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Diplomacy in Action

Countering Violent Extremism: Radical Actors and the 2016 Election

Courtney La Bau, Board Member, Emerge California
Philadelphia, PA
July 26, 2016

Date: 07/26/2016 Location: Philadelphia, PA Description: Courtney La Bau, Emerge California board member and California delegate, talks about the impact of radical actors on the 2016 election.  - State Dept Image

12:45 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Thank you again for joining us at the Foreign Press Center. Welcome back, for those of you who have been here before. We are continuing with our amazing lineup of speakers. I would like to introduce Courtney La Bau. Courtney is a consultant, speaker, and published author on a variety of topics, including Middle East issues, ISIS, countering violent extremism, efforts to counter terrorism, and women in politics. She has extensive experience living and working in the Middle East. Currently, she is working with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Counterterrorism Unit on strategic initiatives to tackle extremism and foster relationships within this community.

Courtney is also on the board of directors for the Quilliam Foundation, a counterterrorism think tank based in London which challenges extremist narratives. Through this role, she has authored several papers and is very active in the local community, building bridges between Muslim communities and other ethnic groups and various organizations. She is additionally an advisor with Tony Blair and Leon Panetta on the CSIS Commission to Combat Violent Extremism.

Courtney also sits on the board of Emerge California, an organization dedicated to recruiting and training Democratic women to run for political office. She is a Truman National Security partner, and we are very lucky to have her here today.

Finally, before we begin, I would like to remind everyone to please put your mobile devices on vibrate or silent and point out, as with all of our speakers, Courtney’s views are her own and do not reflect those of the U.S. Government. We will open it up – she’ll give a few remarks, then we’ll open it up to Q&A. Thank you very much.

MS LA BAU: Hi, everybody. Let me put this up a bit higher. Thank you for that glowing introduction, Miriam. Thank you, guys. You put so much work into all of this, so kudos to all of the team as well.

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your agenda today. I’m grateful to be here to talk about this very important and timely topic. This election cycle, as we know, has proven to be very contentious on many levels, but one of the most divisive aspects where the two camps could not be any different is on the issue of countering violent extremism and the place of Muslims in our American country and how to combat ISIS and other extremist groups.

Let’s sort of set the stage with what we’re seeing right now. Across the nation, the stakes are high and people are afraid and oftentimes confused. Every time an American turns on the news, we hear of a new bombing, a new terrorist attack, or a new hate crime. Perceptions of disenfranchisement are at an all-time high in our communities. During the past few months, even during the Holy Month of Ramadan, there have been numerous attacks across the world. In fact, there have been approximately 838 terrorist attacks so far this year, of which around 715 or so took place in Muslim-majority countries with Muslims being the vast majority of the victims of terrorism.

So what does this mean? Muslims often suffer the most from groups like ISIS and al-Qaida; so not only are they losing their lives, but they’re some of the ones on the front lines fighting these groups in places like Syria and Iraq. This is a fact that we often forget in the popular understanding of terrorism as a phenomenon of our time.

But Donald Trump has called for a total and complete shutdown, as you guys know, of Muslims entering the United States. But this is not a war against Islam. This is a war against fanaticism and extremism. Fanaticism is the wave of impulse among so many communities these days. So yes, there is a serious problem. We can’t ignore that. No one’s trying to ignore that. But we cannot blame the entirety of the 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet for the warped, politicized, and violent ways and ideologies of some.

There’s a lot of hate and anger in the world right now and that’s being fueled by the rhetoric that we’ve been seeing on a consistent basis coming from the Trump campaign. The campaigns of hate speak the same language on all sides of the divide. Those who want to live and let live are often opposed to those who want to live by others in force and in fear.

So how do we deal with this fear? Let’s look at the root of the problem. Why are some of these young people identifying with this warped, politicized version and this ideology? While there is no particular profile or theory that explains this phenomenon of radicalization, research shows that there are some consistent pathways to radicalization. In most cases, the culprits of terrorist recruitment are particularly vulnerable to radicalization and unstable in their emotional and psychological states, especially in the period of transition from adolescence to adulthood, with pressures of unemployment and societal disenfranchisement.

