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Breaking down institutional barriers in the fight against terrorism

Challenges of CVE approaches from the perspective of first line practitioner cooperation or collaboration with other actors, and recommended ways to tackle it.

This article presents the challenges of the Counter VERLT approaches used in Europe and the different types of barriers involved in a multi-agency approach, in countering radicalization and extremism. Recommendations on breaking these cultural, structural, political challenges are given.

Many of the European governments have realized the importance of integration of muslims in the society, to prevent radicalization and violent extremism. Regarding integration, European governments are in a dilemma, whether to make a room for diverse ethnic and religious groups or ask them to adapt to the European lifestyle. As the process of radicalization is highly individualistic and strategies cannot be generalized, the European governments are finding it difficult to come up with effective policies. The challenge is to prevent radicalization and counter violent extremism while promoting Europeans democratic values, civil liberty and human rights. However, countries like Germany and Spain limit the freedom of speech and invade into the right to privacy and religious freedom whenever required.

There are certain barriers to information sharing in a multi-agency approach. One of the political barriers involves the dilemma, whether the punitive measures are effective or the soft approaches. These barriers arise in crime prevention as well. Another political criticism is whether the welfare state should be allowed to interfere in the citizen’s life. Many awareness programs have had an opposite effect and has led to more polarization in the society. This is because it creates mistrust in the society, specifically towards the minority being targeted which acts as a breeding ground for radicalization. Moreover, the attitude of perceiving muslims as outsiders, needs to be tackled. However, the Danish multi-agency approach focuses on the socio-psychological process of the individual, ignoring the political aspect. This is problematic, as there is a need to focus on the political grievances and agendas to tackle the ideology and hence it should not be treated as any other crime. Some of the front-line practitioners also see a vast difference between the intervention for crime prevention and de-radicalization.

Lack of consensus regarding the definition of radicalization and extremism is another challenge to counter VERLT. It leads to ambiguity in understanding what the problem is and its preventive measures. In a multi-agency approach, this ambiguity leads to individual’s interpretation of radicalization and extremism, which might be affected by individual’s biases and prejudices. If there are multiple agencies involved in the intervention, different professionals would perceive signs of radicalization and resilience factors differently (Jakobsen and Jensen, 2011). This could result in false negatives and false positives in assessment.

Multi-agency approach relies heavily on cooperation between the actors involved. Coordinating between different agencies will always be challenging, they cannot be overcome but can be minimized. In many cases, the agencies are not comfortable working together as they feel as informants which can affect the trust they had built in the organization. Also, absence of information sharing culture makes it difficult, as many practitioners prefer working alone. Many front-line practitioners have taken up the duty to look for symptoms of VERLT, but they are uncertain about what symptoms they should focus on. In the Danish Prison system, 70 percent of the staff reported they need more knowledge on radicalization and extremism to understand what is normal and what is not? With the lack of awareness regarding radicalization process and its dynamics, any certain first line practitioner could disrupt the support (RAN,2017). Also, lack of knowledge regarding confidentiality and privacy of the information gathered is a challenge. Any breaches in the confidentiality of information can break the trust in the concerned authorities and the engagement with other first line practitioners (RAN,2017).

The inclusion of the community to counter VERLT is effective as the authorities cannot be present everywhere to keep a check. Hence, community-based approaches and multiple-agency approaches can help to support the hard to reach individuals. There are several points to be taken into consideration for successful implementation of the multi-disciplinary approach. Roles and duties should be clearly defined to the different agencies involved in VERLT to avoid confusion. Specific areas of responsibility should be assigned, and the agencies should be held accountable for that. Clear protocols should be developed to ensure confidentiality of the sensitive information and human rights. Clarity in decision making process which involves multiple agencies and practitioners for a joint action. Transparency throughout the different levels and co-ordination across the agencies.

Note: This article is based on Radicalisation to terrorism and violent extremism-multi agency approach, RAN (2017), the Danish approach to countering and preventing extremism and radicalization (2015), Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism: A Community-Policing Approach OSCE, (2014)

Author: Shruti Kapil



Challenges to VERLT, barriers, first line practitioners, multi-agency approach, community-based approach