In the last decade, the world has witnessed a sharp rise in devastating attacks targeting civilians. Data on violent extremist attacks suggests that while the volume of attacks ebbs and flows from year to year, violence has been increasingly concentrated in parts of Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Few observers would contradict the assertion that groups such as Boko Haram, Da’esh, and al-Qaeda pose a global threat to security and stability. And because they are a global threat, there is a tendency to assume that what fuels violent extremism in one part of the world also stokes the killing elsewhere. This assumption, however, is misleading. For researchers investigating the factors that drive violent extremist groups to target civilians, context—especially local context—matters greatly.
The current state of the evidence and data on violent extremism poses a number of puzzles for researchers: What motivates individuals or groups to move from using or responding positively to political rhetoric that advocates the use of violence to actually taking violent action? How is violent extremism different from other forms of political violence? When and under what conditions do communities choose to support, abstain from, or actively reject violent social movements and extremist groups?
This working paper is the result of the RESOLVE Network Secretariat team’s consultations with network partners and a diverse group of eighty prominent academics, practitioners, and policymakers, who shared their views on research priorities for the CVE community of practice. The paper describes where there appears to be consensus on research priorities; identifies which research questions may elicit the most fruitful responses; and suggests geographic areas that may need greater investment in research. It also spells out some of the challenges associated with this sensitive area of research and suggests possible solutions.
In support of this effort, the Secretariat team has undertaken three streams of analysis: the expert consultations described in this paper, case study literature reviews, and text-mining analysis of a large corpus of peer-reviewed literature. In partnership with Steering Committee member the US Institute of Peace, findings from each track will be published as part of a series of working papers over the next several months.
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 According to analysis of data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), the actual number of attacks recorded globally decreased by 12 percent from 2014 to 2015. However, according to the GTD more than 50 percent of all attacks took place in five countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and the Philippines), and 69 percent of all deaths due to terrorist attacks took place in five countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen). For more details, see http://www.start.umd.edu/news/2015-global-terrorism-database-now-available.
 Da’esh is the Arabic translation of the acronym for the Islamic State in the Levant, also known as ISIL or ISIS. As a general rule, the RESOLVE Network Secretariat refers to ISIS by its original Arabic name.