Providing vulnerable youth going through this identity crisis, if you will, with important soft skills such as critical thinking and emotional self-evaluation, can help to strengthen their defenses against extremist ideologies. These emotional issues are usually coupled with some sort of a grievance, whether that grievance is a perceived grievance or a real grievance. Some examples of this are disagreement with foreign policy or lack of opportunity or unemployment or political instability and a lack of a sense of community or belonging. For many, that sense of belonging and fearing – feeling of importance is a huge driver. This myriad of emotions leads one to seek answers and yet the loudest voices answering those questions are those from groups like ISIS online, preying on these young and vulnerable individuals. This lays the perfect foundation for extremism. Modern communication also offers unprecedented access, as you guys all know, to that information.

We’ve also seen a shift in the strategy of groups like ISIS in the past year in their targeted approach of soft targets versus hard targets. This was a method used in the Paris attack, the San Bernardino attack, the Orlando attack, just to name a few. These soft targets will only continue because ISIS has been successful in inflicting a high number of casualties in attacks that are relatively easy to plan by just one single person.

What is even harder to monitor are the ISIS-inspired attacks. Anyone with a grievance, a mental instability, access to the internet and a weapon of some sort can be inspired by the propaganda being spewed by ISIS ideology or use ISIS as a rationale for their pre-existing feelings of social exclusion. As one former extremist in the UK put it, extremism is an exploitative process – religious, not religious, political, apolitical. It will find a way to give you clarity amidst complexity. The feeling is powerful and all-encompassing.

So how can we as a society attempt to monitor this and prevent these lone wolf, ISIS-inspired attacks? This is precisely why we need to have Muslims globally at the table of decision and policy making. These communities need to be a part of the solution and welcomed into the tapestry of our country. The Los Angeles Police Department excels at this and has served as a model in the country in terms of its relationship-based policing strategy. They have tasked our officers to build trust within the Muslim community to reduce that chasm that often exists between the Western world between the two.

Effective prevention and intervention also requires healthy relationships. We need to get to a place where the community feels comfortable with law enforcement to actually tell them when someone is at risk within the community. We need the community to be a part of the solution.

So what can we do? We can vote for someone who will tackle this problem of extremism from all angles – militarily, cyberspace, foreign fighters, terrorist financing, and community empowerment. We need to use all of the tools in the toolbox and de-fuel that fear and hostility towards people – towards innocent Muslims – throughout our country who contribute daily to our collective excellence and who are formidable components of our history. We need politicians in this country who will work hard to keep us safe and to combat terrorism – of course we need that – and simultaneously, though, pursue policies that will not alienate Muslims across the globe, who represent almost a quarter of the world’s population.

America’s strength lies in its diversity. If you’ve never been to a mosque, I encourage you to go. Many of them have open days where the mosques are open to the public. Get to know the vast community within your own community.

As I always like to say, this is not a Muslim problem, it’s not a Christian problem, or any other group’s problem. This is a human problem, and we can all be part of the solution. The bottom line is that we only care about the extremes on either side usually. Let’s get the mainstream voices louder. Let’s mobilize the youth, change the narrative, and take our efforts for good to scale. This is the only way to make a difference. So thank you very much for having me. I’m excited to be here. Shall we open it up for questions, or – yeah – if there are any.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for your presentation. My name is Fouad. I’m a Moroccan journalist. A lot of people in my part of the world – that is, the North Africa and MENA region in general – think that the – as long as we don’t deal directly with Da'esh central, the problem of terrorism and lone wolves and all the names out there will persist. So they think that the quote-unquote “shrinking role” of the United States internationally speaking in terms of fighting ISIS or al-Qaida or what have you – they are very – sometimes they are very critical, sometimes they are vocal about it. So what do you think about the idea of we need more proactive approach from – on the part of the United States with regard to fighting Da'esh central? Thank you very much.

MS LA BAU: Shukran. Thank you for your question. It can’t only be the United States. It needs to be a coalition, including your country, including all of the countries in MENA – North Africa, the Gulf. We can’t do it alone, and as I said, this is not a United States problem, it’s not a Muslim problem, it’s not – it’s all of us. So all of us need together – need to together look at military options, need to look at community empowerment options, need to look at utilizing the private sector. We do a lot of projects with Facebook, with Google Ideas. There are tons of private sector companies all over the world and youth that are really looking at how to combat this from a community perspective as well – so policing, military, scaling these narratives up – the counter-narratives. How do you combat that voice that ISIS is purporting that’s successful and doing well? So we need those mainstream voices to give these young, vulnerable people an alternative.

So it’s sort of all of those together, coupled with not just the U.S. but a coalition – all of us need to be a part of it, because it doesn’t just affect us. It affects your country; it affects my country – all of us. Hope that answers – yeah.

Any others? No. All right. Sure.

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