Community-Based Strategies in Countering Violent Extremism: Specific Options for Citizen Action in Nigeria – Part II
Not an exhaustive document of CVE activities, this paper in four parts explores community-based initiatives being implemented around the world, with focus placed on Australia, Kenya, and the United States, as they represent different challenges. This paper does not provide analysis regarding political or military strategy within Nigeria, the region, or other countries. It does not profess to provide all of the solutions to countering violent extremism in Nigeria and the region. The purpose of this paper is to be a framework to foster dialogue regarding various ways in which local citizens, religious institutions, and NGOs can address violent extremism.
Examples of Community-Based Strategies in CVE: Countering the “Narrative”
The strategies and examples in CVE are unique to the location, as each country or region experiences different challenges, and support systems vary. While many CVE initiatives engage the local Muslim communities in an effort to reduce radicalization, and to assist in identifying potential threats, others do not. Unfortunately, many governments struggle with engaging marginalized communities in meaningful ways. For example, in some regions where Muslims are a religious minority, they are under constant surveillance as a community.
The importance of not placing an entire demographic under scrutiny or surveillance cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and as a result many Muslims have been concerned about being linked to CVE efforts. However, those that do engage with governmental officials, perhaps the most critical questions are: “Can I trust the government or its representatives of having mutual respect and understanding, as we seek the common goal of reducing radicalization in our community?” and “How will I be perceived by other community members and partner entities?”
The following strategies were derived from the desk research regarding official and unofficial CVE strategies in the three countries, as well as outcomes from the CVE conference that took place in Nairobi, Kenya this past June, which included various sectors of government and non-governmental entities, faith-based practitioners, and researchers, from 22 countries. An official CVE strategy is one that is created, and implemented or funded by a governmental initiative to counter violent extremism.
An unofficial CVE strategy is a program being implemented by a community organization or other private entity that indirectly serves the purpose of CVE, without being an initiative established for such purpose. Also, although not explicitly stated in each strategy, it is implied that racial, gender, and class- equity, as well as the inclusion of youth, should also be employed in the following strategies.
Countering the “Narrative”
In the context of this article and CVE, the narrative is defined as “an explanation or interpretation of events in accordance with a particular theory, ideology, or point of view.” Typically, there are two narratives often disseminated which can be problematic to the safety and security of citizens. In the case of extremists who promulgate violence in the name of Islam, the narrative typically targets moderate Muslims and non-Muslims. The other narrative which involves the hyper-scrutiny of Muslims, at times creates unsafe environments for Muslims or people who appear to “look Muslim.” This narrative, disseminated in multiple ways and often in the name of public safety, needs to be addressed as it does not foster an inclusive society, one of tolerance and respect. Both narratives focus on the “otherness” of the target group, and have the potential to intentionally or unintentionally promote violence.’
The following strategies address both narratives.
Strategy A: Reduce radicalization based on a specific personality, a current event, or worldview narrative
In recent years, international terrorist organizations have made significant use of the social media in its efforts to recruit. Therefore, new strategies need to be created to counter the narrative being purported by extremists.
Strategy A/Example 1:
The U.S.-based firm, Soliya [i] offers civil media.
According to their website,
Civil Media leverages the interactive potential of new communication technologies, but applies those technologies for two specific aims:
- to amplify voices from civil society so that they are heard across identity and ideological lines; and
- to catalyze constructive and respectful discourse across those lines about important socio-political issues.
Therefore, inspired, yet concerned about the proliferation of online spaces that seem to act as an echo chamber for like-minded ideas or hostile exchanges that promote animosity, Soliya created Connect as part of the civil media programming. Connect is “an online cross-cultural education program integrated into curriculum that provides students with a unique opportunity to: a) establish a deeper understanding for the perspectives of others around the world on important socio-political issues and why they feel the way they do; and b) develop ‘21st Century Skills’ such as critical thinking, cross-cultural communication, and media literacy skills.”
