In West Africa, Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls and demolished towns; ISIS has sought to create a state through terror in Iraq and Syria. In the U.S., Dylan Roof murdered worshippers in Charleston citing White Supremacist ideology. Violent extremism has become a pervasive global issue, manifesting in many different contexts in the U.S. and around the world, threatening both human and global security.
Just as the last decade of U.S. foreign policy was defined by the “Global War on Terror,” the next will be known as the “Countering Violent Extremism” or “CVE” regime.
Right now, governments across the globe are developing CVE strategies that will define aspects of their domestic and foreign policies for years to come. Civil society organizations from the humanitarian, development, peacebuilding and faith-based sectors, however, are concerned that these strategies will not be new – and will repeat many of the same mistakes of the Global War on Terror.
Now is thus a critical moment for policymakers to hear from experts and advocates in the peacebuilding community – those of us who know that violence only breeds more violence and repression more repression – about the shape these policies should take. As peacebuilders, it is our responsibility to ensure that civil society voices and approaches are part of the discussion.
In February 2015, the White House convened a summit to develop a strategy to reduce support for extremist movements. The U.S. government drafted a 9-point Action Agenda that outlines the U.S. plan to counter violent extremism around the globe.
The Summit encouraged intergovernmental collaborations and strategies with social media, the faith community, civil society and youth. Since the White House Summit, there have been several regional summits around the world focusing on specific aspects of CVE. To name a few this year: the European Conference in Oslo on June 4-5 focused on youth against violent extremism; the South and Central Asia Regional Civil Society Summit in Istanbul on June 23-25 was a civil society-led dialogue; and the CVE Summit in Algiers on July 22-23 focused on de-radicalization. In September, countries will come together in New York just before the start of the UN General Assembly to report back on the ways they plan to counter violent extremism.
A coalition of over 40 humanitarian, development and peacebuilding organizations – including the Shift Network – presented a joint statement to the U.S. government expressing common concerns and recommendations in response to the U.S.’s draft CVE agenda. In summary, the statement offered the following recommendations for the U.S. government:
1. Fund more development and peacebuilding programs designed to help local communities resolve problems that fuel radicalization, and encourage other countries to do the same
2. Make sure military counterterrorism operations don’t undo the progress made by development and peacebuilding investments
3. Invest in programs to help improve the relationship between citizens and their governments, and in methods to measure the progress of improvement
4. In the pursuit of security, make sure U.S. foreign assistance presses governments to protect their citizens’ rights, safety, and access to justice
5. Change security laws that block crucial humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts in communities where terrorist organizations may be active
6. Work with humanitarian organizations and local communities to create guidelines for good practices in reducing violent extremism
One view commonly shared among humanitarian organizations working around the world is that governments, including the U.S., should make sure CVE approaches are based on local communities' needs and good evidence of what really works. Making any CVE strategy effective and sustainable requires understanding the perspectives of local communities. Governments should increase independent, locally-led development and peacebuilding efforts that are addressing some of the core grievances that lead to terrorism. It is important to keep in mind, however, that action at the local level must not let national governments off the hook for issues that drive extremism, including corruption, repression by security forces, and human rights violations. Finally, governments must ensure military operations don’t create more anger and conflict in the process of stopping terrorist threats.
The challenge of global violent extremism does not lend itself to simple solutions, and it is not enough just to do what makes us feel safe. Extremist movements are growing, despite the resources that have been invested in rooting out terrorism. Real change will require a shift in strategy, and the expertise of our community is a necessary element of success.
To lend your voice towards a more human-centric U.S. policy that supports communities – rather than just militaries – in the fight against extremism, you can sign this petition - click here. (People from around the world can sign the petition). For more information and to stay engaged in this campaign, click here….
For people outside of the United States, please lobby your government officials with the recommendations outlined in this article and/or create a similar petition.