February 29, 2016

How to Counter Global Religious Violence

A panel of leading experts in religion, terrorism, and security spoke on February 29 on strategies to counter global religious violence. The panel, part of the event “Radicals, Religion, and Peace: Global Security in the Age of Terror,” included researchers from the National Defense University and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), as well as practitioners leading policy development at the U.S. Department of State and Institute for Global Engagement. The event was co-sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Global Futures Initiative. Throughout the discussion, the speakers shared a desire to push the norms of the dialogue around security and religion in order to facilitate new approaches to countering extremist faiths.

Mary Habeck, a visiting scholar at AEI, argued that a hesitancy to criticize religion among American policymakers and overreliance on realist explanations has polarized the policy-making community. Where nuanced approaches are necessary, she has found that policymakers tend to act with an “all or nothing” mentality that either equates religious violence with the religion itself, or dismisses it as entirely unconnected with the faith.

John Gallagher, with the Institute of Global Engagement, similarly argued that U.S. engagement has relied on over-militarized approaches which have failed to delegitimize radical ideologies. He also critiqued a continued lack of adequate collaboration with and outreach to civil society and religious groups.

Hassan Abbas, a current professor and chair of the department of regional and analytical studies at National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs, supported this claim by arguing about the growing need to establish a counter narrative combating extremist ideologies by partnering with progressive Muslim scholars.

Despite differences in areas of research focus, all panelists noted that current approaches are failing to counter the expansion of extremist groups and that new solutions are needed. They encouraged questioning of typical academic, and policy, expectations for how to interpret and confront religious extremism, and called for renewed research and collaboration with non-traditional actors to do so.