Strategy A/Example 2:
In 2014, the Australian government announced a new CVE program to counter various domestic and international narratives that may be a factor in someone’s radicalization. The Living Safe Together: Building Community Resilience to Violent Extremism, is a website that provides information that is community-based in many ways, with the purpose of preventing home-grown violent extremists. The website provides information on what communities can do to take action against violent extremism.
Strategy B: Support Culturally-Relevant Imam Training
In 2005, one of the initial acts of Australia’s Muslim Community Reference Group (referenced in Part 1) was to conduct an overview of the Islamic Studies at the universities. The study found that the courses were not cohesive, and determined that this was a problem that needed to be addressed. This was problematic because Australia had a history of “importing” imams. Although the imams served a purpose for specific ethnic communities, oftentimes these imams were not relevant to the youth because they did not understand the Australian culture, and were not able to mentor the youth as they lived a bi-cultural existence. Australia needed to train local imams who understood Australian culture, and could serve the Australian Muslim population [ii]. In countries where Muslims represent a minority citizen group, it is important to have trained imams that are able to serve the population in a way that support their place in society.
Strategy B/Example 1:
Zaytuna College [iii] is the first accredited Muslim liberal arts college in the United States. One of the college’s goals is to produce religious leaders who are equally cognizant of Islamic traditions and American culture, so they can meet the pastoral needs of American Muslims.
Strategy C: Creating Allies, Not Enemies: Intentionally Create Opportunities for Social and Political Inclusion
Oftentimes, people who become violent extremists do so because they experience social marginalization and political exclusion. Again, most people who are socially marginalized do not perpetrate violent acts against humanity; however, for those who do, being excluded from the political process and/or relegated to the margins of society are cited as factors that influence the decisions of those who take that route.
To be socially marginalized means that a particular group does not have equal access to the same rights and privileges afforded to others in a society. It often means having fewer opportunities for economic advancement, and being socially stratified across other determinants that affect the quality of life, such as educational attainment, housing, police harassment, and lack of employment. In addition, groups of people who tend to be socially marginalized are often also under-represented in the political arena, and in the process of developing policies to improve their socio-economic conditions.
As a result, some Muslims who may feel socially marginalized may develop an emotional affiliation and solidarity with an extremist ideologue who takes issue with some of the Western policies towards the region. This can occur in countries where Muslims are the minority or the majority. This alienation may lead the potential adherent to become disconnected from the process of policy-making and disassociation with the political system, resulting in additional feelings of being ignored by the government.
In a study commissioned by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship that focused on young Muslim attitudes in Melbourne and Sydney, it noted that the youth felt a “palpable sense of alienation from the Australian political system and the media” [iv]. In addition, the Australian government alluded that “Australian values were distinct and somewhat different from Islamic values.” [v]
It is imperative that increasing opportunities for social and political inclusion should be included in any CVE strategy plan. However, this process will take some time as trust will need to be built between the excluded group, in this case Muslims, and the existing power structure. In order to counter violent extremism, there needs to be a concerted effort to build trust with the national and local security entities and enhance partnership with the government, civil society, and private sector. It is also necessary to avoid often counter-productive approaches such as collective blame, punishment, and profiling based on faith.
Strategies that reduce social marginalization and increase political inclusion:
Strategy C/Example 1:
In the United States, the Muslim Public Affairs Council [vi] established the Congressional Leadership Development Program, a fellowship program that places interns on Capitol Hill in the office of a member of Congress, where they learn to “…have access to mentors, a hands-on learning environment, and tap into a network of industry leaders who shape policy in our nation’s capitol. Fellows also participate in weekly classes focusing on the inner workings of Washington – how to talk to congressmen, the art of networking, effective public speaking, and much more.” [vii]
Strategy D: Increase Understanding through Pluralistic Dialogue and Action
“Connecting the disconnected while fighting for dignity and a better life for those on the margins of society is what undergirds our collective work with black Pentecostal churches, synagogues and communities of all different backgrounds. It is what has inspired us to bring imams, priests and rabbis and their congregants together with the larger community of organizers and residents from across diverse neighborhoods on a number of occasions.” [viii]
Dr. Rami Nashashibi, Inner-City Muslim Action Network
Interfaith dialogue and action are beneficial in countering violent extremism; not only for the purpose of reducing potentially violent actors from committing atrocities through an understanding of our shared humanity, but also from members of communities not targeted for efforts in CVE. It is important for non-Muslims to better dialogue with Muslims in order to better appreciate and celebrated our shared humanity.
