Policy Paper: Mainstreamed Extremism and the Future of Prevention

Authors: Milo Comerford, Sasha Havlicek
Published: 30 September 2021

Over the past two decades, extremism has profoundly changed. The post-9/11 countering violent extremism approaches that emerged as a response to Islamist terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda, are increasingly challenged amidst an ever more complex, mainstreamed and hybridised extremism threat.

This policy paper seeks to start a conversation around the paradigm shift in thinking required in how governments and societies should approach prevention, to reflect these dramatic shifts in the nature of the extremist activity.

Going back to first principles, we make the case for placing human rights at the centre of prevention, arguing that countering extremism – defined in terms of supremacist ideologies which run counter to universal rights – must at its heart be treated as an exercise in safeguarding human rights, rather than merely preventing violence.

Aiming to inform both a domestic and international policy discussion, the paper lays out the key components for a new prevention paradigm. We argue for a ‘public health’ model that focuses as much on resilience as risk, and a comprehensive whole-of-society strategy involving targeted support to those affected by extremism, including litigation, victim support, civic education and meaningful investment in communities.

Meanwhile in an age of digital extremism, we call for community-based prevention to be integrated with rights-based systemic tech regulation, and for approaches to be underpinned by better online and offline data on the fast-shifting threats to communities by extremists of all stripes.

This paper is part of ISD’s ‘Future of Extremism‘ series, charting the transformational shifts in the extremist threat landscape two decades on from 9/11, and outlining the policy strategies required to counter the next generation of extremist threats.

This report was produced with support from Unbound Philanthropy.

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