COMPACT featured at the SCN Showcase at the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) in September,
Too often, the drive of countering violent extremism (CVE) has been perceived as hard-power counter-terrorism (CT). In doing so, it often risks alienating and isolating the very communities it seeks to protect, thereby threatening to undermine its goal.
When viewed through this lens, communities become statistics – ‘at risk of’ or ‘vulnerable to’ extremism – trends which tarnish broad sections of society with the same brush. Worse, this cold approach engenders distrust and suspicion within these communities who, perceiving that CVE doesn’t trust them, do not therefore trust CVE.
Part of the problem comes down to our metrics for extremism. While it is relatively straightforward to measure quantitatively – through online hate speech or offline hate crimes for instance – the vital qualitative measures – of social cohesion, collaboration, trust and harmony – are more challenging and therefore neglected. Yet it is by precisely these metrics which CVE should be measured, and it is with communities, which play such a foundational role in society, that CVE should begin and end.
One CVE initiative in New South Wales, Australia, is looking to do just this. Designed with communities at its core, COMPACT (Communities in Partnership), an initiative of Multicultural NSW, is a consolidated effort to move CVE away from traditional CT and towards social cohesion. Rather than being motivated and funded by national security or traditional CT priorities, COMPACT is a whole-of-society CVE approach incorporating 60 grassroots community organisations, CSOs, private sector partners, schools, universities, government agencies and police working together to safeguard and elevate social cohesion in the face of extremism. Speaking at the margins of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, Malcolm Haddon, Senior Manager of Community Resilience for Multicultural NSW, described it as ‘CVE reconceived.’
Since launching in 2016, COMPACT has engaged with 20,000 young people to ‘create a new generation of community leaders, critical thinkers, and champions for community harmony.’ In addition to implementing a range of funded youth engagement projects, the COMPACT Alliance of over 30 partners is implementing a programme of joint activities designed to strengthen it as a responsive network and to support the development of a CVE community of practice.
By working with and through communities at ground level, COMPACT has established a CVE initiative which can mobilise, adapt and evolve in response to threats or acts of violent extremism far more quickly and organically than that which more rigid top-down approaches allow.
In this way, communities are not sidelined as simple yardsticks for CVE success, but incorporated as intrinsic to that success. As such, when communities are successfully built into the foundation of CVE work they can act as resilient entities in their own right, and a viable counterweight to divisive sentiment and extremist acts.
We continue to follow COMPACT’s progress with great interest, and look forward to updating our members on their accomplishments.