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February 27, 2015

Week 6: Violent Extremism

The terrorist attacks of early 2015 have sparked wide-ranging debates. Why do people engage in terrible acts of violence? What has failed in their societies and in their values? What is to be done? Can economic, social, and political development counter violent religious extremism—and if so, how? What is to be undertaken against ISIS and its allies in particular, while maintaining a respectful stance towards Islam and Muslims in general?

  • Katherine Marshall stepped back to draw out some themes emerging from the six weeks of dialogue. She reflected on the complexities involved in relating the "root causes" of violent extremism to the global fight against poverty and inequality but stressed how far the two are intertwined.
  • Colin Steele addressed the issue, taking inspiration and concern from the Peace Corps experience: Carrie Hessler Radelet, speaking at Georgetown on February 23, brought home the gravity of security risks and the irony that it means that the Peace Corps cannot serve where it is most needed. He calls for new thinking about ways to achieve development goals in hostile zones.
  • Lauren Corke focused on prevention of violent extremism. "Terrorist organizations find success in areas that are ravaged by poverty and trapped in economic stagnation." Her message: ignoring poverty is dangerous. Development is the best weapon against terrorism.
  • Ravi Subramanian argues for turning the tables on violent extremists by replacing negative experience (corrupt practices, job discrimination, etc.) with positive ones. Institutional and governance failures "strengthen beliefs that all forms of institutional governance have failed at the ground level which leads to actions in the form of extremism." He cites Mercy Corps evidence from various tumultuous societies that bolster his arguments.
  • While jihadism and poor governance are distinct phenomena, "in the echo chamber of MENA societies, they reinforce each other." Felix Obi comes back to jobs, inequalities, and poor governance as the priorities for combating the appeal of extremists. Aggregate GDP measures mask the deeper divides that result in what he terms a farce that reinforces perceived injustice and political repression.