This paper summaries the findings of ‘Conflict and Countering Violent
Extremism’, a research project conducted by RUSI for the Department for
International Development in 2015. The project examined the similarities
and differences between Islamic Violent Extremist groups and other
conflict actors, and what this means for development, state building and
peace building responses. This summary follows the structure of the
project’s main outputs: a theoretical paper examining what is
distinctive about violent Islamists in conflict situations, based on a
broad review of the literature on Islamism, violent extremism and
conflict; a set of case histories (covering Kenya, Nigeria, and
Syria/Iraq) examining whether Islamist groups behave differently from
other types of conflict actors; and a paper addressing what approaches
are effective in dealing with conflicts involving violent Islamists and
the implications for state building and peace building .
Violent Islamists show many similarities with other conflict actors, and
are as much a symptom of governance failure as other violent groups.
However, ideology influences how Islamist groups frame their scope,
aims, tactics and recruitment strategies.
Violent Islamists are particularly associated with certain strategies
and tactics, such as the recruitment of foreign fighters and suicide
bombing. These strategies and tactics are not unprecedented, and not all
Islamist groups employ them. But groups aligned to Al Qaida and ISIL –
“Salafi-jihadists” – have significantly increased their scale and scope,
and use them expressively as well as instrumentally.
Although violent Islamist groups are strong where governance is weak or
repressive, state building efforts by themselves are unlikely to resolve
the conflicts they are involved in. Such efforts can, however, constrain
their operations and limit their capacity to gain public support.
All conflicts are local. Even those framed by Salafi-jihadists as part
of a global war are deeply rooted in their countries and regions.
Responses require deep contextual knowledge which identifies actions
that can help prevent or ameliorate conflicts involving violent
Salafi-jihadist ideology is absolute and utopian, and promotes war as a
route to a better world. This would appear to make negotiation
impossible or futile. However, ideology is also contested between and
within groups, which are as a result prone to splintering, potentially
opening opportunities for dialogue with more tractable elements. Also,
while groups such as Al Qaida in Iraq/Daesh have become even more
extreme under the pressure of war, other groups have moderated their
programmes. Although difficult and risky, such responses have the
potential to transform conflicts for the better.
Glazzard, A.; Jesperson, S.; Maguire, T.; Winterbotham, E. Conflict and Countering Violent Extremism: Summary Paper. RUSI, London, UK (2016) 11 pp.
Conflict and Countering Violent Extremism: Summary Paper