This week, the White House hosted a summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) to discuss how the United States and its partners can counter extremist ideologies and prevent the radicalization of domestic individuals. The summit’s emphasis on countering homegrown terrorism comes in response to the evolving form of terrorism that has emerged in the last five to six years, occurring recently in Paris, Copenhagen, and many other cities. This summit’s focus echoed the conversation held by the Bedrosian Center with Errol Southers last month, one of the experts involved in implementing the United States’ first CVE initiative.
The U.S. government’s CVE strategy has three main aspects: building awareness, countering extremist narratives and emphasizing community-led intervention. This approach represents a shift in counterterrorism tactics to a community-led and community-specific approach, in which local law enforcement agencies are partnering with the community to address the potential for radicalization in the context of community needs. Implementers hope that messaging led by the community can help redirect nationalist or religious passion into community activism. Pilot programs are currently being implemented in Los Angeles, Boston, and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Southers, who is working with CVE community partners in Minneapolis, emphasized the importance of working with local community organizations, particularly religious groups, to identify individuals who are at risk for radicalization and/or recruitment by terrorist organizations early on.
Here in Los Angeles, community organizations like the Muslim Public Affairs Council have already implemented programs to identify people who may be vulnerable to violent extremism and to create alternatives, inspired by gang intervention programs such as Homeboy Industries. Their goal is both to counter the religious narrative of terrorist groups such as ISIS and to address the political and economic hardships that disaffected youth face.
Other organizations are looking to change broader attitudes toward Muslims and other groups who are often unjustly targeted as at-risk for terrorist activity. One Los Angeles, One Nation Initiative is a project by the California Community Foundation looking to change misperceptions of the American Muslim community and promote incorporation and civic engagement in the broader Los Angeles community.
County and federal agencies are now working with these and other community organizations to implement a CVE framework that targets radicalization and recruitment while preserving civil rights and building trust between government institutions and marginalized communities.
In addition to the community-based domestic strategy, the summit also focused on how the United States and other countries can work together to address the presence of terrorist organizations abroad. Some analysts argue that having Muslim states as partners is critical to an effective global strategy.
Collaboration between western and Muslim states should focus on fostering the rule of law to protect against civil rights violations and reduce corruption, symptoms of weak governance systems that allow terrorist organizations to take root. The United States and other nations can support capacity-building efforts in law enforcement and counterterrorism in order to build systems of effective governance.
For practitioners, the scope might be different between home and abroad, but the underlying principles are the same; effective governance involves ensuring that the civil rights of all communities are protected and that all are given equal economic and political opportunities.