The last few years have seen an incredible spike in the creation and deployment of Countering Violent Extremism (or CVE) programmes around the world. Although the meaning of the term is still developing, CVE generally is used to cover any effort that aims at stopping violent extremism (or radicalisation) from beginning or undo it once it has started. Some may see de-radicalisation programmes as part of this spectrum as well (I don’t personally but this is irrelevant to our conversation).
One thing that is also generally accepted is that governments should not play a major, up-front role in CVE. There are all kinds of reasons for this: distrust of government, lack of expertise, fears that CVE is merely a cover for spying and intelligence gathering, etc. Governments can be involved, but their involvement should be very much in the background (financing or sponsorship, getting credible actors together…). Should the state choose to dominate the process most feel that such a move is a recipe for failure.
Despite all this, governments do have a vested interest in seeing CVE strategies work. If such programmes can help even a few individuals avoid the path to violent radicalisation and terrorism, we all win. It is for this reason that these efforts are getting a lot of attention by officials around the world.
One interesting approach is the Extreme Dialogue project out of the UK. This effort was a joint one between the UK’s Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), the British film company Duck Rabbit, the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace and Canada’s Department of Public Safety using a funding mechanism known as Kanishka (a terrorism research project named after the 1985 Air India terrorist act). The collaboration between these bodies has been tight and advantageous (full disclosure: I assisted in developing the early parametres of Extreme Dialogue while working at Public Safety Canada).
If you go on the Extreme Dialogue Web site, you will see that the rather unique approach adopted is one of creating short (3-5 minute) films featuring individuals (all three so far are Canadian) affected by terrorism. These people tell their stories – all are quite different – in an effort to get dialogue going about violent extremism. All too often we hear from the terrorists themselves through their domination of social media. It is time the moral majority strike back.
It is hard to watch the films and not come away emotionally engaged. Daniel Gallant, a former skinhead, lists the myriad ways he was violent, the weapons he used, and, more importantly, the effect this lifestyle had on him. Christianne Boudreau talks about how it was to lose a child to Islamic State when her son Damian elected to join the terrorist group only to lose his life somewhere in Syria/Iraq. The most recent film, featuring Toronto resident Fowzia Duale Virtue, is a little less tied to the issue of violent extremism but does provide insight into growing up as a Somali immigrant in Canada. Discrimination and alienation may not been direct causes of violent extremism but there is little doubt they are issues we need to talk about.
These films are accompanied by learning modules and educational resources. It is unfortunate that an important issue such as violent extremism is not brought up enough in schools as this is precisely the place where the process often begins. Yes, there are many competing demands for material in our schools and no, violent extremism is NOT a big threat in our societies. Nevertheless, the ISD toolkit is a good one and should get more attention. Extreme Dialogue will not solve terrorism, but it is a great – and inexpensive – contribution to our collective efforts.
Extreme Dialogue is an excellent example of how governments and outside agencies/experts can work together to do CVE. Governments can be there to help get the ball rolling then step back and let those likely to resonate with target audiences step forward. This model is one that should be looked at as something for other countries to follow.
Kudos to ISD, Duck Rabbit, the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace and the Canadian government for their collaborative work.