Dmello on von Hlatky, 'Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism: Assessing Domestic and International Strategies'

Author: 
Stéfanie von Hlatky, ed.
Reviewer: 
Jared Dmello

Stéfanie von Hlatky, ed. Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism: Assessing Domestic and International Strategies. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2020. 224 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7735-5936-3

Reviewed by Jared Dmello (Texas A&M International University) Published on H-Diplo (February, 2021) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=55370

In Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism: Assessing Domestic and International Strategies, Stéfanie von Hlatky compiles ten chapters, inclusive of the introduction and conclusion, from a breadth of contributors addressing the various components of countering violent extremism (CVE) in Canada and beyond. The book is divided into three parts, which address the state of the field, CVE in the Canadian context, and international models of CVE.

One of the most recognizable strengths of this work is the diversity in contributors. In the introduction to the volume, von Hlatky describes a disconnect between academics and practitioners. Specifically, von Hlatky notes a misalignment between scholars investigating terrorism in the global context and those tasked with counterterrorism at the national level. Within this volume, contributors include both “scholars and experts from various professional backgrounds and levels of governance, from grassroots level to civil servants involved in international program delivery” (p. 13). This breadth is important because it helps fill the gap von Hlatky describes at the outset. However, this also makes the book attractive to a broader audience, as throughout the volume, the implications for both research and practice are strongly articulated. Further, the book transcends disciplinary lines, allowing contributors to engage in a variety of theoretical framings around the concept of CVE.

The two chapters constituting the first part of the volume are important for conceptually grounding the work. In their contribution, Christian Leuprecht, David B. Skillicorn, and Clark McCauley develop a distinction between countering and preventing violent extremism, while confronting common misconceptions about terrorism. As Nora Abdelrahman Ibrahim describes in her conclusion to the volume, Leuprecht and colleagues provide a practical discussion of fact versus fiction in this area. In the subsequent chapter, David Eisenman, Steve Weine, and Myrna Lashley focus on prevention from the public health perspective. While the distinction in terminology may at first appear superficial, it is an essential conversation applicable to both research in this space as well as to the crafting and implementation of national security policy. A large body of research shows that public perceptions can be swayed for various reasons, including framing of ideas and concepts. For example, Islamophobia increased after al-Qaeda’s attacks in the United States in 2001, with Islam becoming once again securitized when US President Donald Trump announced his policy often referred to as the “Muslim ban.”[1] 

We also know that the media plays a key role in driving public perception of terrorism. In their study, “When Data Do Not Matter: Exploring Public Perceptions of Terrorism” in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (2019), Erin M. Kearns, Allison E. Betus, and Anthony F. Lemieux found that factual information can change an individual’s perceptions about terrorism, suggesting the importance of education and knowledge in driving how the public conceptualizes terroristic threats. Because the literature overwhelmingly suggests that the clarity and precision of language matters, the discussion of countering versus preventing violent extremism in this opening part is important for framing the topic both for latter parts of the book and for the broader scholarly and policy debates. Ultimately, the authors craft the case that extremism is preventable, arguing in favor of the language of “prevention” rather than “countering.”

Empowerment through education is another key theme throughout the volume. Specifically, the various contributors emphasize the “the importance of training and education as a strategy to shape the CVE environment across stakeholder groups” (p. 13). This emphasis joins a growing chorus of research documenting the relationship between education and CVE. For example, Shandon Harris-Hogan, Kate Barrelle, and Debra Smith’s “The Role of Schools and Education in Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Applying Lessons from Western Countries to Australian CVE Policy” in the Oxford Review of Education (2019) contextualizes the debate over the role of educational institutions in CVE within the Australian context, while Mario Novelli’s “Education and Countering Violent Extremism: Western Logics from South to North?” in Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education (2017) documents the methods by which education has been used to inform CVE intervention strategies. The case studies in the current volume focus on education of practitioners and the public as foundations for effective CVE strategy. Findings from these initiatives may inform other national strategies of the benefits of increased investment in educational programming as a method of preventing and countering violent extremism.

