Countries must urgently cooperate to halt the spread of violent extremism around the globe, the United Nations said on Tuesday, ahead of a high-level conference focused on preventing dangerous radicalisation.
Jehanghir Khan, head of the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre, warned that the problem of violent extremism was “mushrooming” and constituted a “clear and present danger” worldwide.
He noted that tens of thousands of foreign fighters, coming from more than 100 different countries, have flooded into conflict zones like Syria and Iraq, while home-grown extremists have wreaked havoc in Europe with deadly attacks like the ones recently in Brussels.
“Everybody is potentially affected by violent extremism. Nobody is spared,” Khan said, insisting that “the need for international co-operation has never been more than now”.
The UN will on Thursday and Friday co-host a conference on preventing violent extremism, drawing about 30 government ministers, including the foreign ministers of Belgium, Switzerland, Egypt and Malaysia.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon will open Friday’s high-level segment in Geneva, alongside the foreign minister of co-host Switzerland.
Counter-terrorism experts, representatives of regional organisations and social media companies will also figure among the more than 600 participants.
The conference is meant to take stock of worldwide efforts to halt violent extremism, after Ban in January launched a global action plan and asked all countries to come up with national plans to address the problem.
The UN is hoping that the growing realisation of the global reach of violent extremism will spur countries to come together and rethink their approach to countering the threat from the Islamic State group and similar organisations.
“The security, military logic, while necessary, has shown its limits,” Khan said, stressing that strategies aimed at preventing youths from radicalising in the first place needed to be given far more weight.
Ban’s plan encompasses a broad range of measures, from boosting education to promoting human rights to counter the recruiting drives of groups like ISIS and Boko Haram which prey on disaffected youth.
Among his 79 recommendations was a call for countries to try to appeal to foreign fighters who have joined groups like ISIS to return home by offering them education and job opportunities, and urges governments to engage with social media to find ways to challenge the jihadists’ messages.
Experts have repeatedly warned that tough, sometimes brutal measures taken by some countries in the fight against extremism can be counter-productive by pushing more people to radicalise.
“We have to break this kind of vicious circle,” said Stephan Husy, ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism at the Swiss foreign ministry.
“One of the findings over the last 10 or 15 years [is] that maybe more terrorists have been generated than removed,” he told reporters.