THE adoption of the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (PVE) by the UN General Assembly in 2016 set the momentum for drafting of plans and strategies by a few countries, including Lebanon.
Lebanon’s prolonged civil war (1975-1990) intensified its urge to find a path to sustainable peace. Recognising that ignorance about polarisation and VE may push the country back into civil conflict, the Lebanese government in 2017 started work on a national strategy for preventing violent extremism (NSPVE). The prime minister led the first of 30 consultative meetings, and in 2018 the cabinet endorsed the NSPVE, which consists of short-, medium- and long-term measures, with an elaborate monitoring and evaluation apparatus.
To prevent VE, 29 ministries have specific tasks. The education ministry, for instance, is entrusted with imparting training in non-violent conflict resolution at educational institutions and making schools into hubs for non-violent actions, including engagement in social work. It is developing educational curricula to prevent youth from being drawn to VE; the need to renounce marginalisation, disregard stereotyping, and respect diversity are other priority areas.
The culture ministry has been mandated to use cultural heritage and sites as platforms to renounce extremism and promote cultural diversity. The social affairs ministry is to provide support to poor families through targeted programmes to reduce social discontentment. Ensuring food security through agricultural policies, including training small landholders on techniques to increase agricultural productivity, will also help towards social stability.
Ministries have been given specific CVE tasks.
The youth is to be engaged in decision-making processes at all levels. Building their capacity to facilitate their integration into society and the labour market, including the tourism sector, is expected to attract 1.2 million visitors in the current year.
The human rights ministry has been entrusted with disseminating information about HR laws and penalties for violating them. Countering VE (CVE) warrants community participation in local governance and monitoring the implications of urban transformations. Building the capacity of municipalities to raise awareness regarding VE and its hazards is an innovative idea that needs worldwide adoption.
To prevent a drift towards VE among prisoners, particularly among juvenile delinquents, introducing rehabilitation programmes in jails and reintegrating released convicts into society is another priority area. The development of training programmes for the judiciary, police and social workers is an important corollary to this.
Strategic communication and social media are particularly significant in CVE. Prevention of hate speech, promotion of dialogue and respect for diversity are to be important constituents of the Lebanese NSPVE’s communication strategy.
VE cannot be effectively dealt with without empowering women, which requires legal amendments, elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and their inclusion in policymaking. Increased women’s representation in law-enforcement and security sectors will help prevent VE.
Addressing issues of economic inequality confronted by marginalised and disadvantaged groups and regions helps counter extremism. Connectivity also reduces space for extremists. The construction of roads, bridges and air traffic networks helps achieve balanced growth and brings underprivileged areas on par with developed ones.
Developmental justice aids in preventing the spread of VE narratives. Ensuring fair access to basic amenities, ie electricity, gas, water and communication, enhances immunity to VE.
Human displacement in conflict areas provides fertile ground for VE, and field surveys must be done to assess displaced communities’ humanitarian needs and measures taken to reduce their suffering and ensure their return to their native places.
For any CVE policy or plan to be successful, it should be based upon the demographic, sociocultural, administrative, political and economic realities of that society. From the Lebanese recipe, one deduces that a diagnostic approach enabled the architects of the plan to suggest an indigenous recipe.
Without empowering disadvantaged and marginalised groups, VE cannot be effectively dealt with. Community participation in formulating and implementing any national strategy is a prerequisite that contributes to its effectiveness. Dialogue and conflict prevention are key to the success of strategies for PVE. However, no dialogue can be productive if it does not value the importance of pluralism and fundamental human rights.
Conflict-ridden societies need to make a distinction between terrorism and extremism and understand that extremism is a curable cancer; otherwise the ‘war on terror’ will go on without end.
The writer is author of Pakistan:In Between Extremism and Peace.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2022