The Obama administration opened a three-day summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) at the White House on Wednesday, inviting local, federal, and international leaders to discuss methods of combating domestic and international extremism.
The goals and outline of the summit mirror President Obama's 2011 strategy paper, titled Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States -- America's first attempt to address ideologically-inspired violence.
Addressing CVE on 3 Levels
The White House summit focuses on three primary methods to prevent and intervene in the spread of CVE.
The key points of the strategy are building awareness, countering narratives, and emphasizing community-led intervention:
- "Building awareness—including briefings on the drivers and indicators of radicalization and recruitment to violence;
- Countering extremist narratives—directly addressing and countering violent extremist recruitment narratives, such as encouraging civil society-led counter narratives online; and
- Emphasizing Community Led Intervention—empowering community efforts to disrupt the radicalization process before an individual engages in criminal activity." -- White House Press Release 2/18/2015
Encouraging a community-based dialog helps keep potential at-risk recruitment targets connected to the community, and not disconnected to the point of joining an extremist group or engaging in lone-wolf type violence.
When a disconnect does happen, the community needs to have the tools and knowledge to deal with it -- in 80 percent of all homegrown terrorism cases, community members witnessed the warning signs of a person becoming increasingly radicalized.
This is the same style of community-based enforcement used in suppressing gang activity throughout the United States for decades, which has worked by keeping the community engaged with its members and forming partnerships with communities and law enforcement.
Criticism of the CVE Summit
Much of the criticism of the CVE summit has focused on the administration's refusal to specifically label, or call out, the current radicalized Islamic (and/or jihadist) terrorism threats.
One report criticized the administration's willingness to address "social, economic and political marginalization, including the effects of integration of minority communities," but refusal to address underlying religious motivations.
This criticism was hardly honest to the transcript it was quoting, as the administration official directly stated:
Let’s be clear. We recognize that violent extremism spans many decades and has taken many forms. But we all agree that the individuals who perpetuated -- who perpetrated the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere are calling themselves Muslims and their warped interpretation of Islam is what motivated them to commit these acts. They’re not making any secret of that, and neither are we. But we are very, very clear that we do not believe that they are representing Islam. There is absolutely no justification for these attacks in any religion, and that’s the view of the vast majority of Muslims who have suffered huge casualties from the likes of folks like ISIL or al Qaeda. So you can call them what you want. We’re calling them terrorists. And the President is absolutely resolved to confront this threat. He’s made it clear that we’re at war with terrorist groups and he’s taken scores of high-level terrorists off the battlefield. So we are not treating these people as part of a religion. We’re treating them as terrorists. We call them our enemies and we’ll be treating them as such. -- White House Conference Call, 2/16/2015
Other criticisms revolve around existing community programs, including the ones touted by the administration during the opening day of the summit.
For instance, the program in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota area suffered fairly large community backlash because the program was seen more as a domestic surveillance program than one of community support. This fundamental community mistrust severely weakened the effectiveness of the program.
This criticism highlights a fundamental issue that needs constant attention; namely, how to effectively engage with the community without becoming a domestic spying program.
The Many Forms of TerrorismWhile Islamic radicalization has been at the forefront of our attention for the past 15 years, terrorism takes all shapes and forms.
An FBI composite report of all terrorism attacks in the United States from 1980 to 2005 highlights the fact that in terms of number of attacks, Jewish extremists have carried out more attacks on American soil than Islamic.These numbers are of course always tempered by the sheer number of deaths and injuries from 9/11 -- more than all other attacks combined. But these numbers do emphasize the fact that terrorism comes in all shapes and forms.
To be a functional program, the CVE idea must be flexible enough to combat terrorism in all forms -- not just religious extremism.
Hearts and Minds... Backed Up with Military Power
President Obama closed the summit on Wednesday with remarks about the criticism and goals of the CVE summit.
He reiterated the four key strategies: combating ideologies, addressing economic issues, addressing political issues, and forming partnerships with the community.All of these are designed to combat the radicalization of our citizens before (or even as) it happens.
But President Obama also made it clear that our military will root out and destroy the threats that exist or develop.
In short, the CVE summit is not designed to take the place of existing military intervention; it's designed to prevent further radicalization or the spread of extremism.
These same strategies have a proven track record in lowering gang activity throughout the United States, yet another form of domestic terrorism. When properly maintained, these programs successfully engage the community, eliminate recruitment strategies, and punish offenders through the legal system.
The key takeaway of the CVE summit: Sometimes the best foreign policy starts with our actions at home.
Photo Source: Reuters