Jan 21, 2021

The domestic threat of violent extremism and radicalization through social media

By Dr Baba J Adamu

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The rises of domestic violence and extremism views are a serious and growing national security threat that requires focus on evolving threats of radicalization, the role of social media, opportunities to improve information sharing, effective engagement, operational responses and building digital resiliency. The focus should be on efforts to counter extremism and radicalization with a new policy review on how to disrupt violent extremist social media networks and prevent radicalization.


Understanding Violent Extremism and Radicalization to Violence: Violent extremism is a term describing the beliefs and actions of people who support or use violence to achieve extreme ideological, other or political goals. Radicalization is a process by which an individual or a group gradually adopts extreme positions, a belief system that justifies the use of violence to advance their cause or ideologies that are opposed to the status quo and challenge mainstream ideas.


Why and how groups get involved in violent extremism? Group dynamics and environment play important roles in shaping individual involvement and action in violent extremism. Even for individuals who seemingly operate alone, their actions are often shaped through their relationships with groups, social media and networks and their environment both in-person and online. The processes involved in group and social network include:

  • Intra-group influences: Groups can exert important influences on their members. For example, research has shown that people in a group setting often feel pressure to conform and maintain group cohesiveness, making them reluctant to disagree with others in the group. People also tend to believe that unanimity exists among group members; regardless if that is true. Moreover, group discussions can lead individuals to become more entrenched in their pre-existing views and beliefs, and increase their openness to make riskier decisions;

  • Competition within groups and networks: Sometimes groups will compete against each other, even though they espouse the same ideology, to demonstrate credibility or superiority by engaging in violence. Alternatively, individuals can splinter off from a group because the group is unwilling to use violence, therefore leaving a splinter group united by their willingness to use violence;

  • Isolation and separation: Research has shown that fellow group members are considered more persuasive, while outsiders tend to be viewed as having a hidden agenda. This can sometimes lead groups, especially groups that experience opposition from mainstream society, to isolate themselves, where they increasingly rely on their members for information, confirmation, and justification. Ignoring outside voices, extremist groups can drift further into extremism and ultimately into violence;

  • History and experience: Groups or social networks can become inspired by the past in their search for ways to address current grievances. This is why ideologically-driven violence is frequently linked with specific places and individuals or groups that have experienced past violence or collective trauma;

  • Perceiving a threat of marginalization or fraud: Groups sometimes resort to violence when members believe they are under threat. The threat can be specific, such as when groups feel attacked by mainstream society, the government of marginalization, the media, or the police. The threat can also be more diffuse, such as when groups feel they are losing their values and traditions, or during periods of economic hardship and high unemployment, or at times of large political and social change like in the case of US 2020 election where about half of all Republicans believed that President Donald Trump "rightfully won" the U.S. election but that it was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud that favoured Democratic President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.

When does Radicalization Occur? Radicalization occurs when a person or group takes on extreme ideas and begins to think they should use violence to support or advance their ideas or beliefs. These beliefs can fall along a wide spectrum of ideologies, including political, social, racial, radical and religious ideologies. The threat of radical terrorism is high with the majority of attacks taking place in conflict zones, such as Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Afghanistan. In the years 2015 - 2018, dozens of religious terrorist attacks were carried out in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Conflict zones serve partly as a breeding ground for radical Islamist terrorism, as apparent from the success of the terrorist organization ISIL in Syria and Iraq, for example. Radicalization to violence is not a phenomenon that uniquely affects individuals of any particular background, culture or religion as seen in the case of the US Capitol attack on Jan 6, 2021. On January 6, 2021, rioters supporting United States President Donald Trump's attempts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election stormed the United States Capitol. After breaching multiple police perimeters, they vandalized, ransacked and occupied parts of the building for several hours. The storming led to the evacuation and lockdown of the Capitol building, and it disrupted a joint session of Congress assembled to count the electoral votes and formalize Joe Biden's election victory as President of the U.S. The rioters gathered in support of Trump's false claims that the 2020 election had been "stolen" from him. Summoned by Trump, thousands of supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., on January 5 and 6 to demand that Vice President Mike Pence and Congress reject Biden's victory. The rioters quickly became extremely violent, assaulting a police officer who later died, erecting a gallows on the Capitol grounds, assaulting the press, and desiring to take hostage and harm lawmakers such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Pence, the latter for refusing to invalidate Biden's victory, with a total of 5 deaths.


The socio-economic circumstances, levels of education, ethnic/religious affiliations, experiences of marginalization or perceived election fraud play a major role in violent extremism. Also, some factors like a call by a disgruntled leader to violence can influence an individual's path to radicalization to violence. These can be specific to the individual or can be based on their immediate surroundings, or society at large. In all cases, however, the justification for the use of violence is tied to some form of extremist ideology or belief system. Anyone factor on its own is not typically enough to motivate an individual to commit violence. Generally, numerous factors interact to propel individuals towards radicalization to violence. These may include:

  • A call to violence by a disgruntled leader:  For instance, President Trump held a simultaneous rally with a speech that incited a mob that broke into the Capitol;

  • Social networks: Close friends and family can influence an individual's interest in an extremist ideology that calls for violence. Online communities or social media exert a similar influence;

  • Grievances: Some individuals become so preoccupied with social injustice, real or perceived that they join an extremist group that promises to challenge it through violence. These grievances can range from feeling personally discriminated against perceived injustices occurring locally or abroad;

  • Vulnerabilities: In some cases, individuals may be seeking to escape from or solve personal problems (e.g. poor family relationships, debt, lack of a job, idleness, etc.);

  • Sense of belonging: Similar to joining criminal gangs, joining violent extremist groups or causes can make individuals feel like they are part of a group;

  • Inclination towards violence: Some individuals are simply attracted to violence, while others are drawn to the perceived heroic roles promised to those who join violent extremist or terrorist groups.

