Policy Memo - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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Policy Memo - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

About the AuthorAzeem Ibrahim is a Research Fellow at the InternationalSecurity Program at the Kennedy School of Governmentat Harvard University, a Senior Research Scholar at theEuropean Centre for Advanced Defence and StrategicStudies in Geneva and a Council Member of the Dean’sInternational Council at the Harris School of Public Policyand Diplomacy at the University of Chicago.For seven years Azeem Ibrahim was also a reservist in theBritish Army’s Parachute Regiment and is now serving asa Director and Policy Board Member of the United KingdomNational Defence Association.Over the last few years Azeem Ibrahim has met and adviseda number of world leaders and governments including thePrime Minister of Turkey and leaders in the Gulf states onmatters ranging from geopolitics to trade and investment.Azeem Ibrahim is also the Chairman and CEO of ECMHoldings - a conglomerate of six finance companiesincluding a private online bank for commodity traders,a financial clearing house and a private equity hedge fund.He can be contacted at: azeem@ibrahimfoundation.comAbout the Author 03


Trends in GeostrategyTrend 1 - The strategic conception of the task hasmade it harder to achieve it.Since 2001, the unsubtle conception of a ‘war on terror’has made counterterrorism more difficult. It invokesa war metaphor which wrongly implies both thattraditional military operations should be the preeminenttactic, and that a clear-cut victory against terrorism– which is after all a tactic – is achievable. It has alsodivided international allies which it sought to unite.Conclusion 1 – We need a united strategicconception of the global challenge.Governments cannot address radicalisationand terror unless they are, and are seen to be,united behind one strategic conception of thechallenge they face. This requires a narrativewhich, unlike ‘the war on terror,’ can winlegitimacy with governments and populationsalike. That necessitates working multilaterallytowards articulating a long-term strategic stanceagainst terrorism which can win support inWestern and Muslim countries alike. It is in thelong-term interests of all governments to takeinto account how they affect global Muslimopinion. This challenge will become moreimportant as Asian countries rise.Conclusion 2 – Soft power should be usedto undermine the intellectual conditionsin which radicalisation takes root.This involves discrediting the interpretationsof Islam which permit the murder of innocentpeople. Western governments can draw mediaattention to authoritative Muslim religiousand legal figures abroad who renounceviolent jihad. This kind of tactic has been usedsuccessfully by governments in Egypt and SaudiArabia for many years. 19 It would be cheap or free,and effective. By drawing attention to authenticMuslim, and sometimes ex-jihadi, authoritieswho renounce violence abroad, governmentscan reduce the motivation to radicalise, and makeit harder for radical groups to recruit and grow.An example is instructive. Dr Sayyid Imamal-Sharif is a respected jihadist thinker, whoseprevious works influenced leading figures inal-Qaeda. In 2007, he published a book stronglyrenouncing violent jihad. In an interview withthe Egyptian press, he argued that his book posedan acute problem for al Qaeda, because it hadno one who is qualified from a sharia perspectiveto respond. The story was front-page news inmany Islamic countries because they understoodal Sharif’s authority with jihadis. Many Muslimscholars sided with al-Sharif, and al Qaeda wasstung into writing a two-hundred page response.But the news barely filtered through in the20 21European and American media.Western governments can learn from this.Trends in Geostrategy 06


British TrendsTrend 1 - Britain will continue to be a central focusfor radical activity in Europe.Britain is in a unique position, for reasons that will notchange soon. More British troops are deployed in Islamiccountries than any other country in Europe. Britain hasparticularly strong links with Pakistan and India. And 15%of British Muslims are sympathetic to fundamentalistviews, more than double the number in any country incontinental Europe. 22 This makes it imperative that overthe next decades, policymakers stay aware of Britishtrends on the ground.Trend 2 - The ‘depurification‘ of radical recruitment.Terrorist cells used to focus on recruiting keenyoung religious people, often in or around Mosques.Increasingly now, they are recruiting in prisons, 23and targeting recent converts and those with a historyof street crime or gang culture. 24 As recruitment shiftsfrom the Mosque to the street and the prison cell,deradicalisation funding must do the same if it is tostay effective. That means involving educators whocan speak directly to young people, know their cultureand speak their language. It could mean fundingeducation programmes given by authoritative influential‘street’ figures, perhaps ex-jihadi fighters with combatexperience who have renounced the ideology. Existingorganisations like this with the right leadership, suchas the Active Change Foundation in Waltham Forestin north London, 25 26 27 have a successful track record.Trend 3 - Ongoing internal divisions in the Muslimcommunity.The Muslim community is divided, and there is littleevidence that it will start to speak with one voicein the short-term. Whilst some divisions are familiar –radical and moderate, different countries of origin,different schools of religious tradition – some ofthe subtler divisions are likely to hinder preventionprogrammes too. The generation gap is one example.Kids born here to parents born abroad often feelthe tension of having one culture and identity athome and another on the street. Policymakers mustensure that the generation of leaders which getsthe ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’ (PVE) fundingare equipped to understand the generation theywant to reach.Conclusion 1 - There should be someindependent oversight of the effect of‘Preventing Violent Extremism’ fundingto ensure that it does not exacerbate communaldivisions.Conclusion 2 - Policymakers must acceptthat high-profile government involvementwill sometimes be a help and sometimesa hindrance.Initiatives are more likely to be effective whenthey work with, rather than against, loyalties feltin the Muslim community. Often, the young peoplewho they want to reach will see the governmentas a contaminated brand. When they see that itis involved in bolstering elements of moderateMuslim leadership, they will regard that leadershipas less authentic as a result. 28 If the PVE strategyis to work, government will have to be sensitiveabout how its involvement is viewed on thestreets, and choose carefully when it is helpfulto make its involvement high-profile.Conclusion 3 - The need to manage publicexpectations.The public are accustomed to headlines aboutterrorist plots thwarted, arrests made, andconvictions secured, but prevention is different.Policymakers must be clear from the start thatsuccessful prevention will be less perceptible.Success will mean the quiet changing of minds,the dwindling of traffic to radical websites,and ultimately, fewer homegrown attacks beingattempted. But if this is not said publicly, thenin time, if radical Islam drifts from the centreof public concern, spending taxpayers’ moneyon bolstering moderate opinion could becomepolitically contentious. Policymakers shouldpre-empt these objections by building on thewide public support for measures to preventterrorism to widen public acceptance forfunding moderate Islam.British Trends 07


ACTION POINTSThe long-term demographic, geostrategic, and domestic trendsall point to the same conclusion: the key to preventing violentextremism is minimising the motivation to radicalise. Short andmedium-term action points include:12345Governments must redefine success against terrorism. Militaryobjectives achieved or plots foiled are insufficient. A decline inMuslim radicalisation is crucial. A new US presidency will providean unprecedented opportunity to prioritise this.Western governments should direct their national media towardsex-jihadi Muslim scholars who renounce violence, because theycan influence jihadi opinion on the ground.In Britain, there should be some independent oversight of the effectof ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’ funding to ensure that it does notexacerbate communal divisions or cause other perverse incentives.In Britain, government must be sensitive about when to make itsinvolvement with the recipients of PVE funding high-profile, so theydo not compromise the perceived authenticity of the moderateMuslim leadership they seek to support.In Britain, policymakers must manage public expectations about whatsuccessful prevention will look like. This should include building on thewide public support for measures to prevent terrorism to widen publicacceptance for funding moderate Islam.Action Points 08