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Understanding Extremism from a Human Rights Perspective

R.E.A.L.'s Jeffrey Imm Challenging Anti-Democracy Hizb ut-Tahrir

To “counter violent extremism,” we don’t have to wait for a mass-casualty terrorist attack to leave our fellow human beings dead in the street. We have warning signs and to effectively challenge terrorist threats, we must be vigilant, and aware of challenging extremist views and ideologies. Terrorism does not happen in a vacuum; it is fueled by extremist ideologies and hatred of our shared universal human rights.

But some of our counterterrorist “experts” would have us believe that we have no way to forecast or predict terrorist activity, that terrorist attacks are just some wildly random events that we could not possibly foresee, and that we should simply “accept” “inevitable terrorist attacks” on society, as part of life. We have highly educated and senior experts who make such incredibly outrageous statements in public and to our press media, to the weary, confused, nodding heads of the American Establishment, without a voice rejecting such blatant defeatism.

Imagine if other aspects of our lives were like this. Imagine if our city traffic designers stated that we should just get used to the inevitably of fatal automobile accidents, so why should we need traffic signals, planning, or vigilant drivers. Imagine if our meteorologists stated that we should just get used to the inevitably of tornadoes destroying our cities, so why should they struggle to accurately forecast weather on dangerous storms and high winds. Americans and people of any nation would be understandably outraged and disgusted at such unprofessional abandonment of “expert” responsibility. When the equivalent of such comments is made in regards to terrorist threats, however, too many in the American Establishment simply go along as if to say, we really have no control over our lives. There is no question that there are aspects in everyone’s lives that we have limited control over. But in a cohesive and organized society, this does not mean that we don’t at least TRY to manage public safety.

Just as meteorologists study patterns of weather, and warn us of approaching storms, high winds, and extreme weather, so that we can find shelter, so our human rights advocates must warn us of growing extremism, so that we can protect ourselves from violent extremism or terrorist acts. But since we have tactical counterterror “experts” in charge, the human rights community has come to believe that extremism and terrorism is a law enforcement issue, not a human rights issue. They could not be further from the truth. Countering extremist views and protecting the public from terrorism must be a primary human right activist responsibility, because if human right activists do not study and warn us of growing extremist views, our government and law enforcement cannot effectively prevent violent extremists’ terrorism.

But the failure to get human right issues at the forefront of challenging extremism and preventing terrorism – has created a situation that is total backwards. In America (and other countries) today, we have some counterterror authorities who are hiring “former” terrorists to help them “understand” why people commit terrorist attacks, as if the obvious extremist views are impossible for such counterterror authorities to understand. Imagine that a weather forecasting service had to go out and hire someone who was trying to create storms and disasters, because they believed that was the only way to understand such threats to public safety. We would think they were insane. But when counterterror authorities do this, our Establishment heads nod about the sage wisdom of bringing an extremist aboard to explain why terrorists kill people, including some right now today, while you are reading this, who are “guiding” counterterror institutes, at the same time they are promoting extremist views (including ISIS flags) online.

To some extent, it is difficult for counterterror tactical experts, who are focused on law enforcement and military tactics to understand violent extremism. This is because such extremists’ views are based on IDEAS, not weapons, not targets, not tactical “intelligence.” Extremist views are based on created an organization of IDEAS that are contrary and in opposition to our shared universal human rights. But since extremists focus on IDEAS and too many counterterror experts focus on TACTICS, incredibly some counterterrorists believe the only way to understand IDEAS is to get an extremist to explain them. So the extremists urge such tacticians, if only you were more “tolerant” of extremist views, then there might be less violent terrorism. This is like a weather forecaster being told if only you ignored more storms and high winds, there would be less tornadoes and hurricanes. It is that absurd. This bizarro topsy-turvy thinking is the price that we pay for keeping human rights activists and a human rights focus out of challenging extremist and preventing terrorism.

The answer to this is found in an army of human rights activists, the IDEA people, who are largely untapped to protect our society from extremist views. They have been told that their views are not wanted and not welcome. At one conference, I distinctly recall when I told a speaker that I represented a human rights perspective, he nearly spat on me in public. The frustration with some in the counterterror comes from the incorrect conclusion that if you support human rights, then you will excuse extremist hate and activity. No, that is the view of those who do not understand our universal human rights, which include our safety and security.

Our guideline to resolve this issue must be the use of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) for consistent and documented direction on the human rights which people of all races, religions, gender, and identity groups all have. The UDHR provides guidance on freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, equality of people of all races, gender, and ethnic origin, safety, and security for all human beings. The UDHR was created in response to Nazi Germany’s Holocaust specifically to help future generations have a guideline on the areas we must be consistent on in defending human rights from extremist views and extremist organizations. When you are working with the UDHR in assessing extremist IDEAS that challenge human rights, you are not just looking at one shade of extremist hate or persecution, you are looking at the ENTIRE SPECTRUM of such challenges.

Based on a human rights perspective, it is no different to challenge a white supremacist, another racial supremacist, a religious extremist, or those promoting misogyny, for example. From a threat to our shared human rights, each of those anti-human rights issues must be challenged and rejected with the cleansing power of consistent support for human rights and dignity. Tacticians need to have vast armies and organizations of individuals specialized in every possible type of extremist view. But human rights activists understand that all extremism that rejects and denounces a threat to our Universal Human Rights is another storm that needs to be watched. Human rights activists are not “surprised” that violence from any type of anti-human rights extremism can be violent and turned toward terrorism, because any extremist view can potential lead to violent terrorism.

This does mean that we will silence every voice of dissent and every anti-human right opinion. But we must recognize that the root of violent terrorism begins, not with poverty, not with financial problems, not with education, not with all of the aspects that our tacticians want us to believe they can “quickly fix.” The root of violent terrorism begins with extremist IDEAS. If we want to challenge such terrorist activity, we need to first understand its basis, and concentrate individuals who can provide a human rights defense to anti-human rights extremism.