Awareness of the need for more holistic approaches to Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) has grown steadily over the past decade. Authorities now increasingly seek to engage the problem both upstream (to prevent radicalisation into violent behaviour) and downstream (to disengage individuals from violent extremist social networks and reintegrate them into healthy social relationships). Both approaches recognise that underlying grievances and conflict drivers can crush legitimate aspirations and contribute to some people/groups radicalising. Both require working in partnership with communities and civil society agencies, to build resilience and engage young people, in particular.
At the same time, many international development actors have come to recognise that violent extremism (VE) is a widespread problem in many communities in which they work, and that development programs can influence the dynamics of extremism (positively or negatively). This recognition has led to recent moves to integrate P/CVE into foreign aid strategies and funding.
Many P/CVE interventions could theoretically be a natural fit for international development/humanitarian NGOs. NGOs already implement programs aimed at addressing inequality, deprivation, marginalisation and human rights violations, and seek to enhance social cohesion, community resilience, freedoms and capabilities. Nevertheless, being seen to be working in P/CVE is often problematic. The environments within which extremism flourishes, characterised by violence and fragility, already present many challenges to building trust and providing assistance. Because public attention has focussed primarily on the security aspects of P/CVE, especially counter-terrorism (where most funding has gone), NGO engagement in P/CVE risks them being perceived as aligning closely with state security interests. Thus, aligning with P/CVE agendas risks eroding the independence at the heart of NGO strategies. Moreover, perceptions of such alignment increase direct risk to staff and recipients, and complicate their commitment to ‘do no harm’ principles.
This ARC Linkage project will focus on developing knowledge, tools and elements of interventions, to enable the planning and implementation of appropriate programmes at individual, household and community levels, and ways to wisely and effectively engage government agencies, security forces or religious leaders that either implicitly support violent and hateful extremism (VHE), or directly propagate narratives or violence themselves. Of particular need are tools to enable NGOs like Plan to conduct robust, context-specific VHE situation analysis, and then integrate this analysis into their project planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. A central contribution of this project will be the development of such analytical tools for NGO programming, more along the lines of the ‘do no harm’/conflict-sensitivity and gender analysis tools widely adopted across the sector.
This project defines a new concept, violent and hateful extremism (VHE), as: the incitement of hatred, hate speech and hate acts, and the use or threat of violence by extremist social movements seeking to bring about political and societal change in the name of certain ideological ends, sometimes framed in terms of religion and/or identity, by means that dehumanise and bring harm to others. In the vast majority of cases, this involves significant elements of misogyny. Around the globe, both local and international VHE movements tend to frame their justifying grievances in terms that focus not just on perceived general threats to group rights and status, but also on specific threats to male authority and status. Using this justifying narrative VHE movements are characterised by the channelling of toxic masculinity towards hatred and violence.
Our project thus expands the conceptual and theoretical understandings of P/CVE, to also incorporate responses to ‘hateful extremism’ (HE). Importantly, this expansion came from Plan local field staff, through our initial collaboration, and is thus the result of incorporating bottom-up voices and co-design into the conceptual framework.
VHE represents an important theoretical development, in that it also better aligns with the immediate daily needs of most people around the world. Whilst the manifestation of VE in forms such as international terrorism remains a global threat, outside conflict zones it does not generally constitute an existential threat. Nonetheless, VE continues to receive a disproportionate investment in intelligence and policing, often resulting in perverse outcomes—such as high levels of securitisation and the targeting of certain communities in ways that undermine social cohesion, trust and respect. By contrast, HE is a day-to-day issue. For the majority of people, HE, including misogyny, race hate and the enabling environment of hyper-nationalist political actors, all constitute a more immediate threat and greater problem than VE. As a result, there exists both great need and great opportunity to partner with such communities, and civil society actors serving them, in countering HE. Framing P/CVE more broadly as countering VHE presents a better foundation for cooperation based on trust and mutual interest. Finally, and most importantly, while by definition VE excludes the state and state actors as perpetrators, HE explicitly includes the possibility the state and state actors may be perpetrators of hate acts or speech, and threats of violence against minorities. This is a significant theoretical expansion, with important policy and practice implications to be explored in this project.
This project will contribute significant conceptual innovation to Plan’s work in these contexts, to improve project planning. The new analytical tools and planning processes that it will develop, as well as contextual indicators of effectiveness, will facilitate significantly improved programme outcomes. This has significant potential to benefit not only the individuals and families/communities participating in the programs, but also the societies in those countries, by extension, regional stability. The project will develop concrete recommendations for interventions by Plan in contexts affected by VHE in Asia and Africa. Beyond PIA, these findings have the potential to benefit the entire sector.