“Unless we fortify ourselves with knowledge on the dangers of radicalism, learn the ability to identify early warning signs, and strengthen our digital literacy, we will be vulnerable to embracing the ideology [of extremist groups.]”
– Identifying Early Warning Signs: A Guidebook for Building Community Resilience to Violent Extremism, p. 6
Communities are a powerful force for pre-empting and preventing extremisms, provided they are equipped to intervene to ensure that community members do not become trapped in the process of radicalization. In the WASL community check-in call on March 16, 2023, WASL member Mira Kusumarini of Empatiku, a peacebuilding organization based in Indonesia, presented a new guidebook to build the capacity of communities to do just that, entitled Identifying Early Warning Signs: A Guidebook for Building Community Resilience to Violent Extremism. Following the presentation, WASL members – joined by representatives from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Office on Countering Terrorism (UNOCT), and UN Women Indonesia – discussed different approaches to work on early warning signs.
Per the guidebook’s definition, early warning signs of violent extremism are defined as “early signs and or symptoms indicated by behaviors of a person or a group of people in their social relations, ideology, or potential criminal acts that could lead to violent extremism or terrorism.” Conventional international counterterrorism (CT) and preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) interventions that identify and address early warning signs frequently center security forces and the police. Empatiku’s approach, however, as well as the approach of other WASL members, focuses on the role of the broader community in responding to these signs. The guidebook, which is based on lessons learned and best practices from Empatiku’s own work, describes how to establish a community-based early warning system that enables communities to prevent, detect, and treat early warning signs before the people displaying them commit a criminal act.
To set up a community-based early warning system, Empatiku first raises community awareness and understanding of the risks of violent extremism. Through village discussions, outreach to women, schools and youth groups, and social media campaigns, they strengthen the community’s ability to be alert to early warning signs. They then form and train a “Resilient Team” responsible for following up on reported cases. The team, which consists of around 10 people elected by the community, applies case management standard operating procedures (SOPs), conducts discussion, mediation, dialogue and social assistance for remedial cases, and builds partnerships with outside resources for case referrals. They also handle social reintegration cases of Islamic State returnees and former terrorist inmates through restorative practice.
“The challenge of extremism is around social relationships, so we need a robust social trust and connectedness within the community as the “glue.””
– Mira Kusumarini, Empatiku, Indonesia
In addition to raising awareness, strengthening early detection capacity, and creating mechanisms for case management, Empatiku implements activities that strengthen social cohesion. According to Kusumarini: “Social cohesion is an important prerequisite to help the community prevent violent extremism.” To build community trust, Empatiku identifies creative community initiatives that strengthen social cohesion and sponsors them through seed funding. One community, for instance, designed an initiative to produce and sell banana chips, bringing together poorer urban women with women living in the suburbs. Finally, Empatiku advocates with the Indonesian government for strengthening public policies and legal measures that support community-led responses to early warning signs.
In the CT and P/CVE community, early warning sign interventions that center work with security forces and police have been subjected to significant criticism for furthering stereotypes and profiling, for recruiting community members as intelligence-gatherers and informants for the police, and for placing women at risk by asking them to share sensitive information from their community and family. To mitigate these risks, Empatiku’s early warning work is rooted in ten basic principles including do no harm, confidentiality and accountability, respect of human rights and gender equality, prudence, and avoiding stereotypes and prejudice.
Several other WASL members have designed and implemented work on prevention and early warning signs in their contest. A WASL member from Syria described how her organization works with women, children, youth, people with special needs, and displaced people, trying to understand the reasons that push them to violent extremism and what they can do to resist it. Among other activities, her organization provides vocational training to women to support them in becoming economically self-reliant. She explained: “extremist groups do constant environmental analysis of any community they want to tap into – we must do the same to understand how to build community resilience.”
“Extremist groups do constant environmental analysis of any community they want to tap into – we must do the same to understand how to build community resilience.”
WASL member Bushra Qadeem Hyder, founder and director of Qadims Lumiere School and College in Pakistan, responds to early warning signs among children in her school by establishing trusted relationships with students, teachers, and parents, who approach her with their concerns. She engages them in ways that introduce and harness positive approaches to extremism, rooted in culture and religious traditions. Her work on peace education and early warning signs is documented in ICAN’s 2022 case study Signs of the Times: The Role of Education and Gender in Shaping the Cultural Mindset in Pakistan.
Concluding her presentation Kusumarini reiterated: “Community resilience to violent extremism counts on the improved knowledge and ability to identify the early warning signs, effective case management, robust social cohesion and public policy to support the early warning system. Building a community-based early warning system builds community resilience.”
Summaries of the rest of the calls can be accessed here
For more information please contact Melinda Holmes, WASL Program Director