and that, ultimately, we will enter the judicial machine without necessarily guaranteeing results. A hate crime means charges are laid and investigated. There is also a whole category of incidents that can erode people’s trust in society, in their government, in their police force. Whether it is an insult, spitting, graffiti on the door of your house, it is important not only to declare a hate-motivated incident, but also that the public authorities follow through and listen to the people, hence, showing they are present and they understand. Reporting hate cases is just as necessary for researchers and community organizations that document and implement policies to prevent or counter the increase in hate-motivated acts.

“Reporting hate cases is just as necessary for researchers and community organizations that document and implement policies to prevent or counter the rise in hate-motivated acts.”

Can we say that hate speech and hate are controlled in Canada and Quebec compared to other countries like France and the United States?

What I’m about to say isn’t necessarily great news. I believe that hate and hate speech will not be eradicated from our societies. What we can do is prevent them from gaining momentum and normalization to an extent where social polarizations become such that we are no longer able to form a society. If we come back to the case in Canada, I have lived here for 20 years and as an observer interested in public space and politics, I think hate speech and hatred are normalizing. For the past ten years or so, we have witnessed a rise in hate and xenophobic speech which can be explained by multiple causes: the 20-year war against jihadist terrorism, the economic crisis of 2008, the fear of waves of immigration, and social networks which are, unfortunately, a sort of echo chamber for these types of speeches. However, social media is less of a concern, what is more disturbing is the emergence of these discourses in the political arena. In Canada, there has always been a caution vis-à-vis this type of speech, even with the Canadian Popular Party. So yes, the notion of immigration has often been instrumentalized, but always with caution. The other thing I’m looking at is the media. For example, some radio stations play a bit of the confrontation game, which uses the same business template as the United States. Here too, we are not very far from hate speech against people living on social assistance, people with disabilities, women, Muslims, etc. There are all kinds of indicators that allow us to measure this.

What part do government systems play in fueling the informal structure that helps perpetuate the marginalization of traditionally oppressed and subordinate groups?

I think that’s a complex question, because if you look at some of the far-right speeches: are these groups necessarily disregarded by the government? One would be tempted to say no, because the people who participate in anti-sanitation, conspiracy and extremist movements today are between 30 and 50 years old. Statistics show that they often come from majority communities in Quebec and Canada with a level of education that is sometimes a little lower than the average for the population. There are more risk factors when you have a lower level of education and little income, but it cannot be said that these are people who are necessarily oppressed by the Nation. I think the link between social status and violent extremism is not so obvious in Western societies. For example, among the young people who left for Syria, there were many who were educated, more middle-class and who were promised an enviable future. Attention should be paid to the links established between the issue of ostracism, social status and the use of violence. Social exclusion is one factor among many.

For the second edition of 404 Magazine, we have chosen the theme: “Beyond Hatred”. How can we move beyond hatred at the collective and individual levels?

Going beyond hatred evokes, for me, our collective capacity to stop hatred. We must think of hate as a process and work on the conditions that lead to the rise of hate speech. In addition, you have to fight ideas with other ideas. To a certain extent, you have to be able to work on what causes people to adopt hate speech. I think it goes through more social dialogue, that is, allowing people to express their ideas through more interesting channels than just social networks, which are crude expressions of speech we would not often say in public. And in order to engage in this social conversation, we must above all think about reinforcing a form of rational critical thinking, which is what we collectively lack a little bit. We see that times of crisis are really conducive to the rise of this type of speech. We saw it with the economic crisis of 2008, and we see it now with the pandemic. For me, the unsurpassable horizon is probably this one. How to build a resilient and united society? “How to go beyond hatred?” is a good question, but I think the real question is: “how do you confront hatred at its roots?” I think everyone has a role to play. Together we can do something. If hatred is a tsunami, a storm, we can build a dike to contain the water. We must ensure that hate speech remains persona non grata in our society and, in my opinion, there is nothing worse than desensitization to hate speech.

“Going beyond hatred evokes, for me, our collective capacity to stop hatred.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top