September 22, 2021
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    New approach to understanding violent extremism

    August 26, 2019

    A new approach is needed to understand what attracts some young people to violent extremist groups such as those supporting radical Islam or far-right nationalism. Today the world is troubled by flashpoints of civil strife tearing apart countries from within and outside.

    Professor Hilary Pilkington, a sociologist from the University of Manchester in the UK, coordinating the work of the DARE consortium told University World News: “The traditional approach to terrorist research is failing because it tends to start by focusing on acts and agents of terrorism, such as the mass shooting at the Bataclan Theatre rock concert in Paris or the suicide bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and recent terrorist incidents in London.”

    Young people in the ‘grey’ zone Among those leading the four-year European Union-funded research is ViggoVestel, told University World News: “Our emphasis in DARE will be on dialogue. We want to hear young people’s own reflections, thoughts and emotions about these issues. Our research is about radicalisation, of course; but it is not just about attitudes that lead to violent behaviour or attitudes that support violence. It might be how they have become important societal critics.”

    “Whether moderate or radical, young Muslims said that world politics, the big politics, were very important to them. What happened in Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently in Syria and the treatment of Muslims in Burma (Myanmar) and prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay had a big influence on them.”

    Terrorism, radicalisation and violent extremism

    ‘Extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ continue to be understood differently in Western and non-Western contexts. One reason is terminology: Arab media today more commonly use ‘terrorism’ (irhab) or ‘militant terrorism’ (irhabmosalah) rather than ‘extremism’ (tataruf), and there is no equivalent to ‘violent extremism’. Writing for Al Hayat newspaper, Al Ghabra (2016) emphasises the Western roots of the concept of ‘terrorism’ as state-led, highlighting that the most common use today—to describe violence by non-state actors—contradicts this. He argues that a non-state actor who commits violence should not automatically be labelled an extremist or a terrorist: since both state and non-state actors can be violent, ‘terrorism should be defined as deliberate violence that targets innocent civilians and their assets’.

    Radicalisation in the Far East and South Africa

    The Diplomatreports, as Islamic State (ISIS) loses territory in its base, northern Iraq and eastern Syria, fresh concerns about returning foreign fighters have mounted in Southeast Asia. In December 2015, the Soufan Group estimated that some 900 Southeast Asian fighters, with a majority from Indonesia, had travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the fight. Official estimates from Southeast Asian intelligence agencies placed the number between 1,200-1,800. While it is difficult to estimate precisely how many fighters from the region are currently participating, the Straits Times reported most recently that some 392 Indonesians are believed to be fighting for ISIS in Syria. Malaysians have also been seen in ISIS videos, but they are believed to constitute a distinct second to Indonesian fighters.

    However, not all Southeast Asian who have travelled to ISIS-controlled territory are fighters. It appears that some 45 percent of the numbers estimated are women and children who have accompanied the men fighting in the Levant. Estimates also include those who have gone to fight alongside other rebel groups, including Jabhat-al-Nusra.

    In the first phase, from 2013-2014, the Islamic State’s potent online propaganda resulted in South Africans moving to join the groups self-declared Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. In the second phase, from 2014-2015, Islamic State recruiters took a more active interest in South Africa, and potential South African recruits were wooed online. Again, the purpose of these interactions was to persuade South Africans to join the Caliphate.

    The most recent phase, which began in 2015, saw the Islamic State adopt a different – and more ominous – approach towards its small South African constituency. Coming under increased military pressure in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State sought to expand its global footprint, and consequently directed South African sympathisers to remain at home.


    The UN

    António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that the Organisation had been established to prevent war by binding the international community in a rules-based international order. “Today, that order is under grave threat,” he stressed, noting that millions of people in crisis looked to the Security Council to preserve global stability and to protect them from harm. However, the enormous human and economic cost of conflicts around the world showed how complex and challenging that was. It was unfortunate that the international community spent far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them. “People are paying too high a price. You, the Member States, are paying too high a price. We need a whole new approach,” he underscored.

    Fodé Seck from Senegal, underscoring the need for a “paradigm shift” in the Council’s work, said more resources should be invested in prevention, in particular in Africa. Indeed, the effectiveness and efficiency of the Council’s work would depend on its capacity to see, analyse and prevent various threats, and to halt new ones. While the tools needed to achieve those goals existed, political will was often lacking. As a result, the Council acted too late, and its actions were costly and ineffective. Calling for the creation of synergies between the three recent reviews of United Nations peace operations, which had all placed emphasis on the importance of prevention, he said the protection of human rights and people on the ground were the only real guarantees of security. A lack of unity and political will on those issues had sometimes paralysed the Council in 2016, he said, stressing that Member States should unite around.

    Ana Silvia Rodríguez Abascal from Cuba said many conflicts over the last 70 years could have been prevented had the causes of conflict not been linked to the self-interest of the powerful few. Stable and lasting peace that would prevent the outbreak of conflict required respecting the sovereignty and political independence of all States.

    Sustainable peace also implied the rejection of aggression. There could be no peace and stability without development and as long as millions continued to be condemned to poverty and hunger. Manipulation and double standards had in no way contributed to peace. Improving the ability of the United Nations to prevent disputes was more effective than shouldering the aftermath of conflict.

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