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Countering Violent Extremism

A participant marches in the annual Halloween parade in New York, Oct. 31, 2013.
A participant marches in the annual Halloween parade in New York, Oct. 31, 2013.

Factors that make some populations vulnerable to internalizing al-Qaida's worldview are still present in many communities.

The international community needs to find more effective ways to counter the threat of violent extremism. In a recent speech, Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department made clear that the challenges presented by violent extremism are "not fading."

The killing of Osama bin Laden put al-Qaida on the path of decline that it probably cannot reverse. However, said Mr. Benjamin, the factors that make some populations vulnerable to internalizing the worldview expressed by al-Qaida and other extremists are still present in many communities. What sustains terrorist groups, even more than financing, is the steady flow of new recruits. In other words, said Mr. Benjamin, the international community has become so adept at tactical counterterrorism that it hasn’t' focused sufficiently on the need to defeat terrorists at the strategic level. That means the underpinnings that make the violent extremist worldview attractive to some groups must be undercut while at the same time addressing local grievances.

Research has shown that radicalization is often driven by factors at the local level. Recognizing that fact, the State Department has emphasized micro-strategies customized for specific communities. For several years, the State Department has supported programs that engage at-risk youth through police-led sports programs and have worked with several countries to counter the spread of violent extremist ideologies in prisons and detention centers.

The second line of defense in countering violent extremism is messaging. The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, launched over a year ago, confronts and undermines terrorist propaganda through public communication activities that dissuade potential recruits.

And finally, the U.S. is working to strengthen other countries' capacity and engagement in countering violent extremism. The aim is to propagate best practices and build an international consensus behind the effort to delegitimize extremists and their ideologies.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum launched in September and hosted by the United Arab Emirates will have a critical role to play in developing innovative programs and policies to counter violent extremism on the ground.

As Mr. Benjamin said, "We must work together to reduce recruitment and counter the spread of violent extremism." Only through concerted international action can the U.S. and its partners take on the fight and win.