CVE Initiatives: Successful Components and Avoiding Pitfalls

January 30, 2015


Picture by U.S. Department of Homeland Security

“Aren’t you making a big deal out of a problem that is really small?”

“Why should American Muslims care about countering violent extremism (CVE)?”

These are legitimate questions coming from the average American Muslim. Violent extremism is a problem that is small in number, but the impact is big. Many law enforcement agencies have engaged in draconian measures against Muslim communities in the name of national security and CVE. However, despite all this, the American Muslim community is still on the receiving end of the repercussions when violent extremists attack – this includes an uptick in anti-Muslim hate crimes, negative perceptions of Muslims, harsh policies, heavy-handed law enforcement tactics like mass surveillance and the overuse of informants. It is imperative then, that American Muslims take on a leadership role in confronting and countering violent extremism in order to be proactive with an issue that impacts our communities so closely.

This is why we need community-driven and community-led approaches to CVE. American Muslims, in partnership with law enforcement and other civil society institutions, can prevent the backlash that occurs against the community and also improve our nation’s security. CVE work is not easy; there are plenty of pitfalls that might prevent the success of a program. For example, the United Kingdom’s Prevent Program, a government-led CVE initiative reduced the partnership approach to simply throwing money at the problem. It became a program that funded pet projects rather than focusing on prevention and intervention initiatives. Additionally, the Prevent program stigmatized certain Muslim communities in that it created the perception of the “good Muslim” vs. the “bad Muslim” (i.e., the communities that received funding were seen by the government as being the “good Muslims”).

There are examples of positive models and approaches to CVE that are community-led and that take into account the pitfalls that have led programs like Prevent to be deemed unsuccessful. MPAC’s Safe Spaces Toolkit emphasizes the prevention of violent extremism cases and intervention in specific scenarios by creating environments that allow people to address concerns in a healthy manner and outlines plans of intervention in cases of at-risk individuals. This allows communities and law enforcement to play to their strengths in what we call a division of labor approach to CVE where communities focus on theological and social issues while law enforcement focus their resources on actual illegal activities and criminal behaviors rather than becoming “thought police.” This division makes CVE more effective and constitutional so that law enforcement does not get entangled in promoting one specific ideology or philosophy over another. This approach keeps our nation safer and American Muslims as partners rather than suspects.

Partnerships work. Hashi Shafi, a Somali-American Muslim leader in Minneapolis, MN has worked on bridging the lack of trust between his community and law enforcement with positive results. “One thing that we've done successfully is maintaining relationships between law enforcement and the community,” said Shafi. “We've created relationships with the government and this allows the Somali community to feel involved in the civic process. As a result, today we have fifteen Somalis working in law enforcement, including in the local police department and the Transportation Security Agency (TSA).”

Violent extremism disproportionately impacts American Muslim communities, therefore American Muslim groups and leaders must take the lead on the issue. Violent extremism is not limited to one religion, but the failure to address it would be detrimental to our communities and nation.

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