Why ‘countering violent extremism’ falls short


Young people are most vulnerable to terrorist radicalization and greater efforts should be made to prevent youth from being misled by violent extremists, said OSCE Chair Sebastian Kurz yesterday as he opened the 2017 OSCE-wide Counter-Terrorism Conference in Vienna.

”No country in the OSCE region is immune from radicalization and terrorism. Only through enhanced regional and international co-operation can we fight radicalization, especially that of young people. They need to be included in finding innovative strategies on countering violent extremism,” he said, speaking in the wake of the terrorist attack in Manchester.

“We must question deeply how we arrived at a situation in which brutal suspected jihadist terrorist attacks on our continent appear frequent. We ask those who have till this day not participated in the national struggle to root out all extremism from our communities to stand up and be counted,” said Maajid Nawaz (left), founder of Quilliam, the London-based anti-extremist think tank. “Now is not a time only for short term gestures and platitudes.”

No return to ‘normal’

“Calls for unity and calm are needed, but we must also call at this time for things not to return to normal,” said Quilliam Chief Executive Haras Rafiq, himself a resident of Greater Manchester. “If normal means regular unpredictable attacks by suspected jihadist terrorists against our children and youth at the dawn of their lives, then ‘normal’ must not be allowed to continue. New thinking needs to emerge in the halls of Whitehall and for our communities.”

A recent CSIS Commission on Countering Violent Extremism (above) proposed a New Comprehensive Strategy to articulate what the U.S. administration, in close collaboration with governmental and nongovernmental partners, must do to diminish the appeal of extremist ideologies and narratives, including:

  • Strengthening resistance to extremist ideologies: The international community must forge a new global partnership around education reform to stop the teaching of extremist ideologies in schools. At the same time, we must redouble efforts to enhance respect for religious diversity, stem the spread of intolerance, and reinforce community resilience to extremist narratives.
  • Investing in community-led prevention: Governments should enable civil society efforts to detect and disrupt radicalization and recruitment, and rehabilitate and reintegrate those who have succumbed to extremist ideologies and narratives. Community and civic leaders are at the forefront of challenging violent extremism but they require much greater funding, support, and encouragement.
  • Saturating the global marketplace of ideas: Technology companies, the entertainment industry, community leaders, religious voices, and others must be enlisted more systematically to compete with and overtake extremists’ narratives in virtual and real spaces. It is the responsibility of all citizens to rebut extremists’ ideas, wherever they are gaining traction.
  • Aligning policies and values: The United States should put human rights at the center of CVE, ensuring that its engagement with domestic and foreign actors advances the rule of law, dignity, and accountability. In particular, the U.S. government should review its security assistance to foreign partners to certify that it is being used in just and sustainable ways.
  • Expanding CVE models: The United States and its allies and partners urgently need to enlarge the CVE ecosystem, creating flexible platforms for funding, implementing, and replicating proven efforts to address the ideologies, narratives, and manifestations of violent extremism.

But other observers believe the CVE agenda fails to address the core of the terrorist problem.

Rather than “countering violent extremism,” America’s emphasis should be on eliminating extremism per se, argues James S. Robbins, senior fellow for national security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council:

Anti-liberal, anti-Western ideologies are a threat, whether violent or not, and whether they are promulgated by nonstate actors or by recognized governments. Some use terrorism to promote their extremist views, but they also exploit other means of influence, such as information and psychological warfare, or leveraging finance, diplomacy, technology and any other tools at their disposal. We cede the extremists an important advantage in the battle of ideas if our focus is only on violence.

“Whether domestic or foreign, the strategic focus should be on discrediting and delegitimizing groups and states that promote anti-liberal, anti-Western belief systems,” he contends.

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