RESOLVE Network Fall Forum: Digging into the Roots of Violent Extremism

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RESOLVE Network Fall Forum: Digging into the Roots of Violent Extremism

Violent extremism presents a number of puzzles. What motivates individuals or groups attracted to rhetoric advocating violence to take the next step of carrying out violent action? How is this type of violence 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?

One year after its launch on the sidelines of the 2015 UN General Assembly, the RESOLVE Network convened its inaugural Network Fall Forum at the US Institute of Peace September 29th in Washington, DC. Over 150 policymakers, practitioners, and researchers operating in and around the violent extremism and conflict analysis sphere were in attendance for the day’s events, and another 200 joined the virtual proceedings via livestream and Twitter with #RESOLVEForum. A packed morning agenda featured panel sessions showcasing the thought-leadership of RESOLVE’s Network Partners, honing in on issues of governance, legitimacy, religious discourse, and identity. Panel topics emerged from the newly published Network working paper “Building Consensus and Setting Priorities for Research on Violent Extremism,” which identified ten priority countries and avenues of investigation into violent extremism.

Dr. Mohammed Hafez, Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, delivered a tour de force morning keynote entitled “Of Barrel Bombs and Beheadings: The Roots of Intergenerational Extremism.” Best known for his seminal book on the evolution of political Islam, Why Muslims Rebel, Dr. Hafez began his remarks by posing a similar puzzle: "Why has radical Islamism as an ideological social movement endured over the decades when theory predicts that it should be contained and in decline by now?” Hafez theorized that the crisis of legitimacy in the Middle East that has seeded the rise of Da'esh and al-Qaeda is rooted in the triple failures of the modernizing Arab state: poor governance, repressive authoritarianism, and military weakness. Arab states have relied more on traditional and ideological authority to establish state legitimacy, foregoing the more stable structural and institutional authority. “We have to be more contextual than global in our approach to countering violent extremism,” Hafez said. “Look to the structural drivers – the enduring crisis of legitimacy has created fertile soil for jihadi roots to grow."


Hafez's keynote provided a salient segue to the morning's first panel session, "The Governance Nexus: State Fragility, Legitimacy, and Violent Extremism.” The session featured RESOLVE Network Partners International Crisis Group, International Peace and Security Institute, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, and the Institute for Security Studies, as well as Beza Tesfaye of Mercy Corps. Discussion centered on the implications of governance gaps, state security institutions, and community resilience on state fragility and the rise of violent extremist groups. Led by moderator Cameron Chisholm of IPSI, panelists dove deep into the relationship between governments and their people, highlighting the common denominator of injustice and alarming trends in the use of force as drivers of violent extremism. While focusing on governance alone does not lend to generic prescriptions, it does pave the way for context-specific approaches. As armed groups and other non-state actors lose territory—think Iraq—the governing institutions filling the gap must be better, provide basic services, and create inclusive dispute resolution systems to deny extremist groups the pressure points that allowed them to take hold in the first place.

The second panel of the morning, “A New Narrative: Rethinking the Discourse on Violence & Religious Identity,” featured Network Partners Royal United Services Institute, Center for Research and Security Studies, and the US Institute of Peace with Houda Abadi of The Carter Center. Moderated by Secretariat Director Candace Rondeaux, the panel investigated the ways in which public discourse on religion, morality, apostasy, and citizenship inform extremist mobilization strategies and alternative narratives. Drawing on field experience from work with religious leaders in South Asia and the Middle East and communities in Europe, panelists emphasized the need for fresh approaches to counter-messaging campaigns. Just as there is no single driver of violent extremism, there is no single narrative. Da'esh and al-Qaeda seem to recognize that identity is fluid and the motivations of individuals fluctuate. Governments and civil society have their work cut out for them in reaching vulnerable communities online and offline. 

The RESOLVE Network emerges from its first year energized and empowered by individuals and organizations around the world committed to our shared mission. We look forward to expanding the circle of dialogue at our Fall Forum next year.

Miss the live event? Catch up on the Fall Forum action with our recap, or watch the recording below.

Keynote by Dr. Mohammed Hafez – “Of Barrel Bombs and Beheadings: The Roots of Intergenerational Extremism”: [00:18:50 – 00:51:20]

Panel 1 - The Governance Nexus: State Fragility, Legitimacy, and Violent Extremism: [01:22:00 - 02:30:00]

Panel 2 - A New Narrative: Rethinking the Discourse on Violence & Religious Identity: [02:30:00 - END]