Celebrating a shared humanity will create allies who will support more inclusive programs and policies, and who will become outspoken in reducing any anti-Muslim sentiment that may lead to violence perpetrated by Muslim or non-Muslim extremists. Interfaith work can be in the form of training human resource staff and law enforcement about Muslims, a multi-faith speakers’ bureau that facilitates discussions about Islam and other faith traditions to various communities, or programs that demonstrate our common values.
Strategy D/Example 1:
The Inner-City Muslim Action Network [ix] located in the United States facilitates interfaith interaction in a “non-interfaith” environment through the organization’s CommUNITY Cafés and Takin It to the Streets: Urban International Festivals.
IMAN’s CommUNITY Cafés are one of the few Muslim-led efforts in the United States that provide a space for people to collectively celebrate and engage in diverse and creative artistic expression. CommUNITY Cafés allow for community members to utilize the arts as a tool for cross-cultural communication, civic engagement, and social change.
In addition, the organization’s Takin’ It to the Streets: Urban, International Festival is a one of a kind biennial event that brings a wide range of diverse people from various ethnic groups and faith traditions together from across Chicago, Illinois, and the world to the historic community of Marquette Park, for artistic performances that are urban and global expressions from Hip-Hop to Qawwali, breakdancing to live art. Both of these events create opportunities for Muslims, especially Muslim youth, to engage with other Muslims and non-Muslims in a way that demonstrates inclusion and appreciation for our shared humanity.
Strategy D/Example 2:
In the United States, the Interfaith Youth Core[x] supports interfaith dialogue on college campuses through its Better Together Campaign and Interfaith Leadership Institutes. Better Together is a network for college students to support one another as they work for social change and prove that our differences can be a force for good. Interfaith Leadership Institutes equip undergraduate students, staff, and faculty with the skills to engage diverse religious and non-religious identities to build the interfaith movement on their campuses.
Strategy E: Grassroots partnerships between law enforcement and local communities
It is important to stress that policy makers and law enforcement must ensure that efforts in CVE do not perpetuate a system of demonization or negative attitudes towards an entire group of people because a few members have committed acts of violence. It is important not to define or presume that certain populations or groups of people are more vulnerable to violent extremism, and then develop CVE-strategy to “counter-populations” instead of addressing specific entities within a population. The most sustainable methods in CVE are indirect, community-based, and community-driven. Grassroots partnerships between law enforcement and local communities are necessary in any initiative to counter violent extremism. Partnerships could include:
- Mapping community perceptions of local sources of insecurity. Local community members often know who are potential extremists and where they live, however, may be reticent to support an endeavor if mutual trust has not been established; or
- Facilitate trust-building, joint training activities, and joint safety policies and strategies between community members, local authorities, and civil society.
To come :
Part 3 | Examples of Community-Based Strategies in CVE: Youth and Reintegration )
The next section will illustrate strategies to counter violent extremism by addressing basic needs.
[ii] Akbarzadeh, S. (2013) “Investing in Mentoring and Educational Initiatives: The Limits of De-Radicalisation Programmes in Australia”, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 33, No. 4, 451–463 http://www.deakin.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/184559/Akbarzadeh-JMMA2013-De-radicalisation.pdf
[iv] Akbarzadeh, S. (2013) Investing in Mentoring and Educational Initiatives:The Limits of De-Radicalisation Programmes in Australia, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 33:4, 451-463, http://www.deakin.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/184559/Akbarzadeh-JMMA2013-De-radicalisation.pdf
[viii] Nashashibi, R. (2012) “Finding Common Ground in the Sacred Community.” American Muslims, http://photos.state.gov/libraries/amgov/30145/publications-english/American_Muslims.pdf pg. 58