Uniting Communities and Law Enforcement in the Fight Against Violent Extremism

   •    June 17, 2015

Afghan policewomen

Photo: NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan

Growing numbers of young men and women are leaving their homes to join violent extremist groups in Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the globe. National and international policymakers, meanwhile, are struggling to figure out how to stem the tide. As countries develop their plans of action, they must take a close look at how civil society and actors responsible for upholding law and order can collaborate to effectively counter violent extremism (CVE).

Judges, attorneys, police, and corrections officers all have roles to play in preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism. However, research suggests that people’s negative experiences with law enforcement and other state officials may generate grievances that can actually contribute to radicalization. Late last year, Inclusive Security—in collaboration with the Global Center on Cooperative Security and the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore—held consultations with civil society representatives from throughout South Asia, who echoed this insight. Countries with the highest reported incidents of terrorism highlighted how the lack of trust between law enforcement and communities was contributing to the rise of violent extremist organizations.

Civil society can help bridge this “trust deficit” by serving as interlocutors between communities and law enforcement, and by strengthening the capacity of security actors to prevent and counter violent extremism. In particular, women can play critical roles inside and outside government in strengthening community resilience to extremism. For example, Inclusive Security’s Network member Mossarat Qadeem works with mothers in Pakistan to recognize the signs of radicalization and provides youth with alternative economic opportunities so they’re less likely to join extremist groups.

However, in many countries significantly impacted by terrorism, civil society actors face barriers to effectively impacting CVE efforts. These include threats to their safety and security, as well as crackdowns that limit the public space in which they can operate.

Policymakers must address these challenges if they truly want to strengthen rule of law-based CVE responses. In our latest policy brief, produced with the Global Center on Cooperative Security, we recommend a number of actions, including:

  1. Provide funding and technical resources to civil society organizations implementing, or with the capacity to implement, CVE programming. These resources must prioritize support for women-led organizations, as they are often critical to reaching marginalized communities, boosting resilience in families and communities, and identifying the drivers of violent extremism.
  2. Strengthen civil society’s role in efforts to recruit and retain female law enforcement professionals. Inclusive Security’s research has found that policewomen can vastly enhance the ability of police forces to counter terrorism and violent extremism. Civil society can play a key role in increasing the recruitment, retention, and professionalization of policewomen through advocacy, training, and technical support.
  3. Support the training of law enforcement, state security, and judicial officials on CVE-related issues. Civil society organizations can build law enforcement capacity to develop more community-centric approaches to counterterrorism and CVE efforts. These approaches would reduce community grievances and enhance security actors’ ability to identify threats and address the needs of local communities.
  4. Foster networking opportunities for domestic and regional civil society that engage security actors at the local, state, federal, and regional levels. Often networks of civil society and security actors are developed in silos, having little interaction with each other. Platforms that foster dialogue between civil society actors and the security sector will ensure that information is shared and community needs are addressed.

Read the policy brief.

Allison Peters is Senior Policy Adviser at Inclusive Security Action, where she shapes the organization’s policy strategies and outreach initiatives, with a particular focus on Pakistan, the UN, and the US Congress.

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