Discussions about violent extremism and terrorism are always difficult, as they elicit strong reactions and opinions. In discussing violent extremism, and ways that we can help people who might be vulnerable to participation, we are often asked ‘why don’t you just call it Terrorism?’
Well, there are a few reasons why we use the term violent extremism:
• Terrorism is a very loaded, misunderstood and vague term.
• Violent extremism describes a broader range of violent activity, including things like racially motivated assault.
• Violent extremism is found in many different countries, ethnicities, religions and ideologies.
Violent extremism refers to a “willingness to use unlawful violence by others, to promote a political, ideological or religious goal.”
Violent extremism explicitly identifies violence as a core element, and refers to all politically, ideologically or religiously motivated violence, including small-scale acts of violence that can play out in a localised setting.
While it is okay to hold certain beliefs (even extreme ones), it is not acceptable to plan, use or explicitly encourage the use violence as a method to further those beliefs. Violent extremism does include the major acts of violence commonly labelled Terrorist activity. However, it is much broader than just acts recognised as Terrorism; and also includes violent protests, and communal violence such as racially-motivated assaults.
What differentiates violent extremism from other forms of violence is the motivation. Violent extremism aims to promote a particular ideology or belief through the use of violence. Some violent extremist groups that have operated in Australia include the Australian Nationalists Movement and Jemaah Islamiyah, and individuals have also undertaken illegal acts in Australia to support international violent extremist groups such as the Tamil Tigers and the Islamic State.
Peter Knight also perpetrated an act of individual violent extremism in Melbourne. The anti-abortion activist murdered a security guard and tried to carry out a more widespread massacre at a fertility clinic in 2001. He ultimately failed in his bid to kill more people and destroy the clinic, but the combination of ideological goal and the use of violence to achieve it meet the definition of violent extremism.
Why don’t we just call it Terrorism?
The meaning of Terrorism has been a source of decades-long debate. Internationally, the United Nations has been unable to agree on a single definition of what it is, and it is unlikely they ever will. In an Australian context, Terrorism has a legal definition within the Australian Criminal Code 2003, and the use of the word Terrorism often has very specific implications for insurance or legal cases.
Terrorism is a vague and complex term that is frequently misused by to make moral judgements, or to support a particular political agenda. Widespread and often inappropriate use of this term has made conversations about the meaning of Terrorism difficult. For many, the word Terrorism is incorrectly associated only with large scale acts of violence such as bombings or mass murder. Some media also often incorrectly label something an act of Terrorism, even before all the facts are known. People can also use the word Terrorism as a way to gain attention and provoke a response. This has made sensible conversations about what is and isn’t Terrorist activity difficult and sometimes controversial.
Using the term ‘Violent Extremism’ is an attempt to move away from the stigma, misrepresentation and confusion associated with use of the ‘Terrorism’ label and to address all types of violence, large or small, used in an attempt to achieve a racial, ideological or religious goal.
Countering violent extremism toolkits
Supporting families in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE)
When someone becomes radicalised and behaves in an ‘extreme’ way, this does not only affect the person, but also their family, friends, wider social circle and society. Families, youngsters and children are confronted with recruitment by terrorist/Violent Extremist groups. Today’s reality is one in which radicalisation is not uncommon as a phenomenon. For vulnerable individuals and their social environment, current prevention challenges are:
• Detecting those who are at risk of radicalisation
• Being able to get into contact with them and support them and their families in a change of direction
• Supporting both the individual and their family during the disengagement process
Women and P/CVE (Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism)
Women can play critical roles in developing responses to violence and terrorism, and challenging and delegitimizing extremist narratives. Women can be powerful agents of change, and can even play a crucial role both in detecting early signs of radicalization and intervening before individuals become violent.
Understanding these varied roles of women is critical to developing more nuanced and targeted efforts to counter violent extremism and prevent terrorism. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 notes, women are disproportionately affected by violence during conflict, and have in many places played important roles in efforts to prevent and mitigate conflict and violence, and rebuild the resilience of affected communities.
Counter narratives for countering Violent Extremism
Extremists and violent extremists have always sought to use compelling messages and narratives as a means of attracting followers to their cause. In the modern age it follows that the internet and social media represent a significant and easy to use medium to inspire, radicalise and recruit young people. It is apparent that if Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) is to be effective, there must be greater focus and resources made available to the development of effective counter narratives, both online and offline. It must be noted that Counter Narrative Programmes are time and resource intensive and require committed action.