How not to counter violent extremism 


The first few months of Presidency of Trump has provoked for many in the United States and across the world to unite, to stand up and declare that intolerance will not be tolerated. The seven country ban and recommendation for torture is making America less safe, this is not my opinion but of those working to protect the USA. Former FBI agent Ali Soufan has written extensively on why the proposed travel ban, reintroduction of torture and rebranding of CVE to Combating violent Islamic extremism or Countering Radical Islam is highly problematic. Read more here
This has been echoed by the former FBI agent Errol Southers, the director of Home Grown Extremism studies at the university of Southern California, who I had the pleasure of meeting during my recent visit. Read more here

As a Muslim who works on understanding and challenging radicalisation, I take a constructively critical approach and aim to share my concerns. I have recently travelled across the US meeting with communities, academics, law enforcement, policy makers and practitioners. This has been a wonderful opportunity to connect with leaders from across Europe. Our discussions have focused on creating solutions to the issue of countering home grown terrorism which are credible whilst not alienating the communities that we need to engage and work with. 

I fail to understand the rationale of rebranding CVE to Countering violent Islamic Extremism or Combating Radical Islam, with a proposed strategy that intends to cut the funding to combat the threat of the far right. This proposed change is causing further polarisation of communities by further fuelling the far right and therefore will face greater opposition from Muslim communities than under the Obama administration. The inclusion of the term Islam or Islamic will will reinforce the narrative that this agenda is Muslim focused and that they are a suspect community who do not belong in America. This will feed further alienation and isolation, questioning American Muslim identity and potentially making them more susceptible to being radicalised.

A rebranding of CVE would be welcomed by many as it has divided communities and policy makers. I have spoken to many who consider this policy divisive and further marginalising the communities who are already feeling that they are under the microscope. I met a lawyer, a young Sikh lady, we discussed at length why she considered CVE to be fuelling prejudice and unfairly targeting Muslim communities. We discussed at length the need for a policy which is more balanced. These encounters reinforces the claims that Obama’s CVE programme has failed due to the opposition of Muslim communities. However this proposed rebranding has already caused disengagement by groups who have been engaged and delivering local solutions. I was surprised that CVE practitioners refuse to accept grant funds for local work as it causes them to lose credibility with the communities they work with. As an observation, CVE in the US is much more muslim centric than Prevent in the UK. 

If the new administration is adamant in rebranding CVE, then there needs to be a process of engagement, listening to those who have concerns and criticisms whilst addressing how the policy can be improved and shape a more positive strategy and practice. Engagement is essential, particularly when we see that many are feeling alienated and vocalising how CVE is fuelling Islamophobia. I would propose that the administration engages with those who are working in policy, research, law enforcement, practitioners and communities. There is a need to understand the challenges and existing good work, whilst developing a third way! Unless the future direction is effective in combating the Far Right, Far Left, Da’esh and other forms of homegrown terrorism, the issue will only worsen and make it more difficult to prevent and counter. 

Governments need the support of communities, leaders and activists if they are to be successful in countering radicalisation. I have met many recently who have actively engaged on CVE however have decided to disengage to retain credibility with the communities they serve. At a time when communities and practitioners need to be empowered to create local solutions, the administration is disempowering. 

It is no secret that the new US administration has links to the right, particularly those who feed the narrative that Islam is an ideology not a religion and the US is at war with Islam and Muslims. Ideologically this is highly problematic and creates fertile ground for radicalisation particularly as American Muslim identity and belonging is being questioned. The following article delves into this issue in more depth Here
I refuse to take a security approach to prevent & CVE, my approach is to use community engagement and development to work with communities where they are at rather than where you want them to be! I often question, how can we empower communities to tackle radicalisation? The US approach is overly led by law enforcement, which does not trust communities to be the solution. I have found that knowledge and confidence are two significant barriers, therefore we need to invest in communities and leadership. Create more shared spaces for academics, researchers, policy makers, leaders, communities and practitioners to share and learn together. The voices of researchers, formers and survivors needs to be amplified, whilst the responsibility is not on a few. We need to work together collectively to be part of the solution.  

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