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Countering Violent Extremism in the United States

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Jerome P. Bjelopera, Congressional Research Service, May 2012.

Summary

In August 2011, the Obama Administration announced its counter-radicalization strategy. It is devised to address the forces that influence some people living in the United States to acquire and hold radical or extremist beliefs that may eventually compel them to commit terrorism. This is the first such strategy for the federal government, which calls this effort “combating violent extremism” (CVE). Since the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has prosecuted hundreds of individuals on terrorism charges. Unlike the necessarily secretive law enforcement and intelligence efforts driving these investigations, the CVE strategy includes sizeable government activity within the open marketplace of ideas, where private citizens are free to weigh competing ideologies and engage in constitutionally protected speech and expression.

Some of the key challenges in the implementation of the CVE strategy likely spring from the interplay between the marketplace of ideas and the secretive realm encompassing law enforcement investigations and terrorist plotting.

The strategy addresses the radicalization of all types of potential terrorists in the United States but focuses on those inspired by Al Qaeda. To further elaborate this strategy, in December 2011 the Administration released its “Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States” (SIP). The SIP is a large-scale planning document with three major objectives and numerous future activities and efforts. The SIP’s three objectives involve (1) enhancing federal community engagement efforts related to CVE, (2) developing greater government and law enforcement expertise for preventing violent extremism, and (3) countering violent extremist propaganda.

This report provides examples of recent Administration CVE activity and examines some of the risks and challenges evident in the SIP’s three objectives. The report also diagrams and briefly discusses the “future activities and efforts” outlined in the SIP for each of these three objectives. A number of areas may call for oversight from Congress.

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About Muhammad Haniff Hassan

Muhammad Haniff Bin Hassan is a Fellow. He holds a PhD and M.Sc. in Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (previously known as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies), Nanyang Technological University. He received his early education in Aljunied Islamic School. He then continued his tertiary education at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, National University of Malaysia, with honours in Syar`iah and Civil law. Mr. Haniff is also active in social activities as a member of the Islamic Religious Council Appeal Board, HSBC Insurance Islamic Advisory Board from 2000 to 2014, Association of Islamic Religious Teachers and Scholars of Singapore (PERGAS) and Management Committee of Al-Irsyad Islamic School. He writes extensively in Berita Harian (a local Malay newspaper) and has also published articles in The Straits Times. He has published six books in his name, co-authored a monograph and helped publish two books for PERGAS and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. His personal website in Malay is at www.haniff.sg

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