Whether and how diverse influences contribute to harmful behaviour in a given case is also shaped by the presence or absence of protective factors. These include:

  • Positive influences of credible friends, family members or mentors;

  • Belief systems that reject violence as a solution to problems;

  • Other sources of purpose and social belonging, such as employment, school, sports or cultural, religious and traditional activities;

  • Trusted avenues for concerned friends, family, front-line practitioners and community members to seek help in understanding and addressing worrisome signs;

  • Professionals who are trained to assess risks and provide tailored interventions.

Countering Radicalization: Countering radicalization to violence should be a key priority for all governments’ efforts. This work includes:

  • New policy guidance: including the development of the National Strategy on Countering Radicalization to Violence;

  • Promoting coordination and collaboration: with a range of actors to respond to local level realities and prevent radicalization to violence. These partnerships include all levels of government, communities, community organizations, front-line workers and practitioners, academics, and police, etc.;

  • Funding, planning and coordinating research: to better understand radicalization to violence and how best to counter it. Also, mobilizing evidence to reach front-line workers and practitioners who are working to prevent radicalization to violence;

  • Targeted programming: through local Community Centre to provide financial support to initiatives that aim to prevent radicalization to violence.

Given the international dimension of the threat from violent extremism, the local Community Centre should work in close collaboration with key strategic partners like in Africa: AU, ECOWAS, and internationally like the US, UK, the Group of Seven (G7), the European Union and the Global Coalition against terrorism, which is a partnership of 79 countries that are united in efforts to defeat terrorism through multiple fronts, including preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across borders and countering the group's communications.


Harmful Impacts of Radicalization: As suggested by the different ways in which individuals, groups and social networks become involved in violent extremism and terrorism, there are various ways in which these activities create harm to individuals, families, communities and society as a whole. These include:

  • Physical, emotional and psychological impact: The most obvious harm is the direct victimization of those who experience and witness attacks. Violent extremism can also create fear and increase people's sense of insecurity of society as a whole;

  • Normalization of violent action and rhetoric: There is evidence that exposure to some forms of extremist and terrorist violence can lead to its perpetuation;

  • Polarization: A significant concern is that the destructive actions of some individuals or groups will prompt stereotypes and 'reciprocal' radicalization by opposing individuals or groups. This dynamic can potentially worsen larger-scale divisions and grievances;

  • Reduction of trust: Some studies on the impact of terrorism find that terrorist attacks are associated with lower levels of trust in national institutions and the legal system.

Again, there is also evidence about what can protect individuals and society against the harmful impacts of extremist and terrorist violence. These can include:

  • Effective, appropriate support for victims of attacks in the short, medium and long term;

  • Meaningful, non-violent avenues to address grievances and conflicts and to advocate for social change;

  • Positive social values, including mutual respect, social engagement and sense of belonging for all;

  • Ways to de-escalate, counter and marginalize destructive discourses in the media and public sphere;

  • Well-functioning state, social institutions and media platforms and outlets that are viewed as procedurally fair.

Building Digital Resilience & Effective Engagement: In today’s digital age, social media or online activities can facilitate the radicalization to violence process or be used by those who have already radicalized to violence to further their cause, obtain recruits and circulate information on how to commit attacks. Preventing and countering radicalization to violence online is complex and requires a multi-stakeholder approach that includes national and international engagement with technology companies, academic researchers and civil society. In this regard, governments should promote evidence-based efforts to prevent and counter-radicalization to violence online through support for initiatives such as:

  • Digital literacy: Guidelines can help people of all ages develop critical thinking skills and build resilience to violent extremist and terrorist content online. Young people, in particular, can learn how to interact respectfully with others in the online space; to understand contexts of content they see, and to create, engage with and share online content in a responsible, safe and secure way.

  • Alternative narratives: The best efforts to challenge violent extremist and terrorist narratives include alternative points of view developed and delivered by trusted and credible sources. These alternative narratives, effective engagement may relate to topics such as participation in democratic processes; the value and importance of inclusion and diversity; critical consumption of media; or positive roles played by all Good People.

Effective engagement with youths is critical to challenging violent extremist and terrorist use of the internet and social media. Young people nowadays understand the online environment and how their peers use new and emerging social media platforms. In engaging and driving sustainable political and social discussion, the Government can develop and transmit effective alternative narratives that point to the errors, myths and contradictions in violent extremist and terrorist messaging. Also, they can provide pro-social influences for their peers and can steer their energy toward positive political and social endeavours. The government must indirectly prioritize work with the youths; fund projects to provide a better understanding of the risks faced by youths in the online space, and facilitate engagement between youths and key partners, such as technology companies, researchers and academicians etc. Technology companies control the use of their platforms, have influence over their users and the content they host, and own data critical to understanding how to counter violent extremists and terrorist use of the internet.


