Civil society taking fight against violent extremism to ‘a whole new level’



Iraqi security forces have made great progress toward defeating the Islamic State in Iraq. But whether this military success will translate into enduring stability will depend in large part upon the attitudes of Iraqi Sunnis toward the postwar stat. Since 2003, Iraqi Sunnis have viewed the political system as unfair and marginalizing their role in the nation’s politics, according to Munqith M. Dagher, founder and chief executive of Baghdad-based Almustakilla for Research, and Karl C. Kaltenthaler, a professor of political science at the University of Akron.

A recent public opinion survey we carried out reveals a startling and potentially significant shift in Sunni attitudes toward the Iraqi state, they write for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog. Sunni Arabs base their pessimism primarily on two things, they note:

  • The first is their experiences in the past. Political exclusion from 2003 to 2011 and then the very harsh treatment they endured at the hands of the highly Shiite sectarian Maliki government have made Sunni Arabs wary of their long-term status in the country.
  • The second factor is the rise and continued existence of al-Hashd al-Shaabi (popular mobilization units or PMUs). These are predominately Shiite militia, most with deep ties to Iran, that rose in the face of the Islamic State onslaught in 2014 to defeat the Sunni extremist organization. They have become an immensely powerful set of fighting forces that, while under the nominal control of the Iraqi prime minister, are really more controlled by Iran. They have a reputation for being very sectarian and anti-Sunni.

With the avowed objective of taking the fight against violent extremism to “a whole new level” and drawing on a network of three foundations, the Global Hope Coalition has assembled an impressive group to spearhead the civil society effort to amplify the impact of courageous individuals who stand up to terror and violence, notes Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute. These heroes, who take great risks to oppose extremists, deserve support to defeat the radicals in their midst; to preserve cultural heritage from wanton destruction, and to build bridges across widening cultural and religious divides, she writes for The Hill:

Consider, for example, Latifa Ibn Ziaten (right). In March 2012, a homegrown terrorist, Mohammed Merah, shot and killed Ibn Ziaten’s 30-year-old son, Imad, a French Muslim soldier. Imad was one of Merah’s six victims, who included three children. Following these senseless murders, Ibn Ziaten established the Imad Association for Youth and Peace, and has been roaming dilapidated housing projects, overcrowded prisons and immigrant-dominated schools which form fertile grounds for violent extremism ….

And there’s Kochar Saleh (left), a 27-year-old Kurdish woman from northern Iraq who has been organizing local resistance to ISIS, helping the tormented Yazidi and Christian communities, and providing assistance to refugees. Kochar has witnessed first-hand the terrorists’ atrocities and their savage treatment of Yazidi girls. She led a group of women fighters in the protracted battle to liberate Mosul. RTWT

While Islamic State may be on the back foot in Iraq and Syria, the lack of strong central governance in many countries in the Sahel has contributed to the flourishing of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), notes Bennett Seftel, deputy director of analysis at The Cipher Brief:

With these governments unable to hold territory or provide basic social services to many in need, AQIM has been able hunker down in ungoverned spaces….Burkina Faso boasts one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, while in Niger, approximately 8 million of the country’s 19 million citizens are without safe drinking water. Helping to provide education, healthcare, and even access to clean water could go a long way in suppressing the allure of terrorism.

“[We] need to enhance outreach with partner nations in that area so that improving civil society is a priority as part of the counterterrorism efforts,” says David Shedd, a former Acting Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “That means coming in with education and other longer term efforts that address the grievances associated with some of the things that AQIM takes advantage of.”

In “one of the most dangerous developments yet, violent extremism has taken root among the region’s diverse ethno-linguistic communities and profits from and exacerbates inter-communal conflicts and resentments,” according to Michael Shurkin, Senior Political Scientist at the RAND corporation.

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