Full text of my talk on the panel, ‘Preventing Violent Extremism Global Policy and Practice: The Current State of Play, with Sara Zeiger (Hedayah), and moderated by Candace Rondeaux (RESOLVE), Preventing Violent Extremism: The case for locally defined, evidenced based responses, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, convened by RESOLVE and Institute for Security Studies, 20 April.
As many of you are aware, we are dealing with a serious existential threat in relation to violent extremism, which continues to grow, morph, and spread to different parts of the world with adverse consequences for communities, societies, and nations as a whole.
That these issues are deep, complex, multilayered and tend to have long histories associated with them, goes without saying.
The challenges of violent extremism relate to developing societies as much as they do to the experiences of minority groups in developed contexts such as Western Europe. No one set of understandings applies to all, nor are there solutions that can be generalised from one place to the next without a considerable degree of adaptation.
These research and policy concerns add urgency to the need identify ways in which we think about how these problems occur and what we might be able to do to help solve them at different levels and through various modes.
To this end, the UN has taken forward an action plan in relation to preventing violent extremism, formalised towards the end of 2015.
It supports the need to understand both structural and individual factors associated with patterns of radicalisation. Vulnerable individuals facing a lack of opportunity, in the global north and the global south, without forms of guidance, governance or leadership from their communities or from the state, may turn to alternative political or ideological manifestations of resistance, that may or may not lead to violent extremism.
In particular, in the global south, issues of development, corruption, tribalism and militarism have left behind youth populations suffering low education and high unemployment rates. This leads to a deep sense of hopelessness and frustration, which encourages some to seek various forms of self-realisation and self-actualisation based on self-annihilation.
The latter also affects certain Muslim minority groups in different parts of Western Europe, but also far right groups. Both camps are angry and frustrated at their ‘left behind’ status, where traditional forms of masculinity are also being challenged, leading to anomie, alienation and ultimately, in the case of Muslim minority groups, angry young men and women who choose (through a lack of choice) to adhere to a limited understanding of certain interpretations of the scriptures.
Of far right groups, theirs is a reaction to the impact of globalisation on eroding national identities. It stems from the fear of differences associated with policies of multiculturalism, now been debunked by many, as well as the revulsion of the other, whether as a result of immigration or because of existing minority groups. This fear continues to linger in regards to various cultural forms of expression that impact on the lived experience. It also leads to accusations of ‘self-ghettoisation’ in relation to Muslim minorities.
Preventing violent extremism projects are aimed at stopping individuals from taking a path towards extremism and violence, whereas the notion of countering violent extremism focuses on pushing back in relation to individuals who have already made a significant way down the road of extremism and violence.
A range of PVE and CVE projects focus on existing notions in relation to conflict reduction, peace building, human rights and the rule of law, empowering youth and women, improving education and employment opportunities, as well as working in the social media sphere by developing counter-narratives. The latter help to dispel the myths associated with distorted utopian visions of organisations that present the solutions to their problems through violence.
The UN leads on this global framework, which has both regional and national impacts. Governments are tasked with developing national plans of action that systematically appreciate the relevant concerns in relation to violence and extremism, and the ways in which policy can help to bring about the necessary change. Given the huge variations across the world concerning the degree and impact of the problem, there is also the need to develop regional action plans.
The RESOLVE Network, which you will hear a great deal more about during the course of the day, is precisely an attempt to help research institutions and think tanks to collaborate and cooperate, where the RESOLVE network acts as an umbrella to facilitate, support and help to deliver impactful research-oriented policy findings.
Invariably, coordinating the activities of different nations in particular regions at a global level requires many different levers and arms to assist NGOs, CSOs and research institutions whose ambitions are to prevent and counter violent extremism. There is a process where research needs to feed into policy making, which is both upstream and downstream.
Policymakers at the national government level need to better appreciate the lessons learned from research in order to consider medium to long-term planning and resource allocation. Meanwhile, CSOs often charged with the task of delivering projects on the ground, affecting people directly, carrying out measurement and evaluation, and making the change to communities and societies that help to build resilience, confidence, and engagement.
Therefore, the challenges going forward relate to better understanding what works in different contexts and how we can best utilise this knowledge to improve practice in the areas of interest and beyond. There is also the question of the wider political context in which these policy and community development projects are carried out, such that there are dramatically shifting terrain at a geopolitical level, which potentially creates more challenges than opportunities, in the current period.
While preventing and countering violent extremism projects can go a long way to assisting vulnerable individuals and communities, they do not operate in a vacuum. These problems are not going to go away overnight. Successful projects need to be highlighted as best practice for other regions and countries to benefit from. Sharing this is not as easy as it would seem as every NGO and CSO is immersed in many areas of work, combined with all the resource allocation challenges that come with institutions, big or small, constantly searching to sustain their activities in a charged climate.