With the recent wave of Muslim homegrown violent extremist (HVE) attacks in Europe, authorities are dedicating considerable resources to identify and implement measures that will help mitigate the threat. Since the consensus amongst experts is that the frequency and magnitude of attacks will only increase in the near to medium future, this is certainly a worthy effort. The problem is that in many cases, these efforts take place almost exclusively within and among government and local intelligence, first responder and other relevant organs, but without the participation—indeed, the leadership—of Muslim communities.
Responsible authorities must understand two things: 1) The place of a community is super central to the lives of individual Muslims, in Muslim and non-Muslim states, and 2) without the deep, committed and long-term guidance and participation of Muslim communities, the efforts to curb HVE will always fall short of their potential. HVEs do not exist in a vacuum. They evolve, live and plot in a community. People around them notice and have multiple clues to what is taking place (if not explicit clues and information) that could cause a conscientious person to act, either by talking to the would-be terrorist, or talking to higher-ups in the community, the authorities, or all of the above.
Yet, Muslim communities, aside from the understandable, though limited intelligence penetration efforts, are largely looked at as second fiddlers at best and as fifth-column at worst. That is totally unacceptable and a severe own-goal to any serious counter-HVE effort.
Muslim communities are overall as disturbed and shocked by such events as any other community. Like all citizens, they mainly want to live productive and engaged lives in their new (or old) country while also practicing their religious beliefs. Each violent event that is attributed to them as a community takes them further away from this goal. It is safe to assume then that Muslim communities are motivated to mitigate against HVEs—but not under any condition.
For a cooperative effort at counter-HVE between Muslim and non-Muslim communities to succeed, several things have to take place:
- Host countries must invest heavily in learning how Muslim communities interact internally and externally and how they manage and resolve conflicts.
- Muslim communities must be invited to take the lead in the design of counter-HVE efforts. They know best what motivates and what distances their own people. They understand the kind of narratives that resonate with youngsters and the kind of narratives that only increase the sense of marginalization and anger.
- Efforts cannot focus exclusively on the immediate challenge of countering HVE but must take into consideration deep structural, economic, identity, generational, and other social mores that weaken Muslim communities and serve as a bedrock for the evolution of future HVEs.
- Programs should be led and endorsed by local community activists.
- The most diverse spectrum of participants from within the community must be included in the planning and implementation of any program. Excluding groups is a recipe for reduced returns.
- A measuring method must be agreed upon and used to gain accurate assessment of the impact (or lack thereof) of programs.
- Intelligence gathering operations cannot be a part of such programs. Their existence will severely degrade the credibility of the programs and their leaders.
- Local and national resources should be allocated to support community-generated programs. Unfunded or underfunded programs will become centers for increased radicalization.
Faced with a mandate to lead and implement counter-HVE policies, many Muslim communities will rise to the challenge and may prove central players in the effort to curb HVE. National and local authorities have nothing to lose and much to gain by adopting this approach. It’s not going to be easy, nor crisis-free, but considering the odds, it’s worth the effort.