Reliable Sharing Knowledge: For the knowledge base to be useful, best practices in countering radicalization to violence must be shared with the right people in the right way. Especially for early prevention and building resilience, knowledge must reach many different audiences: front-line workers, such as health and social service providers, teachers and other professionals in the education system, faith leaders, as well as parents, traditional leaders, friends and community leaders/members, drug centers etc., who may be dealing directly with an individual radicalizing to violence. The knowledge must be useful and resonate with their perspectives. Some initiatives to counter radicalization and in essence countering terrorism call for engaging specific populations like the youths, or emphasizing the importance of families - and women in particular - as crucial for prevention. Yet these populations are often very diverse especially in African settings, whereby segments of these populations have very different social, political and ideological views from each other. Countering radicalization to violence is a relatively young field compared to other areas of prevention. Therefore, building a knowledge base is a key priority for any Government to ensure that evidence-based work is used to guide policies and the creation and implementation of programs to prevent and counter-radicalization. While the evidence is crucial to inform best practices, it is also crucial to avoid the possible harms of efforts aimed at countering radicalization. Knowledge, based on research, monitoring, measurement and evaluation, is a safeguard that can help prevent the potentially harmful consequences of even the best-intentioned programs. On the one hand, failure to identify an individual radicalizing is a missed opportunity to intervene. On the other hand, mistakenly identifying an individual as radicalized can harm their reputation, and risk stigmatization from friends, relatives, and entire communities.


Counter-Terrorism: The main focus in counter-terrorism is on prevention, which refers to addressing underlying causes, motivations and other factors that may lead to violent radicalization and ultimately even enlistment in terrorist groups. A key element in the prevention of terrorism is to incorporate the prevention of polarization and inequality in society in policies and strategies. Polarisation and social exclusion increase a sense of alienation, which in turn may breed violent radicalization and terrorism. The Strategy must be the combatting means activity by the authorities to detect and combat the terrorist offences defined in the Criminal Code as early as possible. Every effort should be made to detect terrorist offences, the escalation of phenomena linked to terrorism and terrorist activities employing comprehensive intelligence-gathering, analysis of data and observations, investigative measures, and cooperation among the authorities both nationally and internationally.


Pre-Emptive Neutralization: Some countries see pre-emptive attacks as a legitimate strategy. This includes capturing, killing, or disabling suspected terrorists before they can mount an attack. Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Russia have taken this approach, while Western European states generally do not. Another major method of pre-emptive neutralization is the interrogation of known or suspected terrorists to obtain information about specific plots, targets, the identity of other terrorists, whether or not the interrogation subjects are guilty of terrorist involvement. Sometimes more extreme methods are used to increase suggestibilities, such as sleep deprivation, drugs or ‘waterboarding’. Such methods may lead captives to offer false information in an attempt to stop the treatment, or due to the confusion caused by it. These methods are not tolerated by European powers. In 1978 the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Ireland v. United Kingdom case that such methods amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment and that such practices were in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights Article 3 (art. 3).


Non-Military Campaigns: The human security paradigm outlines a non-military approach that aims to address the enduring underlying inequalities which fuel terrorist activity. Causal factors need to be delineated and measures implemented which allow equal access to resources and sustainability for all people. Such activities empower citizens, providing 'freedom from fear' and 'freedom from want'. This can take many forms, including the provision of clean drinking water, education, and vaccination programs, provision of food and shelter and protection from violence, military or otherwise. Successful human security campaigns have been characterized by the participation of a diverse group of actors, including governments, NGOs, and citizens. Foreign Internal Defense (FID) programs provide outside expert assistance to a threatened government. FID can involve both non-military and military aspects of counter-terrorism. A 2017 study found that "governance and civil society aid is effective in dampening domestic terrorism, but this effect is only present if the recipient country is not experiencing a civil conflict.


Military Campaigns: Terrorism has often been used to justify military intervention in countries like Pakistan, Iraq and in some African countries like Nigeria, Somalia where terrorists are said to be based. That was the primary stated justification for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (U.S. Marines in Afghanistan). It was also a stated justification for the second Russian invasion of Chechnya. Military intervention has not always been successful in stopping or preventing future terrorism, such as during the Malayan Emergency, the Mau Mau uprising, and most of the campaigns against the IRA during the Irish Civil War, the S-Plan, the Border Campaign (IRA) and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Although military action can temporarily disrupt a terrorist group's operations, it sometimes does not end the threat completely. Thus repression by the military in itself, particularly if it is not accompanied by other measures usually leads to short term victories, but tends to be unsuccessful in the long run (e.g., the French doctrine described in Roger Trinquier's book Modern War used in Indochina and Algeria). It is equally important to know the root cause of terrorism.


What are the causes of Terrorism?

Terrorism is perhaps one of the most challenging problems of our times. For those who have not seen the effects of terrorism firsthand, its effects may have not hit home yet; but one can say for sure that the world is not safer today than it was yesterday. It doesn't matter anymore which part of the world one lives in. The unfortunate reality is that terrorism has gone global and every world citizen is equally susceptible and vulnerable. To solve terrorism, governments must first understand what causes it. In addressing the issue of terrorism in the world, it is vitally important to address the Carnegie Commission indicators using what is referred to as the Deep Prevention method; and to look at the concept of peace-making in protracted social conflict, which is an important part of an emerging theory of international conflict, taking into account peculiar local situation, combining domestic-social and international dimensions and focusing at a hybrid level between insurgency and purely domestic rioting or unrest, which can escalate into terrorism. This model anticipates much of the re-evaluation of international relations thinking that has occurred since the end of the Cold War. What will make it possible to unlock these intractable conflicts is of-course, the application of human needs theory through the problem-solving approach. Needs theory holds that deep-rooted conflicts are caused by the denial of one or more basic human needs, such as rights, security, identity and recognition, or simply a mode of expression. The theory distinguishes between interests and needs: interests, being primarily about material goods, can be traded, bargained and negotiated; needs, being non-material cannot be traded or satisfied by power bargaining. However, non-material human needs are not scarce resources, like territory, oil, minerals, and water and are not necessarily in short supply. With proper understanding, conflicts based on unsatisfied needs that may lead to terrorist acts can be resolved, and thereby focus on those that cannot be resolved, and address them properly, timely and pre-emptively.


