Countering violent extremism (CVE) may mean different things to different people, but the actual idea of CVE has become the focal point for those working to combat radicalisation. The Attorney-General’s Department identifies their focus as one where ‘countering violent extremism is a shared effort between all Australian governments. The objective of the countering violent extremism programme is to combat the threat posed by home-grown terrorism and to discourage Australians from travelling overseas to participate in conflicts’. Building resilience against terrorism has been identified as focus of the Canadian Government’s counter-terrorism strategy and response. As with many European countries, both Canada and Australia are directing their attention and efforts toward ‘at risk’ communities in an effort to counter radicalisation.
Both Australia and Canada see the de-radicalisation of residents as being of paramount importance. Both countries’ de-radicalisation efforts include preventing and responding to radicalisation. That requires a response that focuses attention on those who are already radicalised or on a path toward being so. Those processes face a number of challenges, one of which is the fact that often the results of any de-radicalisation program will be evident after radicalised individuals are identified as suspects or even offenders. Communities may find this challenging due to concerns that reporting may lead to arrest, detention, prosecution and sentencing.
I would argue that any solution to the challenges ‘at risk’ communities face must first and foremost be met with proactive strategies around engagement and development in those communities. Such engagement must be with the service agencies already active in the communities and can include both cultural and non-cultural groups. The method and actualisation of such development needs to be done with those engaged groups and not implemented through outside organisations. A strategy that’s devoid of community development, building relationships and developing partnerships with those who have credibility in that community may be destined to the same failure we have seen in the past. Leveraging formal and informal community leaders and what they have already built within the community will provide opportunities for local development and the construction of a stronger, heathier and safer society. That can be done through the building collaborative programs which have been successful or feeding off another successful initiative to build a new program. It’s that construct that will allow us to manage the CVE issue in the long term and as well build the relationships we will need today to counter the radicalisation we have seen and will continue to see.
Equally important to de-radicalisation processes is what’s being asked of parents and family members in high-risk communities. Although the importance of being informed in order to take action to combat the scourge of radicalisation is recognised by those, it’s extremely difficult for them to raise a red flag to authorities. As with parents trying to prevent their children from, for example, dealing drugs, parents of a potentially radicalised child are first and foremost trying to save them. This ultimately makes it difficult for concerned parents to contact the police and security agencies if they feel their child will then face social and legal consequences. Those parents will want to find another solution that yields the same outcome of separating the youth from the activity.
We must ensure that there are opportunities for parents or family members to come forward with their concerns without fearing that their child will be branded as radicalised, because not every young person in those circumstances becomes radicalised to the point of acting out and not every radicalised person becomes violent. Sociologists state that a youth needs to have a ‘cognitive opening’ when that individual has a chance to engage with charismatic protagonist, in person or on the internet, when becoming radicalised. It’s at this point and even earlier, building relationships that can alleviate the threat, where we must engage, separate and manage the youth and the situation. At this crucial time, engagement with communities and an aim of disrupting activities prior to radicalisation must be at the forefront of any strategy.
So as we move forward with our plans and programs to combat and counter violent extremism, let’s remember that we want parents and family members as our willing supporters and partners, as their goal and ours goal—to separate the child from the activity and to build safer communities—aren’t that different. As such, building human resilience should be key to any future strategies to counter violent extremism.