Over the past five years, the Supporting Leaders programme at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has partnered with local organisations to empower religious actors to counter extremist narratives and build social cohesion. It trained 172 trainers and facilitators, empowered 361 religious leaders and reached more than 29,000 local community members.
In 2019, the Institute and the Alliance for Peacebuilding, with the generous support of the GHR Foundation, convened an Insights Forum in Nairobi. Our aim was to showcase to practitioners and policymakers the impact of working with religious actors to build peaceful and stable societies. More evidence on this is essential to support sustainable policy change and allocation of resources. The need for such an evidence base has become more pressing in 2020 due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, which is likely to lead to resources being diverted away from defending societies against violent extremism.
This essay collection explores challenges and opportunities for policymakers working with religious actors, giving a platform to locally grounded perspectives and priorities, fresh thinking and innovative solutions to the ever-evolving, global challenge of confronting extremism. What are policymakers neglecting? What radical changes or policies are needed? What would help equip policymakers to deal with this challenge?
In the essay “Grievance, Religion and Ideology: Working at the Interface to Counter Violent Extremism”, Nuruddeen Lemu and Haleemah Ahmad argue that, generally, ideology motivates the leadership of violent extremist groups while grievances motivate most of their fighters. Hence, both ideology and grievances must be addressed in building resilience against extremism. The authors call on preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) practitioners and policymakers to find innovative solutions to continue work during the pandemic, which will also enhance P/CVE efforts in future years.
In “Faith Warriors: The Effectiveness of Inter and Intra-religious Action in Countering Violent Extremism”, Dr Hassan Khannenje emphasises the importance of intra- and inter-religious action for peacebuilding and P/CVE, exemplified by the El-Wak bus attack in 2015, when a group of Muslims stood up to protect Christians. Religious actors uniquely combine authority, credibility, institutional resources and community grounding. Clerics involved in the Horn Institute’s Deep Dialogue Programme have been successful in rescuing radicalised youth. Khannenje recommends that religious actors be part of any programmatic intervention from the design stage and that those interventions reflect unique local circumstances.
In “Gender Equality and the Prevention of Violent Extremism in Kenya: The Role of Religious Leaders”, Fauziya Ahmed argues that opportunities for women are still restricted in every country despite high-level calls for action over the past 20 years. The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic response have exacerbated structural societal inequalities. Therefore, it is critical to have more female religious teachers, alliances between religious and political leaders (coalitions for change) and an embrace of social media to reduce intergenerational gaps.
In “Empowering Local Voices: Using Community-Led Approaches to Prevent Extremism”, Tog Gang notes the erosion of traditional institutions as key to recent conflicts across the Lake Chad Basin. The transfer of powers from traditional to constitutional authorities has reduced local conflict-preventive capacities. Religious leaders have a key role to play in community mobilisation to act on nutrition, sanitation and peacebuilding, just as they are now doing in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In “Shared Spaces: Gender and Religion in Nigeria’s Programme for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration”, Habiba Dahir argues that engaging women on religion-based platforms is important in P/CVE, especially because terrorists employ a gendered construction of extremist ideologies to justify violence. Muslim women’s associations, teachers, civil society leaders, psychologists and female religious scholars have been instrumental in P/CVE activities in north-eastern Nigeria, including the community reintegration of women formerly associated with armed groups: a rare but powerful example of female-to-female deradicalisation.
In “Following the Narrative: Using Qualitative Evidence to Inform Policy to Prevent Violent Extremism”, Shamsia Ramadhan recommends qualitative results-based and community-focused monitoring and evaluation systems drawn from the peacebuilding sector to better inform P/CVE policymaking and programming. This highly participatory approach acts as a confidence-building measure to enhance local ownership, active participation and the creation of context-specific policies. P/CVE programmes need to have mid- and long-term visions that include local, regional and global dynamics.
We hope that the important material covered in these essays will better position P/CVE practitioners to make the case to policymakers as to why, and more importantly how, improvements can be made, especially during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. The opinions expressed are the authors’ and do not reflect the opinions of the Institute.
Dr Usama Hasan
Tony Blair Institute for Global Change
Read the essay collection “Voices from Kenya and Nigeria: Working With Religious Actors to Prevent Extremism”