One of the most important points to understand in violence prevention is that violence is multivariable and multi-causal, and therefore, trying identify single causes as drivers of violence is not recommended. This is particularly true in the realm of countering violent extremism, where developing a profile of radicalized individuals has proven to be ineffective in countering violence, and has led to discriminatory practices against communities and individuals. Although people who commit violence usually have one or more risk factors, only few people in a population, who have risk factors, will actually engage in violent groups or commit violent acts.
Lately, extremist violence has been associated with Islam. This association is erroneous particularly in the United States, as most extremist violence in this country is carried out by white supremacists groups, as the data clearly show. Additionally, violent extremism as well as terrorism has been executed in every single continent by groups such as Shining Path in Peru, the FARC is Colombia, Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, the Red Army Faction in Germany, and ETA in Spain, to name a few. As a result, associating Islam with terrorism is incorrect, as a causal relationship is being made in this assumption. Furthermore, interventions that target Muslim populations, or any other specific populations, can have negative results.
The idea that all people who radicalize go through a linear process that can be easily identified is wrong. Models that identify increased religiosity as the initial step toward radicalization fail to understand the multifaceted nature of this process, and fall into the common assumption that one factor is causing individuals to follow a violent path. A study in Great Britain by the MI5 showed that religion is not at the heart of radicalization. In fact, the study discovered that lack of religious literacy and education was a common feature amongst individuals who radicalized. Also, the findings demonstrated that a well-established religious identity protects against violent radicalization.
However, what does influence an individual to adopt radical views is contact with violent extremists. This is similar to the idea embraced by the CeaseFire model that violence is a learned behavior that acts like an infectious disease, and to stop it, the contagion must be disrupted. In the case of violent extremism, interventions need to be targeted to identify those individuals who are spreading the disease. Law enforcement is usually involved in these types of efforts, and experience shows that police officers or intelligence agencies have not been very successful when trying to identify radicalized individuals by using linear models. For interventions to be successful, law enforcement needs to work with communities.
CVE places significant emphasis on communities and how to build their resilience to make them less vulnerable to youth radicalization. Interventions that address personal, political, social, economic, and ideological factors, and that engage multiple community stakeholders are extremely important to prevent radicalization. Law enforcement must become a trusted stakeholder in communities to prevent radicalization and violent extremism. Communities from which terrorists come have helped prevent more than 40 percent of terrorist plots by providing tips to authorities. When there is no trust in law enforcement, as is the case in environments where criminal gangs operate in Central America, communities will not cooperate with police officers or authorities, and the likelihood of stopping crime or violent events will decrease. Also, communities cannot be stigmatized or stereotyped by law enforcement, as this will make them less likely to cooperate and provide important information.
There are diverse pathways to radicalization, so religion or any single factor cannot be identified as the sole cause of this phenomenon. Although it is true that religion can be a justification to commit a violent act, violence is not caused by religion. Given the complexity of the radicalization process and the different factors that can lead individuals to engage in violence, it is important that interventions are multidimensional and engage different relevant factors at the community level. Part of the success in preventing violent extremism in communities will depend on the relationship that law enforcement can build with it. However, it is important to point out that law enforcement is only one of the stakeholders in the fight against extremism, and that other stakeholders are as important as law enforcement in the identification and reduction of potential threats.