How to undermine violent extremism


Why do some individuals engage in political violence in Yemen, while others do not? A new RAND report, Undermining Violent Extremism in Yemen, examines the role that social, political, and economic factors play on individual behavior toward violence in the midst of Yemen’s bloody and multiyear civil war. Using a unique national survey conducted in Yemen in 2016, amidst active fighting, to better understand why Yemenis may reject political violence despite persistent conflict, the report addresses how the U.S. government and its partners can strengthen efforts to undermine violent extremism in Yemen, with implications for future countering violent extremism programs worldwide.

  • The best way to undermine violent extremism is to strengthen those factors that motivate individuals to reject political violence, the authors suggest:
  • Choosing not to engage in violence is attitudinally distinct from opposing political violence in theory.
  • Urban centers represent important populations for strengthening non-radicalization.
  • Yemenis perceive attacks against local civilians as more legitimate than attacks against foreigners, including aid workers.
  • Social ties, measured by the degree of influence exerted by family, friends, and religious leaders, also do not affect individual radicalization in one clear direction.
  • Yemenis view political violence as a form of activism, so redirected pathways — or participation in nonviolent activism — do not diminish a propensity for violence.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations:

  • U.S. countering violent extremism programs should emphasize the difference between actual willingness to engage in violence and theoretical support for violence more generally.
  • In Yemen, diplomatic and military efforts should focus on helping partner nations reduce civilian casualties to limit support for further violence on the ground.
  • Diplomacy should be used to reinforce the cessation of hostilities in urban centers by encouraging actors on the ground to avoid repressive security measures.
  • More research is needed to better understand Yemeni attitudes toward the civil war as a predominantly local conflict, and the impact of the global rhetoric of the Islamic State and al Qaeda.


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