Doing CVE right

With a new government sworn in yesterday in Canada, there is an added impetus to do CVE (countering violent extremism) in this country.  We used to do it, and do it well, until a few – ahem unfortunate – phrases were dropped over the past year by certain government officials.  We can now set that aside and get back to where we were – with a little work that is.

We’re not the only ones trying to do CVE.  Our friends south of the border, however, are having a tough time of it I see. According to the NYT (see article here), the FBI has created an interactive tool that helps people – teachers, parents, friends, etc. – identify someone going down the pathway to “radical extremism”.

The reception has been cool, to say the least.  The main criticisms seem to revolve around the belief that the Bureau has a “flawed” theory of radicalisation and that people are being asked to identify possible threats without training.  But the FBI did it right by asking focus groups for input.

I feel their pain.  In my recently-published book The Threat from Within I outlined 12 potential indicators of violent radicalisation, and when they were presented in brief in a major Canadian French-language daily I was roundly criticised.  People get their backs up when you talk about terrorism and it has gotten to the point where, in some cases, any attempt at dialogue offends someone.

This is a very difficult topic to broach with communities. When I was with Public Safety, we encountered individuals who were loath to talk about violent radicalisation and accused us of being Islamophobes – or worse.  Luckily these occasions were few and far between.  On the whole we got great interest and buy-in from those communities.

Which brings me back to the new government and its CVE plans (see article here).  For what it is worth, here are my suggestions, based on 32 years as an intelligence analyst and 18 months as an outreach advisor/participant”

  1. Keep the government role low-key.  “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” does not work on this file.
  2. Leverage community leaders.  They know their communities best
  3. Use Muslim youth. They have a wealth of energy and good ideas
  4. Make sure CVE covers the entire ideological spectrum, even if the single greatest national security threat today is from violent Islamists
  5. I know this one is nigh impossible but here it is anyway: do whatever you to ensure that senior public officials do not say anything really stupid (like equating wearing the hijab with terrorism – yes it was done!).

The new government has won a lot of early praise with how it intends to “do government”.  It will learn quickly that trust is hard to gain and easy to lose.  I like a lot of what  I have seen so far and am optimistic that they will get this right.  They certainly have some amazing people at Public Safety Canada and some great community contacts so much of the groundwork is already in place.

I wish them every success.  This topic is very important and it is even more important to do it well.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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