Terrorism Regional Stability

In the Fight Against Violent Extremism, Why Is Prevention Elusive?

Graffiti in Syria, ‘Peace I Miss You’

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 11 January 2016.

Countering violent extremism has become a cottage industry in both the global North and South, as Daesh (also known as ISIS) and other transnational armed terrorist groups continue to threaten the very foundations on which national and international peace and stability have rested for decades. For the countries of the Sahel-Sahara and North Africa regions, brutally affected by the scourge of violence, countering violent extremism (CVE) has been embraced as the new overarching framework for a continued pursuit of the “war on terror.”

Current Approaches and Limitations

Under the CVE umbrella, these countries have multiplied initiatives and adopted various measures both at the national and regional levels to address the roots of radicalization, violent extremism, and terrorism. Efforts based on increasing education and cultural outreach—such as training imams to counter radical Islamic teachings—have become common. Some countries, with the active participation of civil society organizations, have devised national action plans that include the organization of inter-religious and inter-communal dialogue, as well as awareness-raising campaigns aimed at encouraging citizen engagement in the prevention and the fight against violent extremism. Still others have included in their national CVE strategy the creation of socioeconomic opportunities for youth and other marginalized groups to prevent their radicalization.


The Changing Face of Deadly Conflict

Anti-Violence art

This article was originally published as part of the Crisis Group’s The Future of Conflict project on 21 December, 2015.

Policymakers trying to prevent and resolve deadly conflict — and those, like the International Crisis Group, seeking to influence them — are all too unhappily familiar with that corollary to Murphy’s Law which tells us: “If you’re feeling good, don’t worry: you’ll get over it”. The continuing decline in the reality and prospect of war between states gives us much to be pleased about, as does the reduction — more than most people think — in the number and intensity of wars and incidents of mass violence within states, at least those driven by the familiar forces of greed for territory or government power, or the fears or grievances of particular groups.

But we have all been deeply sobered by the re-emergence, within and across state boundaries, and on a scale not seen for centuries, of a new breed of conflict: extreme violence driven by non-state actors motivated by religious ideology. Starting with al-Qaeda and its offshoots and imitators in Africa and Asia, this has been now given most alarming expression with the emergence of the Islamic State (IS), or Da’esh — its leadership now focused on Syria and Iraq, but rapidly finding supporters elsewhere, like Boko Haram in West Africa and a number of jihadi groups in North Africa and South East Asia. The strategies and tools that have been working elsewhere to date have had little or no traction in this context, and all of us need to go back to the drawing board.


Religious Leaders Countering Extremist Violence: How Policy Changes Can Help

Church and Mosque in Beirut. Image: Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) on 31 October 2014.

As the militant group calling itself “Islamic State” stormed across northern Iraq and Syria in recent months, prominent imam Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah and more than 100 other Muslim leaders flew into action, drafting a condemnation of the insurgent group’s actions with an appeal to Islamic jurisprudence. In Burma (Myanmar), as Muslims have faced persecution from Buddhist extremists, some Buddhist monks offer shelter in their monasteries. In Nigeria, the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by Boko Haram this year prompted Muslim and Christian leaders like Pastor Esther Ibanga to organize peaceful demonstrations to oppose extremist violence.

Countering Violent Extremism Goes Local

Muslims in Mumbai protest against terrorism, courtesy of Bird Eye/Flickr

In New York this past September, the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum (GCTF)—an informal intergovernmental body made up of 29 like-minded states and the EU, co-chaired by the United States and Turkey and focused on the delivery of capacity-building assistance—announced their intention to create a global fund to support local, grass-roots efforts to counter violent extremism. This is a departure from traditional funding sources, which to date have stemmed mainly from governments that have a natural preference towards larger multi-year projects thus simplifying the initial investment costs and project administration.

The Global Fund on Community Engagement and Resilience will provide support that is better able to reach the community level where countering violent extremism (CVE) projects will have the most buy-in and impact, and have more flexible, smaller disbursements. In addition, the fund is the first ever initiative to allow for public-private partnerships in CVE in its many manifestations, which can vary significantly across different regions.


The Terrorist Mind

Image by Joe Crawford (artlung) / Flickr.

Security experts are pointing to the emergence of an arc of terrorist activity that stretches from the Sahel region of Africa, through the Maghreb region, all the way to the Arabian Peninsula. Increasingly, experts pinpoint the latest hotspots in the global geography of terrorism and then rationalize their existence as being the result of environmental conditions particular to that country or region. Growing concerns about “North African extremism” and “Yemen’s transnational militant jihadism” epitomize a problematic trend in the analysis of the roots of terrorism: the assumption that the origins of terrorism can be traced to a specific set of geographical and socio-economic conditions. The interdependent factors that underlie fragile states, such as natural resource scarcity and poverty, resource wealth and corruption, and weak centralized authority and disaffected minority groups, are used to explain the distribution and diffusion of terrorism among and within states.