Global CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) Forum in Montreal, Canada

By Allison McDowell-Smith, PhD

The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) at Concordia University recently organized a forum on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). According to UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, “Intolerance is on the rise. The continuous human rights violations in Syria, the heinous attacks in Paris and Brussels and the increasing number of foreign fights traveling to join terrorist organizations, are forcing the world to address the threat violent extremism poses”. The spread of violence used as a way to achieve ideological, religious, and political goals is increasing and the “rules of the game are rapidly changing” (MIGS).

The objective of the MIGS conference was to foster a public debate on countering violent extremism. The two-day public policy conference was open to the public, specifically students and professionals working within fields related to violent extremism. Topics of discussion included the following:

  • The role of ideology and religion
  • Key actors engagement in CVE: youth, religious leaders and women
  • The role of private actors in CVE: internet and social media companies and violent extremism
  • Radicalization and the internet/social media
  • The role of traditional media in CVE
  • Law enforcement: balancing state security, human rights and civil liberties (online privacy)
  • Local, regional and global CVE initiatives
  • Online initiatives to counter violent extremism
  • Counter-narrative strategies

Photo credit @MIGSInstitute

I was personally invited to speak on the counter-narrative research I have been working on with Dr. Anne Speckhard with the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). Through ICSVE we are working on the ISIS Defectors Interviews Project. Over the last seven months, we have been collecting interviews for the ISIS Defectors Interview Project and have interviewed thus far thirty-two Syrian ISIS defectors, including fighters, commanders, guards, and hisbah (ISIS police). Women and children were also among those interviewed. The objective of our research is to create compelling short video clips and Internet memes that strongly denounce ISIS and create a powerful counter-narrative for the purpose of disrupting the prolific and successful online recruitment of ISIS, especially among vulnerable youth.

Photo credit @MIGSInstitute

At the MIGS Conference, I was able to present our current research and display two of our videos to the audience. Our research was well received and we received offers to continue our research with various partners both within the U.S. and Canada. Further, I was asked to be part of the third day of the conference titled “The North American Working Group to Counter Violent Extremism”. This session was “closed” to the public and brought together for the first time leading experts, academics, diplomats, government officials and civil society leaders from the US and Canada to cooperatively formulate strategies on countering online extremism. Upon the conclusion of our working group, MIGS has taken the initiative to establish research-based recommendations and guidelines for use by policymakers, government and non-government agencies, security services, civil society groups, and the private sector. This research report will be disseminated within the United States and Canada in the upcoming month.

Photo credit @MIGSInstitute

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