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Local Communities Key to Fighting Terrorism


A young woman waves an American flag along with others at the beginning of a Muslim conference against terror and hate at the Curtis Culwell Center, Jan. 17, 2015, in Garland, Texas.

Real progress against terrorism requires not only eliminating terrorists, but also disrupting the process by which people become terrorists. Only a broader and more holistic approach can ensure that new recruits don't join the ISIL battlefield.

Local communities are the key to turning the tide against terrorism. Whether in France, Turkey or in the United States, said Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Sarah Sewall, militaries and intelligence agencies can protect us from external threats and bring terrorists to justice, but they cannot address the complex motives and hateful ideologies that drive people to terrorism in the first place."

Real progress against terrorism requires not only eliminating terrorists, but also disrupting the process by which people become terrorists. Only a broader and more holistic approach can ensure that new recruits don't join the ISIL battlefield.

The United States has promoted this broader approach to tackling terrorism at home and abroad under the mantle of Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE, which recognizes that empowered communities are among the best antidotes for preventing the spread of terrorist ideologies.

The first step to implementing a holistic approach is to ensure that public officials at home and abroad uphold the rule of law, and respect for human rights. When governments fail to protect, respect, and serve all of their people, it creates openings that terrorists eagerly exploit. According to the Global Terrorism Index, 92 percent of all terrorist attacks over the last 25 years occurred in countries where state-sponsored violence, such as torture and political imprisonment, was widespread.

Second, said Ambassador Sewall, public officials must build trust with local leaders and communities. From Afghanistan to Somalia to Colombia, research shows that when populations are marginalized and supporting institutions are absent, communities become more vulnerable to violent extremism. But when locals know what to look for and whom to call to protect friends and family from radical ideologies, and when they trust authorities to help them, those ideologies struggle to take root.

As the terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State continues to grow, partnerships with Muslim communities at home and abroad are more critical than ever. As President Obama has said, “ISIL does not speak for Islam,” and Muslims around the world are our greatest allies in debunking perversions of their faith.

In the long run, the way to defeat groups like ISIL is to promote democratic values values and strong communities.

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