Reactive to symptoms and proactive to causes – we need both approaches to the curse of violent extremism.
Comprehensive and durable solutions are hard to conceptualzse, much less implement and in the meantime, our social fabric is stretched thin.
There are at least four factors that contribute to the widening of identity-based schisms in our societies. Acknowledging and addressing them could make a modest contribution towards developing our collective counter-narrative.
1. Constructive conflict. Absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy. It is also apparent that harmony built on the avoidance of conflict gives a false sense of security which breaks down precisely when we need it. A general lack of literacy in how to conduct conflict constructively or how to resist political exploitation of differences, contribute to flare-ups. Constructive conflict can be an acquired skill for children and adults. It is a trainable art.
2. Beyond tolerance. Passive tolerance amongst segregated communities does not create social resilience. We need to recognise diversity as a virtue and pursue plurality – proactively and deliberately.
3. Little things matter. We all have unconscious biases that can subtly manifest themselves in our choice of words, labels and careless generalisations. When these are repeated on public platforms and are greeted with indifference, they can shape norms of what is acceptable. The silent majority gives tacit consent to threads that lead to more extreme extensions.
4. The binary trap. Did you watch the Westminister debate on whether to launch air-strikes in Syria? There was great oratory and passion on both sides: the argument for degrading terrorist capabilities on the one hand against the long-term efficacy of such actions on the other. However, they were like ships sailing past each other and no-one asked how we can achieve both. Much of public discourse – perhaps egged on by the media - is framed as false binaries with opinion lazily clustered around a one-dimensional spectrum. The echo chamber gets entrenched at each pole and soon “you are either with us or against us”.
So, what can we do?
Extremist ideology is derived from a complex mix of seemingly intractable issues: economic deprivation, historical baggage or political instigation for example. It needs coordination and public-private partnership of the highest order. It is easy to get bogged down by its complexity and wait for “the authorities” to do something.
Alternatively, each one of us can play our part. Firstly, by adopting the rules of constructive conflict in our own interactions, we help make the terrain less incendiary.
Secondly, by joining the initiative for constructive conflict and diversity, we can help immunize communities against prejudicial conflict. Interventions can take the form of diversity training in schools to affirmation workshops with adults, all the while emphasizing the need for cross-group integration. The use of cultural arts and entertainment is also a potent way to spread the word.
Already underway in Bangladesh and expected to commence soon in England, we should hold structured, awareness workshops in every part of the world. We will directly reach tens of thousands of people and the indirect bandwagon effect can make it even more impactful.
But it would be laughably naïve to suggest that we can tackle the problem of terrorism with a few workshops. This may well be a multi-generational problem. However, we have to start somewhere and the role of diversity awareness in preventing sparks of conflict accelerating into wildfires, can be substantial.
This post is one of four finalists in the Young Global Leaders' Resilient World essay competition.
Author: Lutfey Siddiqi, Young Global Leader and Member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Financing & Capital and Community. Views are personal to the author and not necessarily those of any organisation that he's affiliated with.