Flawed counter-extremism projects 'may create new terrorists'

Think tank believes poorly run programmes worldwide can undermine the aim of countering extreme ideologies

Badly designed programmes aimed at stopping the vulnerable descending into violent extremism may cause more problems than they solve by inadvertently building networks of radicals, a think tank paper has suggested.

The London-based Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) said that countering violent extremism (CVE) projects are often poorly tested, assessed and monitored, making it hard to understand what works.

The programmes are based on recruiting officials such as teachers, social workers and community leaders to identify people at risk of becoming violent extremists and then taking action to change their minds.

The UK launched its own review into its version of the programme, Prevent, this year after criticism of its perceived failures and accusations that it was aimed unjustly at British Muslims over other groups.

And Rusi’s worldwide examination of papers and studies on the topic found a lack of hard evidence as to what works and how well projects in one country could translate to others.

It found that in Lebanon some charities rebranded their work as countering extremism to draw cash from donors. And it also found that some programmes that were merged with women’s rights projects led to a backlash against women who were regarded as “intelligence gatherers”.

“In extreme circumstances, such projects can even contribute to radicalisation processes,” the paper said. Some projects exacerbated problems by helping “contacts between radicalised individuals and enhancing distrust of the state”, it said.

The Brennan Centre, a US law and policy institute, has described the evidence underpinning so-called CVE projects as “junk science” that has proven to be “ineffective, discriminatory and divisive”.

Updated: September 8th 2021, 3:12 PM