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Civil Society’s Role in Resisting Violent Extremism

Civil Society’s Role in Resisting Violent Extremism


The nonviolent action of civil society can play a vital role in diminishing the strength and authority of violent extremists groups.

In the News:

“While civil society representatives may not always be fluent in the diplomatic language of development and security, it is becoming increasingly clear that local community representatives are by far the most powerful protagonists to prevent violent extremism. This is something the Global Community and Resilience Fund (GCERF) has repeatedly seen across our projects. The GCERF catalyses local resilience against violent extremism in Bangladesh, Kenya, Kosovo, Mali, and Nigeria by providing small grants to civil society organizations. Local civil society members have the insight to identify individuals who are vulnerable to recruitment and radicalization, and the legitimacy to engage without stigmatizing them. Violent extremists often recruit the marginalized.”

“In GCERF-funded projects in Kenya, for example, members of local civil society are working with religious leaders and community elders to identify vulnerable youth and encourage them to join peace clubs, in order to strengthen their sense of belonging, respect, and ability to drive positive change in their communities. In Nigeria, community leaders selected vulnerable young men and women and invited them to attend a week-long program to become Peace Ambassadors. Equipped with the necessary skills and confidence, these young people are now building active networks to raise awareness and mobilize their communities against violent extremism. Local civil society members have a nuanced understanding of the conditions, factors, and incentives that potentially drive vulnerable individuals to violent extremism. In Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, for example, despite the increasing hate speech toward Rohingya refugees, the underlying grievance is the host community’s concern over rising prices, environmental impacts, and a lack of outlets to express these frustrations. In response, GCERF grants have helped to establish platforms and community forums to engage, discuss and debate. Local business representatives and district authorities often participate.”

Insight from Peace Science:

Maria Stephan outlines ways civil society and nonviolence can be used to resist ISIS and other extremist groups:

  • Disrupt the civil and material services ISIS relies on to operate.
  • Work with international partners to support community resiliency and non-cooperation.
  • Attack the perceived authority and legitimacy claimed by ISIS.
  • Use humor and satire to undermine authority from a distance.


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