The US government attempts at countering "violent extremism" aims to control Muslims yet this is storing resentment.

In a brochure advocating its work countering violent extremism in Kenya, Somalia and East Africa, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) states: “Countering violent extremism (CVE) is central to achieving USAID’s mission to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our shared security and prosperity.”

CVE, however, employs fear, white guilt and greed in a business-related and ideologically-driven goal to eliminate any political or ideological challenge provided by Islamic organisations or political movements in Africa, and it does so to reinforce US domination.

CVE is not really about countering violence. The desired result of CVE is the moulding of a society which fortifies the American democratic experiment.

Any efforts by Muslims to organise civil action and dialogue that challenge the status quo by civil means are classified as “extremism” and duly halted by the organisation.

CVE is where, for the intelligent observer in Africa, notions of ‘democracy’ become a thinly veiled disguise for oppression.

A spoonful of honey makes the medicine go down

One of the major instruments of this are NGOs with vested political interests, such as USAID, which ‘sell’ developmental aid alongside a neo-liberal philosophy in a manner which insists, deceptively, that ‘we are here to help’.

Delivered to a population understandably traumatised by terrorist attacks, with individuals desperate for any kind of security, the message is embedded almost effortlessly.

But CVE goes deeper than just being a salve for the guilty privileged and a honey-coated medicine for politically active Muslims.

It is a key method for the implementation of US think tank RAND Corporation’s aim to assist the US and its allied capitalist governments in ‘Developing moderate Muslim networks’ that are friendly to its political, economic and ideological expansionism, seeking to subdue and corporatise the world.

Violence and CVE combine to become counter-productive

Relevant to any discussion about CVE, is the idea that it is a form of ideological warfare modelled on the propaganda policies and efforts of the US during the Cold War.

Recently, CAGE, a UK-based human rights advocacy group published a ground-breaking report exposing how Prevent (the UK version of CVE) used Cold War propaganda mechanisms facilitated by a network of PR front companies linked to secret government propaganda departments, to not only manufacture consent, but also to further the government’s narrative – in other words, go easy on UK foreign policy, and ‘condemn’ Muslim ‘extremists’.  

These ‘extremists’ have come from the ranks of pro-Palestinian organisations, Muslim charity groups linked to Syria and other conflict areas and students who challenge interpretations of Islam in the classroom. In other words, Prevent criminalises activists, and it casts a lens of suspicion in particular over young people.

Prevent has been employed as a ‘best practice’ example for CVE pundits the world over, but particularly in Africa.

A journalist I spoke to recently told how he had spotted a Prevent brochure on the desk of the Ugandan minister of police.

Imagine this. Here was a brochure urging and directing a man directly responsible for a programme of torture almost unparalleled in the world, on how to target ‘extremism’. Considering the already broad definitions of ‘extremism’, the ramifications of this are extraordinary and alarming. 

A case study in Kenya

As early as 2004, a cabinet decision established the Kenya National Counter Terrorism Centre (named identically to its US counterpart, the NCTC) but it was only with the signing of the Security Law Amendment Act in 2014, widely reported to violate a number of key principles of due process, that the centre was formally inaugurated by President Kenyatta. 

Kenyatta defined the ‘ideology’ the centre aimed to counter, very broadly, as a belief system that “threatens democracy, constitutional rule, and economic development”.  But what ‘democracy’? And what ‘economic development’? Nobody elaborated.

What is striking, however, is that Kenyatta borrowed terminology almost verbatim from former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s ubiquitous 2005 speech - Kenyatta, like Blair, termed this belief system, an ‘ideology of evil’.

With the enemy identified, as if on cue a plethora of US and European-backed NGOs and organisations flooded the country aiming to implement this goal.

From the big names, including USAID and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to smaller, more recently formed and smaller organisations and networks, the list of co-operative groups and individuals is exhaustive.

The key focus is on aid, education and community networking, identifying risks and ‘de-radicalising’ those defined by the powers that be as ‘extremists’.

In the UK alone, thousands of individuals and children as young as four have been referred to Prevent for ‘de-radicalising’ – and many families have been traumatised by it.

These views, however, are never heard far beyond the UK borders, let alone in Kenya.

Instead of ‘othering’ Muslim communities and buying into the global CVE agenda, the Kenyan government should embark on efforts to encourage debate with Muslims.

Kenya should also address the root causes of violence: its continued military involvement in Somalia and widely reported complicity in disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the northeast of the country.

Unfortunately, it is when these very issues are raised that the people who are raising them are deemed to be ‘extreme’ and in need of ‘deradicalization’.

UN warnings on the nature of CVE and its implications for foreign countries

A report into global initiatives to counter violent extremism by the UN Human Rights Council underlines much of what CAGE has been saying in its opposition to Prevent.

However, it stops short of challenging the aggressive foreign policy of powerful nations, and the global CVE industry itself, where many of our problems lie.

Nonetheless, the report, authored by Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism, makes some landmark criticisms of domestic and global counter-extremism policy.

Emmerson rightly decries the lack of empirical research and clarity on the definition of extremism and the problematic term ‘radicalisation’.

The report states strongly that educators “should not be compelled to act as watchdogs or intelligence officers” and report on children – as has been happening in countries like the UK, as well as in Kenya.

Towards transparency

It is clear that the solution to this toxic global climate brought on by the ubiquitous and unending ‘war on terror’ is a system of justice that is not politically driven but which adheres to principles of criminal justice. This must ensure true accountability for all perpetrators of terrorism against civilians, whether they are state or non-state actors.

Combined with this, there is a dire need for a more honest and objective media that does not fan the flames of fear and hatred of Islam.

Thirdly – and perhaps this is controversial, but it must be said – there should be a more open and empathetic approach to Islam and Muslims themselves, especially those who advocate in poor nations for self-determination and the right to live according to correctly implemented sharia.

This is not an ‘extreme’ position.

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