Think Global, Act Local: How to Prevent Militant Extremism at Home
This is part of a series from our Young Professionals Summit, a side event of Brussels Forum.
The German Marshall Fund (GMF) Brussels Forum hosted discussions on countering terrorism during a weekend that saw Belgian authorities arrest Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam and the death of the second American soldier fighting in the Coalition Against the Islamic State (ISIL). A great deal of effort and resources has already gone into the fight against violent extremism. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the total cost of operations against ISIL has already reached 6.5 billion USD and the average daily cost is 11.4 million USD. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said today at the Forum that intelligence sharing had improved markedly since the November 13th 2015 Paris attacks. He cautioned, however, that “we have to permanently adjust and do more – we need to try to better understand what is happening inside communities.”
The tendency of extremists to act as part of smaller cells, or as lone wolves, calls not only for better coordination among security forces, but also for prevention through the engagement of a broad spectrum of actors throughout our societies. Moroccan Head of Mission of the Royal Cabinet, Youssef Amrani, subscribed to this comprehensive approach to countering terrorism, focusing on political, economic, security and systemic elements. “We must deconstruct the extremist narrative, through the reform of education in our countries according to our values,” he said. Nancy Lindborg, President of the United States Institute for Peace, added, “we need to understand the forces that cause people to be resilient or susceptible to violent extremism at a local level.”
Confronting the root causes of terrorism begins at the community level. According to Nick Rasmussen, Director, National Counterterrorism Center, “the pathways to radicalization look very much the same despite an individual’s background.” Recalling that “there are more than 1 billion Muslims in the world under the age of 30” and “ideology has no borders,” Farah Pandith, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, underlined opportunities for youth engagement and prevention.
When looking at causal factors, GMF Brussels Forum panelists spoke out against a false supposition of causality between radicalization and migration or religion. EUPOL reported in January 2016 that “there is no concrete evidence that terrorist travellers use the flow of refugees to enter Europe unnoticed.” Analysis offered by Yves Goldstein, Head of Cabinet of the Minister President of the Brussels Capital Region, was that radicalism leads to Islamism, not Islam to violent Islamism.
The above insights, taken together, point to the idea that onus is on individuals to stamp out extremism in our communities. In the spirit of foresight and collective action, the following personal “to do list” includes ways that the Brussels Forum inspired me to contribute to building a more inclusive society in my adopted hometown of Brussels:
- Prevention through the spread of knowledge and experience. Continue to mentor and help other women, listen to their aspirations and challenges and build their capacity to contribute to the resilience of civil society. Inform others about opportunities for inclusive community building. Read and share information from news media and official sources, to amplify voices of reconciliation and restraint and bridge the knowledge gap about radicalism. Encourage deeper critical thinking about polarizing messages. Dedicate time each week to reading about another city or country grappling with this issue.
- Peer-to-peer support. Create space(s) for people in my neighborhood and religious center to learn about different cultures dealing with parallel challenges. Propose intercultural twinning and interfaith partnerships aimed at creating relationships that work towards common objectives. Generate possibilities for inter-generational dialogue and one-on-one confidential first responders for people in need of guidance. Volunteer to support extracurricular programs that bring children from diverse backgrounds together. Follow initiatives, such as the Strong Cities Network and Wiki-Prevent, and the Radicalisation Awareness Network, which provide vectors for partnering with communities.
- Promotion of role models for diversity. Encourage peer athletes, artists and community leaders to consider promoting dialogues on anti-extremism. Seek out and listen to ideas from friends in the media, marketing and tech sectors about on how to “deconstruct the rival brand” as Mr. Rasmussen put it. Work with adult learning educators to integrate lessons learned from countering extremism into andragogy.
- Urban development and outreach. Continue to support museums and the arts in under-visited neighborhoods. Engage local businesses in offsetting urban food deserts and the health disparities that underwrite them. Seek to address hunger in the city by investigating commercial food waste. Investigate the impact of differential community access to public services, transport and mobility.
The convergence of great minds and significant events during year’s Brussels Forum created a dynamic that emphasized importance of individual agency in protecting liberal values in the face of adversity. Ms. Lindborg called on the audience to avoid complacency and contribute to long-term efforts required to “tip the scales toward more even handed solutions.” To confront post-Westphalian threats to liberal values, Mr. Goldstein compelled participants to “think global, act local” – a generational challenge that I unreservedly accept.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.