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Preventing the Next ISIL

Sarah Sewall, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights
Sarah Sewall, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights

In order to blunt the appeal of violent terrorist groups, we must find ways to fill unmet human needs.

What drives people, especially young men and women, to join brutal and exploitative terrorist groups like ISIL or Boko Haram? We must better understand these drivers if we are to counteract the ability of terrorists to recruit new members and prevent the formation of similar groups in the future.

Individuals, even entire communities, may align with violent extremist groups for many complex reasons.

Those who feel marginalized by society on the basis of politics, religious conviction, social or economic status or other grievances, may find terrorist propaganda persuasive and look to find meaning and acceptance within terrorist groups, which often provide a storyline that allows them to turn to violence and inflict it on the society that had not fully accepted them.

On a higher level, individuals and communities may seek higher meaning with radical ideologies, and those who espouse them, that seem to meet their needs for a purpose or identity.

This means that

Preventing the Next ISIL
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“These can range from providing security, to expanding economic options, to giving marginalized communities a greater stake in determining their political future,” said Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Sarah Sewall.

So we are increasing our work toward an approach to countering violent extremism that better prevents individuals and communities from wanting to align with terrorism in the first place. This includes building trust. It includes empowering a broader range of people, including civil society, businesses, religious leaders, women, youth, international bodies and former violent extremists to counter the false promises of groups such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, and build more resilient communities. And it involves building a network of global partners, including regional and multilateral institutions such as the Arab League, United Nations, World Bank, African Union, and World Economic Forum, to reinforce the civilian-led components of this approach.

In short, if we can remove or lessen the most insistent factors that motivate people to turn toward violence, then we can start replacing destructive ideas that uphold terrorism as a means of change, with an avenue toward individual and community improvement, and hope for a better future.

As President Barack Obama said, “Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they’re defeated by better ideas -- a more attractive and compelling vision.”