The popular perceptions for the causes of terrorism include:

Poverty & Addressing Socio-Economic Drivers and Promoting Social Inclusion: One of the most popular explanations is that poverty alone breeds terrorism. This is arguably not true at all. Poverty and despair play a role in radicalization and so also lack of social inclusion. When 80% of people live with less than a dollar a day, begging for food with no opportunities for the future, no justice, no education, no job, no government support, those are easy recruits for radical movements and terrorism. At the same time, one can find details of the relatively well-off, rich or middle class, well-educated extremists, who carried out or planned to carry out terrorist acts all across the world. The connection between poverty and terrorism has been exaggerated over time. There are also many poor places around the world where there are no terrorists at all (parts of South America, Africa, and Asia). However, recent research on radicalization among Africans and Central Asian labour migrants in Russia as well as other studies conducted by UNDP in other regions all point to the fact that recruits often come from borderlands or peripheral areas that have suffered from marginalization. They all tend to have lower levels of secular education and low levels of religious literacy. Employment is often the most cited reason for joining extreme groups. The main reasons at the time of joining are perceived marginalization, employment, security, to belong to something or to have something to do, water, electricity and education. They tend to have limited confidence in institutions, little trust in politicians and security apparatus and believed that the government has no compassion towards them. Illegal and uneducated migrants abroad face wider vulnerabilities that are more easily exploited. At the same time, it is argued that the stigmatization and securitization of labour migrants can in turn lead to social exclusion and foster grievances.


An example is where a reformed society member, who has many years of experience working on radicalization in communities, mentioned that she had never come across a single case where religion alone had been the motivation. Most either had financial problems or had been rejected and lacked love and confidence, which they sought by joining extremist groups. One conclusion that can be drawn is that, although poverty plays a role, it is not about just poverty, but the lack of dignity, marginalization and social exclusion that pushes people to join violent groups. From such findings, it becomes clear that unresolved grievances combine with social and economic exclusion (lack of social inclusion) enable easy recruitment. Grievances (push factors) are exploited by extremists, who then lure others with promises of job opportunities and other pull factors. There has to be a better understanding of the tipping point when grievances over horizontal inequalities become conditions for violent extremism and terrorism.


Undemocratic (Totalitarian) Governments: Some argue that non-democratic governments breed conditions that extremists can exploit to further their agenda. This idea too is not so correct. North Korea is non-democratic and so is China and one does not see either of them breeding "global terrorists" who plan attacks around the world. Besides, it was also obvious that the communist systems in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were much more effective in preventing these kinds of attacks than the democracies of West Europe.


According to James M. Lutz and Brenda J. Lutz, their analysis did not provide strong support for the idea that democracies have been more prone to terrorist violence, or at least international terrorism. “The conventional wisdom of such a connection, however, cannot be discounted. Globally, the presence of democratic systems was at least at times negatively associated with more terrorism at marginal levels. The regional analysis indicated that in the Middle East the connection was very much stronger indeed”.


One indirect indication of democratic vulnerability to terrorism is the general absence of non-state terrorism in totalitarian (undemocratic Government) societies. These most repressive systems have been relatively free of such terrorist activity. Totalitarian governments have advantages in dealing with potential terrorist groups. They do not have to worry about collecting evidence for a trial or presenting credible or compelling evidence. They can also use more extreme methods of interrogation or even threaten family members as a means of gaining leverage with suspects. Undemocratic regimes have also been willing to track down dissidents abroad to eliminate them. The security services in Nazi Germany proved to be quite capable of dealing with opponents by using such techniques. The KGB in the former Soviet Union was also notoriously effective in dealing with dissidents or presumed dissidents, and outbreaks of terrorism were noticeably absent in the Soviet Union before its collapse. Terrorist actions were also few in numbers in Saddam Hussein's Iraq under the Ba'ath regime. By contrast, the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq have been accompanied by noticeable increases in terrorist activity. However, the absence of terrorism in totalitarian societies does not mean that democracies are uniquely vulnerable. Weaker states of all types have provided opportunities for terrorism, including weaker undemocratic states.