The second part of the book focuses on CVE in Canada. A large portion of the discussion on Canada is Islam-centric. For example, Ali Dizboni reviews the scholarly literature on various components of Islam, “faith, practice, identity, and radicalization” (p. 103), within the Canadian context. Similarly, Tabasum Akseer discusses various community-based policing strategies employed in the country, such as intelligence officers surveilling mosques, something that participants found to be “intrusive” and “an infringement on a space that is meant for prayer and devotion” (p. 112). However, Robert Martyn addresses various actors and extremist movements operating within Canada, such as Sikh extremism. Despite this expansion beyond Islamic extremism, Martyn describes right-wing extremism as an “outlier” (p. 79), downplaying the threat these movements pose to Canadian security.[2] The subsequent chapters focusing on Canadian CVE primarily focus on religious extremism as well. Right-wing extremism is a salient threat to global audiences as well. For example, there have been documented incidents of right-wing extremism increasing in the United States following the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016, in addition to persistent right-wing activity in countries such as Italy and India.[3] Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism focuses primarily on religious extremism, with an emphasis on Islamic extremism. While this is very important given global trends, further research is needed to understand how differences between individuals radicalizing based on Islamic extremist beliefs differ from (or coalesce with) those based on other ideological framings, such as right-wing extremism, to maximize the effectiveness of national CVE programs.

Von Hlatky describes the importance of bridging national and international spaces, and this volume does an impressive job achieving this call for action. A lot of comparative studies on CVE tend to include the United States, resulting in a very US-centric sphere of research. Von Hlatky overcomes this by instead incorporating the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, and Scotland as case studies. This inclusion of a breadth of countries provides a perspective on CVE programs from outside the US, while also contributing unique geographical contexts for counterterrorism strategy. This connects with the previous discussion about political extremism and the need for thinking about CVE in a broader context. For example, the perpetrator of the 2011 attack in Norway was motivated by political rhetoric and cultural framing of school shootings.[4] In his chapter, Patrick O’Halloran describes the nexus of ideological and religious extremism in analyzing the 2014 Norwegian Action Plan Against Radicalisation and Violent Extremism, which identifies two key groups: “Al-Qaeda-inspired extremists and right-wing extremists who are hostile to Islam” (p. 169). As the lines between “international” and “domestic” terrorism continue to blur, religious and ideological extremism are likely to become further intertwined. This book highlights the increasing complexity of motivations for radicalization and addresses both the religious-specific in the Canadian context and broader conceptualizations in the international context.

Overall, Stéfanie von Hlatky’s Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism: Assessing Domestic and International Strategies provides many key contributions to the field of CVE research. The various contributions, and the volume as a whole, engage in strong discussions that help clarify the terminology associated with CVE and identify strengths of current initiatives from around the world. The volume’s integration of scholars and practitioners also helps bridge the disconnect between research and policy described by von Hlatky in the introduction, encouraging collaboration across sectors to better craft policy that is grounded in research and data. This is an excellent read for anyone interested in learning more about programs and initiatives for preventing violent extremism and counterterrorism as well as those interested in comparative approaches to national security strategy.

Jared R. Dmello, PhD, is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Texas A&M International University and the current president of the Texas Association of Criminal Justice Educators and executive counselor of the American Society of Criminology’s Division on Terrorism and Bias Crimes.

Notes

[1]. See Clara Eroukhmanoff, “‘It’s not a Muslim ban!’ Indirect Speech Acts and the Securitization of Islam in the United States post-9/11,” Global Discourse 8, no. 1 (2018): 5-25; and Mussarat Khan and Kathryn Ecklund, “Attitudes toward Muslim Americans Post-9/11,” Journal of Muslim Health 7, no. 1 (2012): 1-16.

[2]. See Ryan Scrivens and Barbara Perry, “Resisting the Right: Countering Right-Wing Extremism in Canada,” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 59, no. 4 (2017): 534-58.

[3]. Jared R. Dmello, Arie Perliger, and Matthew Sweeney, “The Violence of Political Empowerment: Electoral Success and the Facilitation of Terrorism in the Republic of India,” Terrorism and Political Violence (June 9, 2020): https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2020.1761342. 

[4]. Sveinung Sandberg, Atte Oksanen, Lars Erik Berntzen, and Tomi Kiilakoski, “Stories in Action: The Cultural Influences of School Shootings on the Terrorist Attacks in Norway,” Critical Studies on Terrorism 7, no. 2 (2013): 277-96.

Citation: Jared Dmello. Review of von Hlatky, Stéfanie, ed., Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism: Assessing Domestic and International Strategies. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. February, 2021. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=55370

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