Strate­giz­ing pre­ven­tion of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON -

BEIRUT: Af­ter two years of con­sul­ta­tions and meet­ings, Le­banon’s Cabi­net ap­proved a na­tional strat­egy to pre­vent vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism – an ini­tia­tive pushed for­ward by now care­taker Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri un­der a United Na­tions global ac­tion plan.

The strat­egy, ap­proved late March, is cur­rently de­vel­op­ing into a de­fin­i­tive ac­tion plan.

The process is es­ti­mated to take an­other eight months be­fore the mem­bers of the pub­lic will see it im­ple­mented in their com­mu­ni­ties.

Along with Tu­nisia and Morocco, Le­banon is one of the pi­o­neers in the re­gion to take on such a task. The fruits of its la­bor are in­tended to serve as a use­ful PVE frame­work for neigh­bor­ing coun­tries in the fu­ture.

Fac­ing both in­sur­gent mil­i­tants such as the 2014 Daesh (ISIS) at­tack on Ar­sal as well as dor­mant ones like sleeper cells hid­den in south Le­banon’s Pales­tinian refugee camp Ain al-Hil­weh, the coun­try is no stranger to ex­trem­ist ac­tiv­ity.

Rec­og­niz­ing these vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, the prime min­is­ter pri­or­i­tized Le­banon’s cre­ation of a PVE plan, the strat­egy’s na­tional co­or­di­na­tor Ru­bina Abu Zeinab said.

Pro­vid­ing de­tails of the plan to the me­dia for the first time, Abu Zeinab spoke with The Daily Star.

COUN­TERT­ER­ROR­ISM VS. PRE­VENT­ING VI­O­LENT EX­TREM­ISM

In De­cem­ber 2015, the United Na­tions’ then-Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon called on mem­ber states to sup­ple­ment coun­tert­er­ror­ism plans with pre­ven­ta­tive strate­gies. Cit­ing the growth of ex­trem­ist groups in­clud­ing Daesh, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, Ban stressed the need to fo­cus on pre-emp­tive ac­tion.

Abu Zeinab said the first ob­sta­cle in creat­ing a pre­ven­ta­tive strat­egy was dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing it from coun­tert­er­ror­ism. The task has proved dif­fi­cult, as no def­i­ni­tion for vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism is glob­ally ac­cepted.

Choos­ing not to pro­vide a def­i­ni­tion, the U.N. in­stead gave mem­ber states the op­tion to come up with their own, based on each lo­cal con­text, or not at all.

Un­like other coun­tries that opted not to take on the task, Le­banese of­fi­cials chose to de­fine vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism with three key points. Abu Zeinab said these points in­clude the spread­ing of ha­tred, the re­jec­tion of diver­sity and threats to so­cial val­ues, all of which foster vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism.

“First is the spread of in­di­vid­ual or col­lec­tive ha­tred that may lead to so­cial vi­o­lence. Sec­ond is the re­jec­tion of diver­sity and nonac­cep­tance of the other, par­tic­u­larly the use of vi­o­lence to ex­press such re­jec­tion.

“Lastly, any be­hav­ior threat­en­ing so­ci­etal val­ues en­sur­ing so­cial sta­bil­ity is a defin­ing char­ac­ter of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism,” Abu Zeinab said.

How­ever, she said the best way to un­der­stand a PVE strat­egy is to sep­a­rate it from coun­tert­er­ror­ism’s re­ac­tive, se­cu­rity-heavy na­ture.

“Coun­tert­er­ror­ism is more of a se­cu­rity ap­proach, so when it comes to CT and PVE, the Le­banese govern­ment has taken dual routes,” Abu Zeinab said.

“When we started build­ing our PVE plan, four min­istries had al­ready been work­ing for two years on CT: Jus­tice, De­fense, For­eign Af­fairs and In­te­rior [min­istries]. PVE is more com­pre­hen­sive.”

Abu Zeinab told The Daily Star that “high-level” rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all the min­is­ters have com­mit­ted to work­ing on the PVE plan, col­lab­o­rat­ing with one an­other in small in­ter­min­is­te­rial work­ing groups.

Tack­ling how vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism can be pre­vented from dif­fer­ent an­gles re­flects the mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary na­ture of a PVE strat­egy – one that also re­quires par­tic­i­pa­tion from civil so­ci­ety and the greater pub­lic.

FROM THE GRASS ROOTS TO THE GOVT

Hariri’s vi­sion, Abu Zeinab said, was to de­velop a strat­egy that in­cludes both the govern­ment and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, based on in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized stan­dards for­mal­ized by the U.N.’s global ac­tion plan. Stake­hold­ers both pub­lic and pri­vate will also be in­cluded.

“It’s a long-term de­vel­op­ment strat­egy aimed at build­ing the im­mu­nity of the whole com­mu­nity, with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of all rel­e­vant gov­ern­men­tal, non-gov­ern­men­tal, pri­vate sec­tor and aca­demic ac­tors,” the na­tional co­or­di­na­tor said.

From the min­is­te­rial rep­re­sen­ta­tives to lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and the gen­eral pub­lic it­self, all ac­tors are ex­pected work on an as­pect of nine pil­lars – ob­jec­tives agreed upon by min­is­te­rial rep­re­sen­ta­tives to pre­vent vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism.

The pil­lars, which are broad in na­ture, in­clude ur­ban and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment, youth em­pow­er­ment, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and job cre­ation. Un­der each pil­lar are a se­ries of ob­jec­tives laid out by the in­ter­min­is­te­rial groups. In eight months’ time, the pub­lic will be able to judge the na­tional com­mit­ment.

AN ALL-IN­CLU­SIVE AP­PROACH

Per­haps the most im­por­tant as­pect of Le­banon’s PVE strat­egy is its com­mit­ment to work­ing in all ar­eas of the coun­try, Abu Zeinab said.

Ex­trem­ist ac­tiv­ity in the coun­try has long been as­so­ci­ated with tu­mul­tuous ar­eas such as north Le­banon’s Tripoli, east Le­banon’s Baal­beck and any of the 12 Pales­tinian refugee camps across the coun­try.

To tackle this stigma and cre­ate a more ef­fec­tive strat­egy, Abu Zeinab said all min­is­te­rial rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­cided not to sin­gle out “any re­gion or sect.”

“That is the first thing we all agreed on,” she said.

The ini­tia­tive seems bold for a coun­try like Le­banon, which still hasn’t mended its sec­tar­ian wounds fol­low­ing a 15-year Civil War.

Fac­tor­ing in the be­hav­ior of rul­ing lead­ers who are of­ten crit­i­cized for fear­mon­ger­ing be­tween re­li­gious sects and fu­el­ing ten­sions for their own ben­e­fits, a PVE strat­egy may seem im­plau­si­ble.

Abu Zeinab said she was un­de­terred by such crit­i­cisms.

“If you look at the def­i­ni­tion Le­banon cre­ated for vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism, it has been en­dorsed by 29 [min­is­te­rial of­fices] from dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal back­grounds,” she said.

“The def­i­ni­tion re­jects sec­tar­i­an­ism. It re­jects ha­tred of diver­sity and this is telling.

“It is not easy to im­ple­ment a na­tional strat­egy but we have worked very hard.” –

A fighter fires a rocket pro­pelled grenade dur­ing clashes in Ain al-Hil­weh. Le­banon is no stranger to ex­trem­ist ac­tiv­ity.

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