It has also been suggested that political systems in transition may be more vulnerable. When political systems are in transition, police and security forces are often in disarray and control mechanisms are weaker. The states formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the current Iraqi government and Libya qualify as weaker states compared to their predecessors and also as political systems currently in transition or at least in transition in the recent past. Societies in the transition from a non-democratic regime to a democratic government may be particularly vulnerable since the grip of the old security forces on society is diminished while the new freedoms provide opportunities for violent dissidents. Democratic regimes, by contrast, are assumed to provide more tempting locations for terrorist activities than totalitarian states. Democracies are by definition more open politically, and some protections come with respect for civil liberties. Furthermore, restrictions on surveillance, concerns for civil liberties, and a free press and investigations by the security forces and police agencies are in force. Weaker intelligence-gathering capabilities mean that the ability to pre-empt terrorist groups before they strike is more limited. Checkpoints, where identity papers need to be presented, are unusual and infrequent. Moreover, democracies also have relatively weaker control of their borders, thereby providing opportunities for in- and ex-filtration. Recent debates about immigration policies in the United States and Western Europe reflect some of the concerns that can exist with more open borders (notwithstanding recent practices in the US for dealing with enemy combatants). Moreover, even when terrorists are arrested, there are usually limits to the length of detention and clear limits on the mechanisms that can be used in the interrogation of suspects. In democracies, suspects are generally given fair trials and have the opportunity of gaining an acquittal if the evidence is insufficient or poorly presented.


Alienated Intelligentsia: This is believed to provide a good explanation. Looking at some of the high profile conflict areas around the world and the individuals involved, one can almost always see that there is an intellectual class that rules the hordes of the fanatics. There is a brain behind all the bombings, the kidnappings, the terrorist acts, etc. And in most cases, these are educated, well-to-do people who have everything in life but have a sense of disaffection, alienation or resentment against the establishment of the system or simply greed. They aren't happy with the way the world is at present and want to do something about it. These are the most dangerous terrorists, far more than any of the foot soldiers who carry out the actual attack. These are the brains that brainwash, radicalize and pressure confused young men and women; quite often children as well. In the 1920s, a bunch of different threads came together and crystallized as the Modern liberal intelligentsia which replaced the Victorian mainstream, then, intellectuals had witnessed a society-wide crisis of authority and became acutely aware of the bifurcation between themselves and the rest of society. The inevitable pressure of industrial and technological progress compelled these realizations, now seemed prosaic in its human origins, relentless in its application, and impervious in the independence of any individual or collective intention. It was a force that ran on its own accord. Intellectuals responded in two ways: First, a large number gravitated toward modernist beliefs that were concerned, above all, with autonomy and independence; second, intellectuals redefined and reconceptualized culture in fundamentally new ways that allowed them to style a new kind of cultural politics that could potentially allow them to shape and direct the American response to change.


Russia in the 1860s was a place of turmoil, a battleground of radical political ideals where Populism and nihilism, wielded by the radical intelligentsia, clashed against the status quo of Russian autocrats and orthodoxy. It was in this period that some historians argue that modern terrorism was spawned. Contrary to the previous age, intelligentsia sought to wield the bomb or gun rather than the pen in opposition to the corruption they saw in the Russian state.


Whenever the alienated intelligentsia has a sense of disaffection, alienation or resentment against the establishment of the system they will indirectly perpetrate acts of terrorism and then use each new incident of terrorism as an excuse for censorship, for repression, for controlling what people are permitted to say and hear and read and write. They’ll say, “If there had been more laws against `extremists,’ against people who don’t like the government, against people who don’t think the way we tell them to think, this wouldn’t have happened.” They will try to stampede a timid, frightened, confused public into allowing the government to take away even more of their rights in return for the false promise of more security.


Indoctrination or Radicalization: What happens when you teach a kid that X, Y, and Z are your enemies and that they mean no good to your people, that these other people are the devil. When a cleric teaches his pupils that someone is an infidel (unbeliever) and that he has no right to live, then this king of indoctrination or radicalization is bad for society. What one can expect to get with this kind of tutoring is a radical who can do anything. No wonder then that these radicalized individuals can do the worst atrocities and yet justify them based on religion or other extreme views. Tackling this kind of radicalization cannot be solved through military solutions: it requires measures to increase the literacy of the population, creates jobs and socially protects populations to take them out of social exclusion and isolation.


The majority of Islamic extremists act under quasi-Islamic slogans, specifically, that is why there is the need to intensify religious education. More work is needed to intensify religious education and work with religious leaders to promote a peaceful and correct understanding of Islam. Governments must take several initiatives like introducing courses on the history of religions, Islam and the culture of tolerance into school curriculum; and expand Islamic studies in universities and tertiary schools, while efforts should be made to develop counter-narratives for students and increase engagement with faith-based communities or projects on inter - or intra-religious dialogue.


Ethnicity and Injustice: Some argue that ethnicity and injustices (perceived or real) is one of the root causes of terrorism. Well, perhaps this is true as in the case of the Rwandan genocide, but not entirely in some instances. While one may be brainwashed into thinking that his people are being persecuted when in fact they are not, the truth is that millions are killed by their same ethnic group and religion. Saddam Hussein killed his people for example and one can argue that he perpetrated more atrocities than any other foreign power, yet he was viewed as a hero in his part of the world by people of countries surrounding Iraq. Why? This again demonstrates the fact that ethnicity, in its entirety has nothing to do with it, although many scholars have sought to explain why countries with ethnically heterogeneous populations experience higher levels of political violence, these studies have produced mixed findings. Unlike most studies that use ethnolinguistic fractionalization indices to examine this relationship, it is argued that ethnic polarization is a more appropriate measure to assess the role of ethnicity as a causal factor of domestic terrorism. The hypotheses emphasized that high ethnic polarization influences the incidence of domestic terrorism, particularly when intervening economic factors are present. To test the hypotheses, negative binomial regression is used to model data from the Global Terrorism Dataset, World Bank, and the Reynal-Querol (RQ) ethnic polarization index of 116 countries between 1970 and 2012. Findings show that terrorism is more likely to emerge in societies with high ethnic polarization and economic malaise.


