Can Education and Vocational Training Play a Role in Countering Violent Extremism? 

Discussion about incorporating CVE initiatives within Australia’s education and vocation sectors has re emerged. While Education and vocational training have been shown in some particular cases to reduce engagement in VE, this has only been shown to work in countries experiencing violent conflict. In these cases, the application of CVE has been be specific and justified. 

Blanket approaches to CVE are problematic for several reasons. Primarily, they have been shown to increase distrust of authorities and alienate minority communities. These approaches are also impossible to evaluate, as practitioners are to measure whether this type of program has had any effect. When governments and international organisations are measuring the impact of the activities, if the aim is to counter violent extremism, then that should be what is measured. As Martine Zeuthen explains:

“Some policy makers and practitioners do not wish to target their interventions towards individuals and communities at risk of recruitment and radicalisation but rather wish to have inclusive programmes. In other words their end goal is to contribute to building an inclusive society rather than managing the present problem of radicalisation and recruitment to violent groups. I respect and see a value in this approach as a type of long term development intervention. But the more inclusive the programme, the more difficult it is to show that the intervention prevented violent extremism.  The further we move from the problem the more tangential the intervention is and the harder it becomes to measure any effect.”

For more on this issue, see Countering Violent Extremism – can Education and Vocational Training Play a Role? – http://wp.me/p2mGCr-wH

Thoughts on CVE and Foreign Aid

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Image: Devex 

Foreign aid has undergone several shifts in recent years. As someone involved with the development sector in Pakistan and Indonesia for the past decade, I have noticed the gradual ‘securitisation’ of development programs. Although governments have always used international aid and development to further their state’s interests in the context of geopolitical rivalries, the presence of security language and programing in international aid (in particular – countering violent extremism – CVE) is changing the development landscape.

As new forms of internationalised violence emerge, there has indeed been a justified need for greater focus on security threats within foreign aid. The need to address the emergence of violent extremism has seen the blurring of the worlds of international development and international security, as international aid programs increasingly look to address development and security at the same time. This will change the international development sector and will result in greater collaboration between security and development specialists.

But CVE remains a controversial and highly contested field.

Two problems recur in the literature on CVE: First, there is a lack of research supporting CVE policy – a field that “struggles in its efforts to explain terrorism or to provide findings of genuine … value.”[1] Second, there is a lack of empirical evidence that CVE has worked and, more alarmingly, there is some evidence that in some cases it has actually caused harm.

On March 1 2017, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs announced a new framework, Development Approaches to Countering Violent Extremism: Policy Framework and Guidance Note, to “guide the delivery of development assistance to counter violent extremism in developing countries, bolstering existing Australian Government efforts.” It acknowledges that there is no agreed international definition of what violent extremism is, and that it is “a complex phenomenon,” the form of which differs “across and within countries.” Much of the new approach involves the giving of grants to civil society organisations, mirroring the domestic CVE approach.

One of the potential problems with a generalised, grant-giving approach to CVE (in Indonesia) however is that there is still “no consensus in the broader [Indonesian] Muslim community about what constitutes extremism,” and there still remains a disconnect between state intelligence agencies, and civil society groups engaging in CVE initiatives [2]. As IPAC point out, the design of prevention programs may benefit from “more systematic study of the case dossiers of the almost 800 individuals indicted on terrorism charges since 2002,” and greater focus on how proposed programs might to respond to contemporary problems, for example, the recruitment and return of Indonesian ISIS recruits from Syria. As limited evaluations of successful CVE interventions indicate, this field requires specialist knowledge of CVE.[3]

There have been a range of successful CVE initiatives in Pakistan, however ‘violent extremism’ in the country continues to surge. Furthermore, when CVE is approached as an adjunct to CT activity, there is the issue of state security forces using inappropriate force in response to terrorism and security threats. On the one hand, CVE is promoted to reduce conflict and insurgency in conflict affected, non Western societies; on the other hand, security forces in these societies have been known to use CT as a method of suppressing opposition. In the context of Pakistan, CVE has been flouted as a method which the society could “overcome the challenge of growing extremism, [with programs that] comprise of individual- focused de-radicalisation, and environment-focused counter-radicalisation strategies.”[4] But how can we decide which communities to to target, and how effective can such programs be when it is already widely acknowledged that CVE is a clumsy and contradictory field? Even if the research community could agree on what a successful CVE program looks like — and more research needs to be done in this area — there is a real concern that the CVE is being promoted as too broad a CT activity without there being any clear evidence of its efficacy. Furthermore, when there is a change of government, what will happen to these initiatives? For there to be any long-term measurable impact there needs to be continuity. This has been a problem for the Australian Government in recent years. As Terrence Wood et al point out, post-2013 changes to Australian aid having “wide-ranginimpacts and have led to deteriorating overall aid quality” so far.[5] 

