Wednesday, November 18th 2015
Jonathan Russell of the Quilliam Foundation has concluded that “Treating religion as a primary identifier unwittingly reinforces Islamist aims to promote religious identity above all others.” He fleshed out his insight in an October 21, 2015, comment, “We need to stop defining Muslims only by their religion,” on the leftfootforward.org website.
How to characterize violent extremism is still being debated in the U.S. Russell's comment focused on efforts to counter radicalization in British schools, but they provide insight for parallel efforts to counter violent extremism in other countries and regions. Also, American Public Diplomacy and many NGOs have long experience with educating for democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and civic responsibility. This is a way to build “resilience and improve integration.”
- If we promote ‘positive’ liberty to equip citizens to enjoy their freedom and combine this with the established ‘negative’ freedom from discrimination, we achieve active citizenship, a natural grassroots antidote to extremism. This is valuable for all young people, not just those in the target audience mentioned above – see it as a vaccination rather than a medicine.
- . . . it is not a security issue, but rather a community cohesion and a counter-messaging issue – a battle for hearts and minds – that requires grassroots engagement instead of top-down impositions.
- Engaging Muslims communities solely through a security lens will neither improve community cohesion nor will it improve the perception of counter-extremism, in turn reducing its effectiveness.
- So too, let’s not view Muslims solely through the lens of their religious identity and understand that they may also be butchers, bakers or candlestick-makers.
- . . . treating religion as a primary identifier unwittingly reinforces Islamist aims to promote religious identity above all others and will mean that grievances can be manipulated into an extremist narrative much easier, rather than progressively addressed through a liberal, democratic lens.
- As for the broader strategic response, we should push for liberalism not just as an antidote to extremism itself but rather a necessary lens for this policy area. This means a consistently-applied human rights threshold, more checks and balances, policy improvements based on a robust evidence base, greater transparency, further desecuritisation, an internationalist outlook that sees global solutions to global problems.
- Lastly, let us understand that counter-extremism, if a battle for hearts and minds, is all about messaging. The counter-extremism strategy will empower society to challenge extremist propaganda, even if it is non-violent, when it promotes an ideology that is antithetical to human rights and normalises a narrative based on conspiracy theory and grievance culture that prevents integration.