Charities that aren't Charities: Information on terrorist financing vulnerabilities to charities can be found in the Assessment of Inherent Risks of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing all across world democracies. Countries must work with their international partners to develop solutions to global issues such as terrorist abuse of charities. Although, there are countless of these charities that collect funds in the name of various causes what they do is fund terrorism, the activities of such charities can be checked using the Checklist below. As with any business, the business of terrorism needs funds and this is by far the best way for fanatics to obtain funds; others being collecting kidnapping ransom money, drug money, robbery, etc. Many countries support these charities in the name of religion and cultural ventures. They have millions of dollars to spend and they do so by funding these charities and religious schools, which use these funds to fund terrorist activities and build more schools of indoctrination and radicalization.


Charities play a vital role in achieving goals that Democracies value highly, both at home and abroad. Recognizing this, and to encourage support to charitable activity, the most Income Tax Act gives special and significant tax privileges to charities and donors. To maintain public confidence in these tax incentives, the Government and charities need to protect the charitable sector from abuse, including the exploitation of charitable resources to support terrorism and other non-charitable purposes and activities. The following checklist is based on international and domestic concerns, experience, and guidance. It is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, but it will help registered charities to focus on areas that might expose them to the risk of being abused by terrorists or other criminals. One should not assume that it could not happen!



  • Do you know about the individuals and entities associated with terrorism, which are listed in your country under the UN Act and the Criminal Code? Are you aware of the Criminal Code and the Charities Registration (Security Information) Act provisions on financing and supporting terrorism and the consequences of breaching the provisions?

  • Do you have a good understanding of the background and affiliations of your board members, employees, fundraisers, and volunteers?

  • Have you read the tax guidance about keeping adequate books and records, activities, engaging in allowable activities, operating outside your country, and charities in the international context?

  • Do you have appropriate, sound, internal financial and other oversight and verification controls, for example, appropriate delegations and separations of authority over the collection, handling, and depositing of cash and the issuing of receipts?

  • Do you transfer money using normal banking mechanisms, wherever possible? When it is not, do you use reputable alternative systems, and have strong additional controls and audit trails to protect your charity's funds and show how and when they were used?

  • Do you know who uses your facilities and for what purpose, for example, your office or meeting space, name, bank account, credit cards, website, computer system, telephone or fax, what they are saying, and what materials they are distributing or leaving behind?

  • Do you try to find out who else might be supporting a person or cause that you are endorsing in public statements, and who uses your name as a supporter?

  • Do you know where your donations and other support come from?

  • Do you know who has ultimate control over the project that your charity's money and resources are benefiting, and what the money and resources are used for, including after the particular project is finished?

  • Do you know your partners in delivering the work you are doing and their affiliations to other organizations?

  • Do you have clear written agreements with agents/contractors/other partners, locally and abroad, covering what activities will be undertaken and how they will be monitored and accounted for? Do you check that the agreements are being followed?

The use or threat of violence to achieve a political aim, regardless of the cause, cannot be reconciled with the legal concept of charity. Although these issues have come to prominence since 9/11 and the more recent terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, and elsewhere, any links between registered charities and terrorist activity have never been acceptable. The intentional provision of support to terrorists is a crime. Anyone who suspects links to terrorism should report them immediately to the proper authority.


The perceived threat of Marginalization, Religion and Isolation: Individuals or groups sometimes resort to acts of violence when members believe they are under threat. The threat can be specific, such as when groups feel attacked by mainstream society, the government of marginalization, the media, or the police. The threat can also be more diffuse, such as when groups feel they are losing their religious values and traditions, or during periods of economic hardship and high unemployment (joblessness) and isolation, or at times of large political and social change. The simple conclusion to draw as to the causes of terrorism today can be attributed neither to the adherents to any single ethnicity, religion, poverty or social class but that a significant number of the more outrageous terrorist acts may be attributed to a small number of terrorists, who have an ulterior or a political motive and use religion or other reason as a mere tool to justify their acts; and they are entirely divorced from their enclave: social class, religion, culture or ethnic background who distort and use it as a convenient cover to try to legitimize their actions in the popular minds. But under sub-measures of the world counter-terror, the surveillance discourse serves to control and regulate Muslims' perception of terrorism and the undertone of Western values and national security narrative, which continue to normalize and perpetuate anti-Muslim sentiment and construct Muslims as “suspect” communities at every possible opportunity. This ensures that anti-Muslim racism remains a key feature of contemporary western society, which is unfortunate. It may be difficult, perhaps impossible, to stop a determined individual who wants to commit an act of terrorism if they get through every security checkpoint, but some things can surely be done to prevent, stop and limit the acts and the spread of extremist violence and radicalization of young people; and divert their support.


How to Limit the Spread of Extremist Terrorism

Keeping a Check on Extremist Clerics & Build Resilience: These clerics are the most dangerous of all extremists, the foot soldiers who carry out the attacks and go away (in the case of suicide bombers). However, these clerics (the brains) keep cultivating and harvesting fertile and confused minds; educated, illiterate, rich, or poor, young ones, all are equally affected by their vitriolic sermons that call upon waging war on the West. Countless young minds have fallen prey to these clerics and the ironic thing is that they do so under the very noses of current "democracies."


