Creating counter-narratives to counter violent extremism



The concept of creating counter-narratives in order to push back against extremist recruitment and propaganda has become well established in recent years, notes a new report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. In practice, however, it has proven difficult to curate this content in a systematic way, target it toward at risk audiences, and – most importantly – measure constructive impact on their behaviour.

But research and pilot studies the ISD conducted with the Against Violent Extremism (AVE) network of former extremists and survivors of extremism suggests that a coordinated effort between content creators, social media companies, and private sector partners can substantially boost the awareness, engagement and impact of counter-narrative campaigns and NGOs.

There is something of a paradox emerging around global efforts to counter violent extremism, according to Khalid Koser, Executive Director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, and Eric Rosand, Director of the Prevention Project: Organizing Against Violent Extremism:

In the wake of terrorist attacks in Aden, Baghdad, Dhaka, Istanbul, Kabul, Nice, Orlando, and elsewhere, public awareness of the problem and the need to address it has never been greater. The White House’s CVE summit in 2015 and the meetings that followed it, along with the January 2016 publication of the UN Secretary General’s Action Plan to Prevent Violent Extremism, have helped build high-level support for a response involving governments, the private sector, and civil-society organizations. Countries from Finland and Kenya to Canada and Nigeria are heeding the call put forth in that document, developing their own national plans to steer their populations away from violent extremism. And in May, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released their first-ever joint strategy for international CVE, which encourages the use of traditional development tools to help communities identify the early signs of radicalization and intervene before violence breaks out. 

Even as states and international organizations are beginning to turn their attention to preventing violent extremism, however, funding and organizational weaknesses are limiting their progress, they write for Foreign Affairs.

Definitional murkiness

One of the most persistent obstacles to CVE today is that states, civil-society groups, and multilateral organizations do not agree on what kinds of programs should be considered part of it, they contend:

The lines between terrorism and violent extremism can seem blurry, as can the boundaries between countering or preventing violent extremism and counterterrorism, as that term is traditionally understood by security organizations. ….The definitional murkiness means that there is no shared understanding among governments, multilateral organizations, and civil-society groups on what constitutes a CVE program, making it impossible to quantify gaps in CVE funding at the international level. Yet the process of agreeing on a definition of what CVE entails would likely be so arduous and lengthy that it would result in a watered-down consensus of little utility.  Instead of focusing on definitions, then, states and international organizations should focus on outcomes: reducing the pool of recruits for terrorist groups, countering their propaganda, steering young people who celebrate that propaganda away from violence, and integrating former terrorists who are no longer threatening into their communities, for example.

The funding and implementation challenges facing donor governments and organizations are surmountable. The United States has suggested that it wants to lead the way in promoting collaboration among development and security donors; GCERF is evolving into a global fund, making use of support from 12 governments, the EU, and the private sector; and the UN Plan of Action will ensure that these issues remain on the agenda of governments around the world for the foreseeable future. Those are valuable steps, but the growth of violent extremism warrants an even more effective response. The battle must not be lost for lack of a few hundred million dollars a year or as a result of the reluctance of donors and practitioners to coordinate their efforts, take innovative risks, and invest in long-term and locally directed initiatives. RTWT

For CVE planners, LookingGlass (above) can map social movements in relation to specific countries and regions. Indonesia, for example, has been the site of numerous violent movements and events. A relatively young democracy, the country’s complex political environment encompasses numerous groups seeking radical change across a wide spectrum of social and political issues, Devex reports:

By assessing the relative influence and expressed beliefs of diverse groups over time and in critical locations, LookingGlass represents an advanced capability for providing real-time contextual information about the ideological drivers of violent and counter-violent extremist movements online. Click here to view a larger version.

But as long as the “enemy” in the West remains united and principled, ISIS cannot emerge victorious, says Dominique Moisi, a professor at L’Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), Senior Adviser at the French Institute for International Affairs (IFRI) and a visiting professor at King’s College London:

For France and others, the key is collective action, both at home and abroad, which will require improved links between internal and external security agencies, together with greater risk awareness within civil society, along Israeli lines. Add to that continued strikes against ISIS sanctuaries, and the dream of the caliphate will soon be dead.

It’s bad enough that terrorists want to take our lives; the last thing we need is populists taking our souls, he writes for Project Syndicate.

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