Key concepts


Pre-conceived opinions vis-à-vis an individual, a group of individuals, their behaviour or lifestyle, categorising them without any solid basis. Prejudice can be voluntary or involuntary.

Hate crimes

According to the OSCE, these are criminal acts motivated by prejudice or bias towards certain groups of individuals. To be considered a hate crime, it should fulfil two criteria: 1) the act constitutes a crime under criminal law; 2) the act should have its origins in prejudice.4


One definition: personal behaviour, attitude, form of expression or manifestation that leads to practices or behaviours that denigrate, violate or undermine the dignity and rights of the person considered “unacceptable”. It involves the origin of ideological, political, economic, cultural, religious and social attitudes that harm individuals or social groups that are different from the intolerant individual or social group.

Being based on prejudice, defective knowledge or doctrines, it represents the rejection or the conception of individuals who are different from the dominant identity group (or the one that claims to be dominant) as inferior, subordinate or “without value”.

All forms of intolerance fail to consider the person -with their identity- as a value, but rather more that one’s own identity comes up against the identity of others. One growing form of intolerance has ideological-political roots. Back in 1995, the United Nations and UNESCO highlighted “the current intensification of acts of intolerance, violence, terrorism, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination perpetrated against national, ethnic, religious and linguistics minorities, refugees, migrant workers, immigrants and vulnerable groups in society, and also acts of violence and intimidation against individuals who exercise their right to free opinion and expression, all of which constitute threats for the consolidation of peace and democracy.”


Populism usually refers to an ideology or discourse that claims to defend the interests of the “pure people” against the “corrupt elite”. It is associated with charismatic leaders or certain aspects of style. Populist parties have grown and become more influential in recent decades, especially those with a nativist agenda.5


According to ACNUR, racism is a kind of discrimination that occurs when a person or group of individuals feels hatred towards others because they are different, due to aspects such as skin colour, language or place of birth. In its most extreme expressions, racism -caused by intolerance- manifests itself in the form of cultural superiority, cultural segregation and racial superiority.6


The term “Islamophobia”, popularised in the late 1990s, refers to discrimination, attitudes or negative feelings towards Islam or Muslims. A mobilisation against Islam and Muslims emerged after the 11-S terrorist attacks in the United States and gave rise to what became a transnational anti-Islamic movement. Although opposition to Muslim immigration and certain anti-Islamic attitudes are fairly common among ordinary citizens in Europe, prejudice against Muslims is more common in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe.7

Violent radicalisation

Radicalisation is a gradual social process towards extremism, and the term is often applied to explain changes in ideas or behaviour that can lead to violence. There is a distinction between the cognitive and behavioural dimension of radicalisation, the latter being related to participation in extremist activities that can end up in extreme violence as terrorism. Radicalisation as a concept is not absolute but relative, and it depends on the context in which it takes place.


Anti-Semitism is prejudice, hate or hostility towards Jews because they are Jewish, expressed through attitudes, cultural images and hostile acts. Anti-Jewish hostility has a long history going back to Antiquity, although the term “Anti-Semitism” was first seen towards the end of the 19th century.

Political and institutionalised intolerance

When intolerance becomes a collective, political or institutionalised phenomenon, it undermines harmonious coexistence and democratic principles and even threatens peace.

The discourse of ideological intolerance has different levels of severity depending on its source. If it comes from the highest levels of power, its influence and seriousness is considerable, while the impact is lower if it comes from the opposition, and even less so -even residual- if it comes from fringe political forces or individuals. From power, a disinhibition process starts among citizens when they perceive that no blame or responsibility is handed out for hate crimes.

Construction of the enemy

There can be no construction of the enemy without the use of language. The spreading of hate starts with words and culminates in crimes, even killings.

One of the constant factors in the dissemination of hate is dehumanisation of the enemy through language (often including pejorative and denigrating descriptions), as well as the objective of complete destruction of what the enemy signifies. Intolerance begins when human beings are not considered in their individual dimension and the “other” is “stigmatised”, denying any “value” to the different person, i.e. anyone different from “us”.

The limits between hate speech and freedom of expression

Freedom of expression is everyone’s liberty to express an opinion, inform and communicate.

The limits of freedom of expression are contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in most European Constitutions. The limit is precisely ‘hate speech’, which seeks to slander, humiliate and incite hate, discrimination, hostility and violence. As a consequence, several cases have been brought in the EU against Twitter users, singers/rappers and other public figures for promoting hate speech.

The European Court of Human Rights states that “tolerance and respect of the equal dignity of all human beings constitute the basis of a democratic and plural society. As a result, it can be considered necessary in democratic societies to sanction, and even prevent, forms of expression that spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance, in the same way that the free exposition of ideas does not authorise the use of violence to impose one’s own criteria”. (STEDH of 16 July 2009, Féret c. Belgium).

Our freedoms are not infinite and cannot be used against the rights of others which is why there are limits on inciting hate, discrimination and violence. Therefore, freedom of expression should not be confused with freedom of aggression, or impunity for violence. Freedom of expression ends when hate speech is produced through intolerance, be it religious, ideological or identity-based. The protection of rights and freedoms, also for the victim, then comes into play and can have punitive consequences for the instigator, without calling this ‘censorship’.

4 What is a hate crime, OSCE:
5 Anders Ravik Jupskås and Eviane Leidig (Eds.) Knowing what’s (far) right. A compendium, C-REX-Centre for Research on Extremism, University of Oslo,
7 Reinares, F. (2015): Yihadismo global y amenaza terrorista: de al-Qaeda al Estado Islámico, Real Instituto Elcano: http:// terrorismo+internacional/ari33-2015-reinares-yihadismo-global-y-amenaza-terrorista-de-al-qaeda-al-estado-islamico