In building resilience to recruitment, the government needs to enhance the role of community leaders, civil society groups, religious leaders, and families to build resilience against violent extremism; increasing the level of education and employment and correlate them together; while enhancing the role of local government authorities and increasing the effectiveness of states to offer social intervention, protection and opportunities. The government must also recognize the positive influence of religion and supporting traditional-community leaders play and development of sport and education programs to promote national values among young people, promote small businesses and entrepreneurship, organizing job fairs etc., while providing support to economic development and job creation, livelihoods enhancement, public service provisions, social citizen engagement,  good governance and peacebuilding, rule of law, etc. All these falls within the sustainable development goals of the UN and non-security social sectors.


Monitoring Hateful Content Online: Monitoring hateful content online is always difficult and even the most advanced systems accidentally miss some. Part of a country's online monitoring should include using Country-Wide Exchanges for online connectivity and monitoring of social media contents.


Online ‘media’ and propaganda efforts now constitute a major component of terrorist campaigns, including for organizations like ISIL and al-Qaeda, which both have developed dedicated media teams. Terrorists can exploit the Internet in two fundamental ways:

  • Individuals can use social media to support or facilitate political violence. In this sense the Internet aids the perpetrators’ activities offline;

  • Individuals can also use the online environment to cause damage directly to further their interest, referred to as ‘cyber-terrorism’. The Internet helps terrorists expand their reach, increase their impact and facilitate activities offline. It facilitates five main areas:

  1. Communication & networking;

  2. Research, information gathering and distribution;

  3. Financing (fundraising, financial transactions, fraud);

  4. Recruiting new members (physical encounters are crucial, but these are enhanced by online networks) and;

  5. Distributing propaganda and controlling information.

When it comes to responses, the expert noted three main approaches to combating terrorists’ use of the Internet: 1) Taking down extremist content – some countries and organizations have established dedicated units (internet exchanges) for this purpose; 2) using the Internet to disrupt terrorist activities and monitor their communication, and 3) using the web to spread counter-narratives.


Regarding the development of counter-narratives, the content of delivery and audience is highly important. The content could include both/either positive components (countering the appeal of extremist messages with alternative sources of belonging, significance, and personal and collective achievement) and/or negative ones (highlighting inconsistencies of the extremist messages, highlighting the universally harmful outcome of terrorists’ actions - in terms of victims and political consequences; highlight their internal divisions and disputes etc.). Effective narratives also need to take into account the delivery of the message: Coherent messages consistent with actions have to be delivered by credible actors, including former extremists, who have an impact on the audience. They need to be delivered through multiple platforms. They also need to target their audiences carefully using different sources. Effective counter-narrative work has to start with an understanding of the at-risk audience, the reason for their vulnerability and how they are influenced before tailoring messages.


And during terrorist attacks, the big online platforms face particularly significant challenges but we should avoid scapegoating them. All of them (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google, Snap chat, etc.) are signed up to the European Commission’s #NoPlace4Hate program. They are committed to removing illegal hateful content within 24 hours, a period which is likely to come down to just one hour. Four special measures are needed to specifically target the short term influx of hate:

  • Adjust the sensitivity of the hate detection algorithms: All tools for hate detection have a margin of error. The designers have to decide how many false negatives and false positives they are happy with. False negatives are bits of content that are allowed online even though they are hateful and false positives are bits of content that are blocked even though they are non-hateful. There is always a trade-off between the two when implementing any hate detection system. The only way to truly ensure that no hateful content goes online is to ban all content from being uploaded – but this would be a mistake. Far better to adjust the sensitivity of the algorithms so that people are allowed to share content but platforms catch a lot more of the hateful stuff;

  • Enable easier takedowns: Hateful content that does get onto the big platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, can be flagged by users. It is then sent for manual review by a content moderator, who checks it using predefined guidelines. Content moderation is a fundamentally difficult business, and the platforms aim to minimize inaccurate reviews. Often this is by using the “stick”: according to some investigative journalists, moderators working on behalf of Facebook risk losing their jobs unless they maintain high moderation accuracy scores. During attacks, platforms could introduce special procedures so that staff can quickly work through content without fear of low-performance evaluation. They could also introduce temporary quarantines so that content is flagged for immediate removal but then re-examined at a later date;

  • Limit the ability of users to share: Sharing is a fundamental part of social media, and platforms actively encourage sharing both on their sites (which is crucial to their business models) and between them, as it means that none of them miss out when anything goes viral. But easy sharing also brings with it risks: research shows that extreme and hateful content is imported from niche far-right sites and dumped into the mainstream where it can quickly spread to large audiences. And during attacks, it means that anything which gets past one platform’s hate detection software can be quickly shared across all of the platforms. Platforms should limit the number of times that content can be shared within their site and potentially ban shares between sites. This tactic has already been adopted by WhatsApp, which now limits the number of times content can be shared to just five;

  • Create shared databases of content: All of the big platforms have very similar guidelines on what constitutes “hate” and will be trying to take down largely the same content following attacks. Creating a shared database of hateful content would ensure that content removed from one site is automatically banned from another. This would not only avoid needless duplication but enable the platforms to quickly devote resources to challenging content that is hard to detect. Removing hateful content should be seen as an industry-wide effort and not a problem each platform faces individually. Shared databases like this do also exist in a limited way but efforts need to be hugely stepped up and their scope broadened. In the long term, platforms need to keep investing in content moderation and developing advanced systems that integrate human checks with machine learning. But there is also a pressing need for special measures to handle the short-term influx of hate following terrorist attacks.

