What do a former violent jihadist from Indonesia, an ex-neo-Nazi from Sweden and a Canadian who was held hostage for 15 months in Somalia have in common? In addition to their past experiences with radicalization, they are all also members of Against Violent Extremism (AVE), a new online network that is launching today from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) with support from our think/do tank Google Ideas, the Gen Next Foundation and other partners. This is the first time that former extremists, survivors, nonprofits and private sector leaders from around the world are combining forces and using online tools to tackle the problem of violent extremism.
The idea for this network first came about last summer when we hosted the Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin. We wanted to initiate a global conversation on how best to prevent youth from becoming radicalized. In some ways, it was a bit of an experiment to see if we could get so-called “formers”—those who had renounced their previous lives of violent extremism—and survivors of such violence to come together in one place.
To reframe the issue of counter-radicalization, we decided to spotlight formers as positive role models for youth. We also knew that there has traditionally been an over-reliance on governments to tackle these problems, so we wanted to see what diverse groups outside the public sector could offer. Finally, we needed to go beyond the in-person, physical conversations we had at the summit into the realm of the virtual, using the Internet to ensure sustained discussion and debate.
Until now, there has never before been a one-stop shop for people who want to help fight these challenges—a place to connect with others across sectors and disciplines to get expertise and resources. The AVE web platform contains tools for those wanting to act on this issue, forums for dialogue, and information about the projects that the network has spawned. The site, which is in beta, will be managed by ISD, a London-based think tank that has long worked on issues surrounding radicalization. AVE’s seed members are a global network of formers, survivors of violent extremism, NGOs, academics, think tanks and private sector execs—all with a shared goal of preventing youth from becoming radicalized. You can hear from some of the participants in this video here:
Working with the formers over the past several months has turned out to be an exploration of a kind of illicit network: violent extremism. But it’s touched on other types of illicit networks too—such as drug smuggling, human trafficking and the underground arms trade. With the launch of the AVE network, we plan to turn much of our attention over the next several months to these other areas. This afternoon as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, I will be moderating a panel discussion, Illicit Networks: Portrayal Through Film, talking to a former child soldier, a farm laborer who’s gone undercover to investigate modern-day slavery, a survivor of trafficking and abuse, and a former arms broker. We’ll be watching various movie clips and discussing what people learn from Hollywood when it comes to the mysterious and misunderstood world of illicit networks.
This will be an early look at what’s to come this summer when we will again partner with Tribeca Enterprises and the Council on Foreign Relations (as we did last year in Dublin) to convene the Illicit Networks: Forces in Opposition (INFO) Summit. We plan to bring together a diverse cross-section of activists, survivors, policymakers and engineers to come up with creative ideas about how technology can disrupt some of the world’s most dangerous illicit networks. We want to look not only at how technology has been part of the problem, but how it can be part of the solution by empowering those who are adversely affected by illicit networks. We look forward to sharing with you what we learn.