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Numerous studies and efforts seek to understand the conditions in which Da’esh ideology and message spreads, in other words the “root causes” of extremism. Despite these efforts, there is room for more dialogue regarding how communities, civil society, and state apparatuses deal with these root causes. Looking at community-based, local solutions to radicalization as well as civil society counter-extremism initiatives through a comparative perspective will yield a list of best practices that can inform future efforts and policy.

To this end, the Hollings Center and the Al Hayat Center brought together sociologists, anthropologists, community workers, opinion leaders, and state officials engaged in counter-extremism efforts to discuss methods, projects, and approaches that have worked, and those that have not been as effective. The meeting was convened from 19-23 October, 2016 in Amman, Jordan. The organizers hope that this effort builds on other countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives by focusing on solutions, fosters further dialogue among different governmental and nongovernmental actors, and increases the number of stakeholders in CVE efforts.

The main takeaways from the three-day dialogue were:

  • The international community has not been able to develop a working definition of violent extremism. Political violence is a broad concept, and civil society will need to work within local contexts and local definitions. This means that sometimes legitimate political dissent is legally categorized as extremism by some countries. To the extent that states use counterterrorism as excuse to close the political space to certain groups, CVE efforts will be futile.
  • Radicalization is highly contextualized, therefore there can be no one-size-fits-all approach to counter-radicalization. Even though best practices are inspiring, they rarely can be applied outside of the context in which they were developed.
  • De-securitizing the language around counter-radicalization is a double-edged sword. Issues that have hard security consequences are likely to attract more resources and attention. However, responding to radicalization through implementing hard security measures without paying attention to socio-economic “push factors” has backfired in many instances.
  • The million-dollar question in counter-radicalization programs is monitoring and evaluation. It’s difficult to measure the effectiveness of a program that is meant to deter someone from doing something. Large scale M&E is difficult, whereas collecting stories from within local communities on how certain interventions worked has resulted in better data and provided good inspirational stories.
  • If there is a silver bullet, it’s education; but it will take twenty years to reach its target. Everybody in the MENA thinks education reform is needed in their respective countries, but nobody knows where to begin. Redefining the mission of the school, teaching soft skills for better life preparation, anchoring values such as tolerance and peace, pushing for liberal arts education, revising curricula, and improving the quality of educators are among the many changes needed.