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Prevent Violent Extremism: Expert Views

Violent extremism is a complex subject. Analysts, pundits and politicians disagree about how one becomes an extremist, how law enforcement should deal with these individuals, and, increasingly, the role that social media plays in the radicalization process. Some argue that individuals become radical due to their nature, others by circumstance. Reacting to the return of foreign fighters, particularly in light of the major attacks in Europe, politicians have argued for a hard handed law enforcement approach, others a more nuanced understanding of what makes individuals leave to pursue radical aims and the different reasons they return home. The role of social media is as hotly debated. These platforms can lower the bar for participation, enable lone wolves to embrace transnational extremism, facilitate recruitment and enforce fear and control. Social media can also be used to help track these individuals, analyse extremist narratives and combat them through joint initiatives by the government and private sector. 

Experts explore these themes and more in a series of special interviews conducted specifically for this research portal. 
Watch the interviews here below or click on a video title for more information about that segment.


United Against Violent extremism event - March 6, 2017, Ottawa, Canada

Post event video interviews.

This event  was  co-organized by the United Nations Counter-terrorism Executive Directorate (UNCTED), ICT for Peace Foundation (Switzerland) and the SecDev Foundation (Canada) as part of a global engagement project working with industry, and key stakeholders to develop community standards around the prevention of violent extremism online consistent with UN principles, including the Universal declaration of human rights, and UN Security Council resolution 1325 on the role of women in peace and security.

SecDev Group

March 6, 2017
On March 6th the CIC National Capital Branch, in cooperation with the SecDev Foundation, hosted the event, Women, Violent Extremism and the Internet: Empowering Prevention; Dealing with Risk.
The video recording of this event is now available below as well as via CPAC and YouTube.
Background information:
Our panel of experts discussed the complex role of women in the prevention of violent extremism, with a special focus on the role of the internet in amplifying this impact, and also in channeling the risks. The discussion also focused on the role that Canada can play in the context of UN Security Council 1325, strengthening the role of women in peace and security, especially on counterterrorism and the prevention of violent extremism.
Bios of the panelists:
Dr. Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini is the Co-founder and Executive Director of International Civil Society Action network and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She has served on the Advisory Board of the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), and was appointed to the Civil Society Advisory Group (CSAG) on Resolution 1325, chaired by Mary Robinson in 2010, and was the first Senior Expert on Gender and Inclusion on the UN’s Mediation Standby Team. Since 2013, she has served in the Working Group on Gender and Inclusion of the Sustainable Development Network and provides guidance and training to senior personnel in UN agencies, governments and NGOs worldwide, and works is in conflict-affected countries globally.
Brette Steele serves as Deputy Director of the U.S. CVE Task Force, which coordinates efforts to prevent violent extremism in the United States. Prior to establishing the CVE Task Force, Brette served as Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General and coordinated the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to build community resilience against violent extremism. Brette also chaired the U.S. Department of Justice Arab- and Muslim-American Engagement Advisory Committee and vice chaired the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities. Brette graduated with a B.A. from University of California, Berkeley, and a J.D. from UCLA School of Law.
Naureen Chowdhury Fink is a Policy Specialist on gender and counterterrorism/CVE at UN Women and CTED, and has spent over a decade focusing on the international and multilateral response to terrorism and the role of the United Nations and its partners. Previously, she worked for the Global Center on cooperative security and the International Peace Institute, where she developed the counterterrorism portfolio and published on international efforts to promote deradicalization and countering violent extremism, regional counterterrorism cooperation in South Asia, terrorism and political violence in Bangladesh, and the UN counterterrorism program. She has worked with the Middle East Programme in Chatham House and the World Intellectual Property Organization and World Trade Organization in Geneva. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art, and an MA in war studies from King’s College London.
Renee Black is the founder and executive director of PeaceGeeks, a non-profit, volunteer organization that supports grassroots non-profit organizations promoting peace, accountability and human rights in obtaining the technology and tools they need to have the greatest possible impact in their communities. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Hons) from Dalhousie University and a Masters of International Affairs (Hons) from the University of Ottawa. She worked on the Women, Peace & Security framework with the United Nations and with the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders. She is a Fellow of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. 
The discussion was moderated by Rafal Rohozinski, senior fellow for Future Conflict and CyberSecurity at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. He is also the CEO and Chief Innovation Officer at SecDev and co-founder of SecDev Foundation where among other things he led the work on Countering Violent Extremism online under the Government of Canada’s Kanishka programme.
What are the drivers of violent extremism on-line? What do we know about its impact? How do we engage industry and leverage the potential of modern analytical techniques to create capabilities to monitor for “risk factors” while remaining consistent with important principles as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights?  One option is to adopt the WHO public health surveillance model  to tracking risk factors in on-line media. Doing so  will require developing an OpenData standard for social media data for community security  – and buy-in from major social media platforms to participate in such an effort.
Rafal Rohozinski is the CEO and Chief Innovation Officer at SecDev Group and co-founder of the Secdev Foundation. He is also a senior fellow for Future Conflict and CyberSecurity at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. These remarks were delivered at a special meeting of meeting of the United Nations Counter Terrorism Committee, UN Security Council, 1 December 2016, and draw upon a recent Secdev/UNDP study of terrorist use of social media in Bangladesh.

