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A Guide for Mayors: Preventing and Responding to Hate, Extremism & Polarisation

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Every mayor has a role to play in prevention and response. Whether it is an urban centre or a rural village, whether they have faced or are yet to experience hate or extremism directly, whether they have an explicit mandate or no mandate at all, a mayor should be thinking about how they can incorporate prevention and response into their administration’s priorities to enhance their city’s resilience to hate and extremism and enhance their preparedness if and when violence occurs.

As a mayor first enters office or begins to prioritise prevention, there are several questions they should consider as they lead the development of their city’s strategic approach:

  • What is my mandate as a local leader? How can I work within that mandate to strengthen my city’s resilience to hate and extremism and improve its preparedness for violent attacks? 
  • What are the limitations in my understanding of the hate and extremism-related threats facing my city? How can I enhance my understanding – and that of others in the administration – of those threats and the city’s readiness to address them?
  • What role can I play in setting priorities and developing strategies? 
  • Will my city benefit most from a dedicated, standalone framework for addressing extremism and hate-related threats, or should I pursue a more integrated approach that leverages existing strategies and plans?
  • Who are the relevant stakeholders who can support the government’s prevention and response objectives? What do they need to play their part effectively?
  • How can I build trust-based relationships with stakeholders in and outside the government to ensure a smooth and coordinated approach to prevention and response?

There is no single way to engage in prevention and a mayor can play a central role in determining which approach will work best for their city. In all cases, a mayor should consider opportunities for pursuing a whole-of-society approach that draws on the advantages of different stakeholders across the city. 

Generally, the most impactful role a mayor can play in addressing hate and extremism is through primary prevention – pursuing actions, policies and programmes that make a city and its residents, both long-time locals and new arrivals, more resilient and socially cohesive. This can include a range of activities that aim to:

  • Develop and promote an inclusive city identity.
  • Communicate strategically and consistently to counter hate and extremism, including by clearly and consistently stating what you and your administration stand for.
  • Engage community actors directly in prevention so they can drive bottom-up activities that enhance city-wide ownership over resilience.
  • Build the capacities of critical prevention stakeholders.

Unfortunately, even when a city actively engages in prevention, hate and extremism can still take root in a city and result in a violent incident. A mayor, therefore, needs to approach response planning as if an attack is a matter of when rather than if. A mayor will need to consider several things as they chart out an effective, sensitive and proportional response following a hate- or extremism-motivated attack, including:

  • Ensuring local actors are all aware of response plans and understand the chain of command, their role and whom to contact in a range of different scenarios. 
  • Coordinating between local actors, as well as with national response teams, to meet the varied local needs while minimising duplication.
  • Communicating with the public to prevent panic, shape the narrative around the incident and minimise space for misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy narratives
  • Different means of providing support and comfort to residents, giving particular attention to communities directly targeted by the attack.
  • Strategies to mitigate fallout in the medium- to long-term.

A mayor is uniquely placed to understand the threats facing their city and coordinate a response sensitive to the individual needs of different communities. Every city is different and every mayor will need to take a tailored approach to serve its residents effectively. However, they do not have to stand alone. 

Mayors worldwide are facing similar challenges and can learn from each other’s experiences and draw strength from one another. This Guide is a merely a starting point for mayors to draw from other mayors’ experiences; we encourage you to go beyond this resource and connect with other
local leaders.   

This Guide supports the role that local government officials and practitioners play in effecting this cooperation and in building common ground. It is complemented by a Cities Guide and a Response Toolkit as well as by the NLC Implementation Toolkit developed in collaboration with the GCTF, supporting other key components and stakeholders at local levels to address hate, extremism and polarisation. 

This Guide, as with all other Strong Cities tools, will be hosted on Strong Cities’ Resource Hub. It will be a living document, added to and updated based on Strong Cities engagement with mayors and cities, and a starting point for local officials on the myriad ways cities can and have developed and delivered prevention. The Guide also provides an outline of the types of support local leaders can look to Strong Cities and other partners for and how future training, capacity building and engagement might focus on the particular needs mayors and other local leaders identify in relation to their prevention and response journey. As such, it continues to support Strong Cities’ ongoing effort to build a community of practice between local leaders that crosses national and regional boundaries and transcends differences in context and resourcing, with the basic aim of sharing experiences, good practices and key learnings, in order to unlock the prevention and response potential of cities. 

Annex: Contributing Cities

Addu City Maldives
Akkar AtikaLebanon
Al-Ramadi City, Al-Anbar GovernorateIraq
AlexandriaUnited States
Alqosh Iraq 
Aurora, ColoradoUnited States
Banja LukaBosnia and Herzegovina
Blantyre Malawi 
Cape Town South Africa
ColumboSri Lanka
Columbus, OhioUnited States
Commune Mukaza en mairie de Bujumbura Burundi 
Dabrowa Gornicza Poland
Dayton, OhioUnited States
Dhamrai Municipality, DhakaBangladesh
Durban South Africa
Edmonton, AlbertaCanada
Elbasan Albania
GostivarNorth Macedonia
Hani i ElezitKosovo
Helsinki Finland
Highland Park, IllinoisUnited States
Houston, TexasUnited States 
Junik MunicipalityRepublic of Kosovo
Kampala Uganda
KumanovoNorth Macedonia
Los Angeles, CaliforniaUnited States
London United Kingdom
Mardan Pakistan 
Mosul, Nineveh GovernorateIraq
Nacala Port CityMozambique
Nebbi MunicipalityUganda
New York City, New YorkUnited States
Novi PazarSerbia
Nowshera Pakistan 
Oslo Norway
Podgorica Montenegro
Rabat Morocco
SarajevoBosnia & Herzegovina
Seattle, WashingtonUnited States
Shimla India
Singra Municipality Bangladesh
Sremska MitrovicaSerbia
Stamford, ConnecticutUnited States
Tangail Bangladesh 
TetovoNorth Macedonia
Toba Tek SinghPakistan
Trans NzoiaKenya
Zomba City CouncilMalawi

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Last updated: 12/09/2023

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