Stop the Flow of Terrorist Funds: Stop the rich countries that fund the construction of religious schools without proper background checks (as shown above in Charities that aren't Charities Checklist). Pressure them through diplomatic channels to fund charities and religious schools only after proper verification and certification that they aren't indulging in any radical propaganda and brainwashing their students to extreme views. Also, improve banking laws at home as well as in developing countries to ensure that fanatics don't benefit from lax regulations and circumvent the system by getting funds to their plans. Most importantly, put safeguards in place to de-incentivize kidnapping for ransom money, drug money, robbery, banditry etc., to fund terrorist acts.


Securing the Borders & Surveillance: There are always people who want to harm others for their selfish greed, therefore stricter screening of people who come into the country must be taken into consideration; and at various communities as well. This doesn't mean one has to close one's doors to everyone; however, one should at least keep an eye out for undesirable radicals who mean no good.


With regards to the practice of surveillance, excessive information gathering, e.g. through untargeted surveillance and excessive storing of data in contravention of data protection standards, may lead to information overload and diverts scarce resources away from core tasks of counter-terrorism (CT) investigations and CT policing. It is a waste of financial resources as there is no evidence of their effectiveness. At the same time, over-surveillance increases the risk of people being unfairly targeted and undermines general trust in the states’ CT efforts. Lack of respect for human rights also undermines trust between states and may, as a result, represent a serious obstacle for information sharing between countries as well as international law enforcement cooperation in countering terrorism. The representative of UNHCR pointed out the right of people to asylum. He stressed that refugees are not the source of terrorism but rather victims as they were forced to leave their home countries because of terrorism. The influx of refugees is a humanitarian issue and not a political or security-related one.


The Solution of Pre-Emptive Strike, Dialogue & Torture: People who think that one can negotiate peace with terrorists are unfortunately living in a make-believe world. Recognize that terrorists come from widely divergent backgrounds and are motivated by a plethora of different reasons.


Honestly, what can one negotiate with terrorists? What are the negotiating points here? What can be offered to them and what would they accept? Some terror groups, for example, want to see a world that is nothing like the one that is known. Many of these "brains" behind the most dangerous extremist groups want just their utopian world governed by their utopian laws. Some people just don't like the idea of a "pre-emptive strike." However, when confronted with an irrational enemy who sees no sense or knows not what their aims are, other than blowing up people because someone drilled that into them, the only reasonable solution is to take the war to them and fight and defend them in a pre-emptive way.


On the other way, every country wants to get rid of this menace, of terrorism, radicalization etc., so if some individuals or groups who were either brainwashed, recruited or were about to be radicalized suddenly realized that the direction they were going was not good and they wanted to repent, the authorities could give them amnesty, design adequate interventions and put them into it. The interventions should include some sort of rehabilitation as a better option to tackle down the menace, following the ideology of dialogue, peace and understanding. In this case, right at the unset, it is therefore important to understand individual motivations for surrendering, as well as gender roles to design adequate interventions. Also, it is much better to understand women’s roles and applying a gender approach to the prevention of violent extremism.


Dialogue is essential because it would look at why and how promoting good governance, human rights (HR) and rule of law could help prevent grievances, which in turn could lead to engagement with violent extremist groups. In other words, violating human rights while conducting counter-terrorism (CT) could lead to more insecurity. States should protect everyone within their jurisdiction against terrorist acts, and they should do so in compliance with international human rights law. Anti-terrorism measures that fail to respect human rights are counter-productive, not least because a lack of respect for human rights constitutes in many ways a condition conducive to terrorism. CT measures that fail to respect HR play into the hands of terrorists and terrorist recruiters who seek to undermine security, social cohesion and human rights. At the same time, human rights-based CT measures can increase operational effectiveness. This understanding is at the core of the OSCE’s comprehensive concept of security and it is enshrined in pillar 4 of the UN Global CT Strategy.


Another point to protect innocent individuals is the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment under international law, which is absolute under all circumstances. Not only does torture violate the trust between communities and law enforcement bodies, turning people away from supporting states’ CT efforts, it could also be counter-productive. According to senior US officials, for example, the mistreatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib prison was the single most important motivating factor for terrorists and foreign fighters to travel to Iraq. Torture is also ineffective in the long-term as evidence received through torture could be misleading and unreliable because torture is known to produce false confessions. As the OSCE has remarked in its work with law enforcement officers, for example, counter-terrorism officers can obtain more and better information by using interview techniques that respect the rights of suspects, witnesses and other informants.


Going forward, every Government should develop some sort of National Strategy on Countering Radicalization to Violence for its country with the sole intention to be a flexible framework to guide prevention-based initiatives towards countering extreme views, radicalization to violence and terrorism. In particular, the strategy, to be adaptable to an environment where the threat of violent extremism is constantly changing, as well as the means through which the threat is expressed. The strategy should also aim to raise awareness of what is currently known about radicalization to violence, so practitioners, front-line workers and stakeholders in general to prevent it. Being equipped with the latest information and tools is crucial to implementing effective prevention efforts. Finally, the strategy must be for continuous dialogue with the stakeholders and aim to stimulate discussion on this challenging topic, to promote the kinds of collaborations between the Government and the people; and its partners, to ensure that efforts to counter radicalization to violence and terrorism in the societies are responsive to local realities. By continuing to build those connections, by not giving sensational priority responses to terrorism in the media, which in some cases, generate substantial unintended consequences.



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