20 Years after 9/11, Evidence has shown that violent extremism is too complex to be defeated with security-centred approaches

27/09/2021

20 Years after 9/11, Evidence has shown that violent extremism is too complex to be defeated with security-centred approaches

This article is published in the framework of the PAVE Project website. September 11th 2021 marked the 20th anniversary of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City and US Pentagon. The PAVE partners acknowledge the turning point that this traumatic event and its ramifications manifest, with a large impact on the way that we look at violent extremism today.

When taking stock of the often one-dimensional, porous, and security-based approaches that have been implemented to tackle the threat of violent extremism in response to the 9/11 attacks, the value of resilience-focused projects stands out. In the aftermath of 11th September 2001, it became apparent to Western governments that the threat of violent extremism was not limited to conflict-prone countries, but affected them domestically. Nevertheless, the US and its allies initially externalised their responses to a large part in form of military operations against violent extremists’ networks and the countries where these were expected to be based. Apart from these large-scale military operations that have shown to be ineffective – if not making things worse – governments’ domestic responses have mostly taken the form of top-down security measures. Soon, it became clear that one-dimensional policies and programmes focussing on the criminalisation of radicalised individuals and labelling entire communities as a security threat are unsuccessful, because they leave the root causes of the phenomenon unaddressed and contribute to social exclusion. In line with previous research on the topic, preliminary findings from our PAVE research in Germany suggest that “the search for a sense of belonging is one of the drivers of violent extremism, and communities can play a central role in providing a social security net for vulnerable individuals” (Johanna-Maria Hülzer, Berghof Foundation). In light of the failure of the so-called ‘war on terror’, the need to develop a more profound understanding of the complex societal embeddedness of violent extremism came to the fore. According to Maja Halilovic Pastuovic from Trinity College Dublin, this would involve moving beyond the ‘young vulnerable individual’ model, currently used in most Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) interventions, and taking into account historical circumstances and political cleavages which may be of relevance for the development of violent extremism.

In 2014, United Nations Security Council resolution 2178 established a new policy agenda towards violent extremism by introducing a ‘soft-power’ approach directed at preventing violent extremism (PVE), emphasising dialogue and inclusion, as well as engagement with civil society and marginalised social groups. For example, Gillian Wylie from Trinity College Dublin argues that “while ‘protecting women’s rights’ was often used as a rationale for Western interventions, the importance of listening to women in communities and learning from their activism is essential in building peace.” In order to develop and implement effective, socially sustainable and less state-centred tools for PVE, the local realities of affected communities and the complex manifestations of violent extremism need to be taken into account. According to Ramadan Ilazi from the Kosovar Centre for Security Studies, “local understandings of the processes of radicalisation and vulnerability were largely ignored in an effort to impose preconceived notions of violent extremism that overemphasized religious radicalisation while ignoring other issues. Furthermore, building community resilience against radicalisation was also largely based on copy-pasting external models while undermining local agency. These led to marginalization of particular communities and inadvertently became push factors for some people towards violent extremism.” The PAVE project aims to contribute to rectify skewed understandings of violent extremism by researching ways and developing tools to strengthen local agency in the fight against it, as well as taking different kinds of extremisms and the realities of affected communities into account. See how the PAVE researchers explain the different layers of the project in our partner interview videos.

The PAVE project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870769.