There is no military solution against violent extremism

From UPP (Italy), NOVACT (Spain), PATRIR (Romania), and PAX (Netherlands)

While we mourn for Paris, all our thoughts and sympathy are with all victims of war, terror and violence. Our solidarity and friendship is with all those who are living under and suffering violence: in Lebanon, in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Palestine, Congo, Burma, Turkey, Nigeria and elsewhere. Violent extremism is a plague of our time. It kills hope; security; understanding between people; dignity; safety. It must stop.

We need to counter violent extremism. As a coalition of non-governmental organizations from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East serving the world’s most vulnerable communities and working to prevent atrocities and violent conflict, we are concerned, however, that this wave of solidarity towards the victims of violent extremism could be channelled in a way that will lead to repeat old mistakes: prioritizing military and securitized responses over investments to address the structural causes of instability. Security just react against a threat, it doesn’t prevent it in its origins. Fighting inequality, in all senses, and promoting intercultural relations and understanding creates a more sustainable solution allowing all actors involved to be an active part of change.

For the past decades, our governments have been at the centre of a succession of disastrous wars that have brought devastation to large parts of North Africa and the Middle East. They have contributed to increase, not diminished, the threats to our own national security in the process. The over-reliance on military or aggressive security responses to threats when social and political solutions are needed can fuel grievances, encourage violence and undermine the objective to counter violent extremism. Military capacities are ill suited to address either the drivers or entrepreneurs of violence. An emerging body of evidence argues that improving domestic governance capacities is more effective than increased military capacity in sustainably addressing violent extremism.

Despite this evidence, we observe that there is a serious and real risk before us. Taking into account the present events; we suspect that a military approach will prevail again. Billions spent on security operations are coupled with relatively minor investments in development, governance, humanitarian or human rights activities. Civilian agencies are seeing their mandates rhetorically expanding to include efforts to address sources of instability and violence before crises erupt, but are unable to meet basic operating costs necessary to address soaring humanitarian needs, let alone development and governance needs. This contributes to generate a social narrative where civil society activities are seen as a palliative short-term patch while we must get military strength to achieve sustainable or even permanent changes against these risks and threats.

We, the signers of this statement, we want to raise a new approach to prevent and counter violent extremism. It is urgent.  We need to start a concerted effort to put an end to a reality that is causing so much pain and devastation. We urge leaders and citizens everywhere to act for:

  1. Promote respect for faith and ideology: Religion is rarely the only factor that explains the rise of violent extremism. No religion is a monolithic entity. Religious motivations are usually interwoven with those that are socio-economic, political, ethnic and related to identities. Religion can intensify conflicts or be a force for good. It is the way that beliefs are held and ideologies are exercised that makes the difference.
  2. Promote quality and public education and access to culture:  education and culture are vital for human development. Governments need to understand the link between education, culture, employment and opportunity, and remove barriers and facilitate social mobility and connectivity. Religious educators need to offer people a firm grounding not only in their own religion but also in universal values and tolerance.
  3. Promoting real democracy and human rights:  We know violent extremism can thrive where there is poor or weak governance, or where the government is seen as illegitimate. Where these conditions persist, grievances are often left unaddressed, and frustrations can easily be channelled into violence. Preventing and countering violent extremism requires our governments to be opened and accountable, to respect the rights of minorities and to promote a genuine commitment to practising democratic values and human rights.
  4. Fighting poverty: Where systematic exclusion creates injustice, humiliation and unfair treatment, it can produce a toxic mix that allows violent extremism to flourish.  We need to dedicate resources to address the drivers of grievances, such as injustice, marginalization, social and economical inequality, including gender inequality ​through programming and reforms focused on citizen participation in governance, rule of law, opportunities for women and girls, education opportunities, freedom of expression and conflict transformation.
  5. Reinforce Peace building tools to address violent extremism:  We need real action to end the wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya, to support stability in Lebanon, to end the Occupation of Palestine. There are no significant efforts to meaningfully, authentically end these on-going wars or to support the heroic efforts of citizens’ peace movements. Citizens in each of our countries need to unite to demand and drive our governments to adopt committed peace building policies and engagement to bring about diplomatic resolution and ending of the wars in the region. We need to ensure real and significant support to all local peace movements mobilizing to abolish wars and violence, prevent recruitment and facilitate disengagement from violent groups, promote peace education, addressing extremist narratives and galvanising ‘counter-speech’. We know today that Peace building offers a more realistic, pragmatic, effective and responsible answer to counter terrorism and violence.
  6. Facing global injustice: The vast majority of violent extremism is found in the context of entrenched and unresolved conflicts, where violence begets violence. Numerous studies have documented vicious and self-destructive cycles of revenge, economies of war, and ‘cultures of death’ in which violence becomes a way of life.  Governments and international organisations must do everything in their power to break the political and institutional deadlocks that prevent conflicts from being resolved. We need to stop supporting military occupations, we need to stop our agreements with countries systematically violating Human Rights, we need to be able to offer response to crisis and show proper solidarity: the reaction of our governments in front of the Syrian refugee crisis is immoral and unacceptable.
  7. Rights-based bilateral relations: Uphold commitments to rights-based governance in all bilateral relations. All the assistance offered by our governments to other states to counter or prevent violent extremism must emphasize and ensure the protection of human rights, citizen security, and equal justice under law.

We are the beginning of a global movement of citizens worldwide dedicated to overcoming terrorism and the terror of war and state killings – and we will not stop until they are stopped. We are asking you – citizens, governments, organisations, people of the world – to join us. We the signers of this statement, we call for a new response – a response based upon respect for the dignity and safety of every human being; a response based upon intelligent and effective ways of addressing conflicts and their drivers; a response based upon solidarity, dignity and humanity. We commit ourselves to organise a response, a call to action. The challenge is urgent.

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