Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): An Uncomfortable Reality Check

151118-isis-propaganda-victory-over-al-qaeda-yh-1115a_97488d8474eaebd0d68799081cbf89b6.nbcnews-fp-1200-800.jpgCurrently, with the increased operational tempo of Jihadist attacks around the world people understandably want solutions.  The harsh reality is that people can no longer live their lives as they desire.  The populace around the world now lives with a constant low grade concern that Islamic terrorism is going to impact their life in some way.  Americans, and in particular those of the Christian or Jewish faith, live in this reality specifically because they are considered the highest target to the Jihadist.  Again, because the threat of Jihadist attacks is not going away people inevitably want solutions. 

Thus arrives the magical term CVE, now being touted as the elixir to all things Jihad.  CVE, otherwise known as Countering Violent Extremism, is a new program that is being touted as a primary solution to either thwart an attack or redirect an intended Jihadi from his radical bent.  From the very top of the U.S. Government there are a plethora of departments, programs, advocacy groups, and grass roots entities all being stood up and hailed as the answer to the global Jihad.  In a particular community, social workers, psychologists, schoolteachers, and even law enforcement will stand together fighting the Jihadists one meeting at a time.  The concept overall is that the group will be able to square off in a timely yet sensitive manner against a young man who is showing signs of Islamic radicalization.  In reality, however, after having spent the last 18 years deeply interviewing and investigating the most radical extremists, I see this as a futile effort.  Much like the de-radicalization programs in various Muslim countries and the “hope” program of releasing Jihadists from GTMO, the probability of success will most likely be zero.        

Nevertheless, global Jihad does call for a solution and much can be done at the local level.  The following represents two tangible yet realistic recommendations that could reasonably lead to the disruption of an individual’s radicalization intentions. 

1.  Start with the Imams and the Muslim community.  After the attacks on 9/11 there was increased dialogue between law enforcement and the Imams at local mosques.  This proved invaluable on both sides.  Given the exponential increase in the number and severity of Jihadist attacks around the world, and the 100+ plots on U.S. soil, this interaction has to be resurrected.  In fact, this program can easily be implemented starting with the FBI.  What is the best platform and mechanism?  Monthly meetings at one of the mosques or an Islamic center with the heads of each mosque and each law enforcement agency attending.  The FBI Special Agent in Charge at each field office could host the meeting and determine the best agenda and topics collaboratively with the Imams.  In addition to developing honest relationships, discussions should efficiently and most importantly focus on who is potentially radicalizing within the Muslim community. 

2.  Institute community awareness programs educating the public on the signs of radicalization.  After taking in so many years of the Jihadist’ mindset, belief system, and behavioral characteristics the indicators of Jihad are clear.  As such, I developed a 10 point system that enables the concerned citizen to identify how radical an individual is.  Such a system could be formalized and taught in an almost academic setting such as a counterterrorism education center for public citizens.  The 10 evaluative points of radicalization that I find essential includes the following. These should be used in totality as the presence of one factor alone doesn’t necessarily constitute one who is radicalized.

  1. Religiosity:  Radical Islamists will always have a deep trajectory towards all aspects of the religion.  Islam provides a roadmap for such a life system via the guidelines of the Qur’an and approximately 4,500 rules identified under the other books of the Hadith.  
  2. Mentorship:  The media often out of ignorance advertises that the Jihadist was radicalized over the Internet.  A Jihadist is never “radicalized” as he/she made the decision to travel down that very unique road and did it deliberately.  Further, there is almost always someone with their arm around the Jihadist guiding through that last six months or so of preparing for an attack.
  3. Travel History:  The preparing Jihadist generally has either traveled to the Middle East or seeks to as part of their desire to study the Qur’an or Arabic on a deeper level.
  4.  Propaganda:  Islamists are always consuming various forms of radical propaganda. 
  5. Physical Appearance:  This can be either the presence of one’s Salafi lifestyle or the deliberate absence thereof for purposes of obfuscation. 
  6. Fixation on Islamic Theology:  The radical believer is almost always swimming in the deep nuanced ocean of Salafi micro theology.  This manifests itself through uncontrollable discussions sometimes even with non Muslims.
  7. Black and White Belief System:  With radicalization comes a belief system wherein everyone and everything is either Haram (prohibited) or Halal (acceptable), there is no gray area.
  8. Shedding of Western Ways:  Radical followers intentionally will shed their western lifestyle piece by piece prior to attack.
  9. Language of Jihad:  Due to their consumption of propaganda and their presence with fellow believers, the Jihadist will begin using terms that only those with a radical belief system would use.
  10. Apathy Towards Mainstream Activities:  Work and school life, not to mention general relationships with family and friends takes a turn as much of this becomes viewed as “Dunya” or evil.

Brig Barker is an ACT for America fellow and one of leading experts on counterterrorism and radicalization matters in the U.S. He is a retired FBI counterterrorism agent and former U.S. Army officer. Mr. Barker is the CEO of Counterterrorism Consultants International. He can be reached at contact@ct-consultants.com.

This article contains the opinion of Brig Barker and not the Federal Bureau of Investigation, nor the US Department of Justice.