Violent Extremism and Polarization Workshop Brussels

On 27-28 October, 2021 the Strong Cities Network (SCN) and the University of Ghent hosted a workshop that brought together experts in the field of the prevention and countering of violent extremism and polarisation, including mayors, policy makers, practitioners, and academics from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States. Over two days, 13 sessions including panel discussions, workshops and keynote speeches provided structured and strategic P/CVE exchange on areas of practice, research and knowledge-share to inform policy at the local, regional, and federal levels. Topics included: mobilising mayoral leadership against extremism, hate and polarisation; overcoming barriers to national-to-local coordination on prevention; the role cities can play in supporting and engaging returning foreign terrorist fighters and their families; city-led frameworks for P/CVE; understanding the impact of online hate on offline communities; and youth-focused programmes and initiatives, amongst others.

The discussions generated an abundance of lessons, good practice and challenges cities and local leaders face in their efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism and polarisation. A full summary of the workshop will be circulated shortly, however, some of the key takeaways, included:

  • The rise of right-wing and racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism (REMVE) around the globe pose fresh challenges for cities, where frameworks developed for addressing Islamist violent extremism may not be fit for purpose and where consensus on the nature of the threats and how best to address them are lacking.
  • Regional disparity and scarcity in resources, experience and needs often require flexible prevention frameworks that can address multiple issues. There is an increasing need to institutionalise the knowledge and sustain the expertise that local and often bespoke approaches to preventing violent extremism and polarisation engender.
  • National to local cooperation and coordination for prevention can be challenging to operationalise. Competing and transient political priorities and interests, and reluctance for necessary information sharing between different levels of government and security agencies, can create significant barriers for effective coordination.

With the rising prevalence of right-wing and REMVE threats facing cities in the United States and Europe, this workshop also served as a launch for the Strong Cities Network initiative on strengthening transatlantic city-to-city cooperation on addressing these challenges. This initiative will feature a series of workshops and exchanges involving mayors and city practitioners in the United States and their counterparts in Europe, providing a platform for transatlantic sharing of challenges, good practices, and lessons learned in addressing these forms of violent extremism. The initiative will include a Summit in The Netherlands in the second half of 2022 and culminate with a set of good practices to inform city-led work going forward.

For further information on this initiative please contact us at [email protected].

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