Navaid Aziz, Director of the Islamic Information Society of Calgary, discusses how religion can play a positive role in combating extremism. Sheikh Aziz argues that religious leaders need to engage with youth at risk of radicalization and should not come under scrutiny for addressing controversial topics when doing so. For counter radicalization work to be successful, according to Sheikh Aziz, communities need to work together and avoid the traps of discrimination and Islamophobia.


Inspector Shawna Coxon from the Toronto Police Services discusses what her law enforcement agency is doing to counter violent extremism. Inspector Coxon details how the Toronto Police Services is working with communities and other government agencies, including housing, the school board, and health care services, for an individual, tailored approach to those at risk of radicalization or who have been radicalized. In the online environment, the Toronto Police Services attempts to intervene before an incident occurs, working with community stakeholders, families and friends to deescalate the situation or proceed with an arrest, if necessary. 

Amarnath Amarasingam, Fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, discusses the different types of foreign fighter returnees and what should be done when they come home. Dr. Amarasingam argues that not all foreign fighters return back to carry out attacks and that governments should be aware that their citizens may come back from the Islamic State and other battlegrounds for a number of reasons. Understanding their experience overseas and reasons for returning are crucial to dealing with and possibly reintegrating these individuals or even entire families.


Mubin Shaikh, Police Project Consultant with the Romeo Dallaire Initiative, discusses the evolution of radical propaganda online, social media and foreign fighters and the need for a robust counter narrative. Mr. Shaikh brings his real world knowledge of these issues as a former CSIS and RCMP operative, discussing them from the perspective of a real world and online counter-terrorism practitioner.


Jason Macdonald, VP, Deputy Practice Leader of Hill + Knowlton, discusses how marketing experts can help offer a more powerful counter narrative to the Islamic State’s recruiting campaign. Mr. Macdonald argues that there is a lot to learn from corporations and the way in which they use the Internet and social media to market to their customers. Extremist use of the Internet is not new, but the new online tools are; governments and their partners must learn how to harness these platforms to combat the extremist narrative.


Misha Glenny, award winning journalist and author, discusses the varying circumstances and trends that create religious, political and criminal radicals. Mr. Glenny uses the example of Antônio Francisco Bonfim Lopes on which he wrote the book "Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio" to highlight that an individual can become radical through a number of processes, some to which we may even be sympathetic. 

Phil Gurski, President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting, discusses the need to approach radicalization from a real­ world, social, perspective. With more than three decades of experience at CSIS, Gurski argues that we shouldn’t ascribe too much importance to social media and understand that radicalization is a human phenomenon. Instead, social media is used to share information, have doubts resolved and extremist beliefs confirmed.

Tony Sgro, CEO and Founder of EdVenture Partner, discusses Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism. This U.S. Department of State and Facebook sponsored program sees students in American and international universities produce a product, tool or initiative to push back against extremism at home and abroad.

Micah Clark, Senior Research Associate with the Conference Board of Canada, on the need to understand seriousness of intent on the Internet. Mr. Clark discusses how researchers, practitioners and particularly, law enforcement must be able to distinguish between  individuals who are serious about their online statements and others who are not in order to hone their investigations and use resources wisely.

A video recording of the March 29, 2016 Canadian International Council (CIC) National Capital Branch event: Urban Terrorism, Violent Extremism and the Internet: Shaping Canada’s Response. 

Drawing on decades of international experience in confronting these challenges, our speakers helped shed light on how global trends and patterns are driving new forms of insecurity. While governments have had some successes they also face ongoing challenges that include balancing civil liberties, privacy, with public safety and community security.

Misha Glenny, a former BBC reporter and the author of McMafia, DarkMarket and Nemesis, has spent decades investigating the dark side of globalization and has seen firsthand the intersection between crime, extremism and the internet.

Dr. Robert Muggah, the Director of Research for the Igarape Institute in Brazil, and a former director of the small arms survey, is a renowned expert in armed violence reduction and has spent decades doing frontline research in some of the worlds toughest environments. He is also a expert in leveraging big data to address security issues. His recent projects include the Global Homicide Monitor, the  Arms Export Monitor.

Shawna Coxon is an inspector with the Toronto police service where she spearheaded this organization’s work on the Internet and violent extremism. She is currently seconded to the task force examining the future intelligence needs of Canada’s largest metropolitan police force.

The discussion was moderated by Rafal Rohozinski, senior fellow for Future Conflict and CyberSecurity at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Rafal is also the CEO and Chief Innovation Officer at SecDev and co-founder of SecDev Foundation where among other things he led the work on Countering Violent Extremism online under the Government of Canada’s Kanishka programme.
This special panel was organized in cooperation with The Secdev Foundation and supported by the Kanishka Project Contribution Program, managed by Public Safety Canada which over the past five years has invested over $10 million in research on pressing questions for Canada on terrorism and counter-terrorism, such as preventing and countering violent extremism.
The panel also marked the launch of CIC NCB's new Intelligence Futures (IF) working group that will take a focused look at emerging challenges and opportunities for Canadian security through the lens of key disruptive drivers including: cyber security, robotics, artificial intelligence and big data, advances in bio genetics, and transnational crime and terrorism.

Robert Muggah, Director of Research at The SecDev Foundation, discusses the relationship between urbanization, new methods of communication and violence. To highlighting this shocking trend, Dr. Muggah shows how Latin American gangs in urban environments have used social media to promote their drug business, intimidate their enemies and even order assassinations.According to Dr. Muggah, a combined government, private sector and civil society approach is required to deal with this 21st century problem.