It is too early to make definitive comments about the direction of the aid program. However it appears that in substantive terms, aid is being framed as security risk management, yet the aid budget continues to decrease.[6] It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next five years.

 

[1] Andrew Silke, “The Devil You Know: Continuing Problems with Research on Terrorism”, Terrorism and Political Violence 13, no. 4 (2001), pp. 13.

 

[2] Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Countering Violent Extremism in Indonesia: Need for a Rethink, 30 June 2014 IPAC Report No.11, 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Abdul Basit, Countering Violent Extremism: Evaluating Pakistan’s Counter-Radicalization and De-radicalization Initiatives, IPRI Journal XV, no. 2 (Summer 2015): 44-68, 44.

[5] Gauging Change in Australian Aid http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/app5.173/epdf

[6] Varghese, P (2016) 2016 Australasian AiConference Speech. viewed 19/11/201<http://dfat.gov.au/news/speeches/Pages/2016-australasian-aid-conference.aspx>

Episode 12: A conversation on terrorism in Australia, with Levi West – part 2

Episode 12 of our podcast

Sub Rosa

levi-west-conversation-headshotIn this episode, Andrew continues his conversation with Levi West about terrorism in Australia.

Levi West is the Director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University.

This is the second episode in a two-part series. The first half  covered terrorism in Australia from the 1960s up until 2013. This second half covers the impact of the Syrian civil war, the rise of “Islamic State”, and controversies over counter-terrorism powers.

We discuss measures such as passport-confiscation, control orders and citizenship-revocation, drawing out some of practical, legal, and moral issues involved. We also discuss how jihadist terror plots in Australia have evolved, and some of the factors behind this. We end by briefly covering the terrorist threat in Indonesia, and counter-terrorism cooperation between Indonesia and Australia.

The episode was recorded in November 2016, so it does not cover some more recent developments, such as an alleged Christmas Day bombing plot in Melbourne, or the…

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Episode 11: A conversation on terrorism in Australia, with Levi West – part 1

Episode 11 of our podcast

Sub Rosa

levi-west-conversation-headshotIn this episode, Andrew talks with Levi West about terrorism in Australia.

Levi West is the Director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University.

This is the first episode for 2017, and has a different format to earlier episodes. Instead of a straight Q & A interview, we’ve gone for a more conversational format, with the host and guest both contributing. This episode presents the first half of the conversation, discussing terrorism in Australia from the 1960s up until 2013.

We discuss the international development of terrorism and its Australian manifestations, demonstrated by some Yugoslav, Ananada Marga, Palestinian, Armenian, far-left and far-right groups that sometimes engaged in small-scale political violence in Australia.

We then discuss transitions that occurred in the 1990s, with high-profile terror attacks such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (by jihadists), the 1995 Tokya subway sarin gas attack (by the Aum Shinrikyo sect), the 1995 Oklahoma bombing (by…

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Episode 10: Countering violent extremism, with Ross Frenett and Vidhya Ramalingam

Recent podcast episode!

Sub Rosa

vidhyaramalingamheadshotFor this episode, Andrew spoke to Vidhya Ramalingam and Ross Frenett about countering violent extremism (CVE), which refers to non-coercive efforts to help prevent involvement in terrorism.

Ross and Vidhya previously worked for organisations such as the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Google Ideas. They recently founded their their own organisation, Moonshot CVE, building on their work with former violent extremists and experiences in the tech sector.rossfrenettheadshot

In the interview, we discuss the concept of countering violent extremism, the value of work and research in this area, but also some of the dilemmas and risks involved.

The interview covers similarities and differences between various types of violent extremist groups, the ways that governments across Europe understand the issue, the rise of far-right violent extremism and the role of women in the Islamic State. We also discussed past projects that Vidhya and Ross have been involved in, their work with former…

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