When the early reports of Friday’s twin attacks in Norway that left 93 dead first surfaced, much of the immediate commentary (and some reporting) relied on the assumption that it was an attack by radical Islamists.
Jared Cohen, whose first initiative as director of the brand new Google Ideas think/do tank was to organize a conference of former violent extremists in Dublin last month, wonders if the story “would have been down-played” if it had been accurately reported as a right wing Christian fundamentalist from the outset.
“Violent extremism of any kind should carry the same weight,” said Cohen in an interview.
Where Cohen saw a value added to the barrage of statements from organizations, governmental agencies and academics was from the network of former far-right fascists, former religious extremists, former gang members and survivors of violent extremism Google Ideas brought together in Dublin.
“Who has more credibility on this--former extremists who have left that life or another organization?”quipped Cohen.
The result was the following statement released Sunday night:
“The Formers” condemn the recent acts of violent extremism in Norway. We are a network of former violent extremists from different social, political, and cultural backgrounds, and survivors of violent extremism as well as other activists, who through our different organizations share a goal to identify and apply solutions to violent extremism.
Violent extremism manifests across different cultural contexts in different ways, and is not limited to any one race, creed or country. It is usually justified by hate, dehumanization of the other, etc. grievances, conspiracy theories and blind hatred must be challenged. The Formers show that hate can be replaced by hope, and anger by compassion. Our formation and existence is a testament to the fact that there is a solution. Attention is usually paid to the differences between violent extremists - their religion, geography, ideology, or ethnicity - rather than to the similarities. The Formers focus on actionable solutions to all forms of violent extremism.
This degree of collaboration, according to Cohen, is proof that the Google Ideas de-radicalization effort is a success even in its early stages.
“For too long, there’s been no broad countermovement to violent extremism, said Cohen. “But every time this new network gets together and produces something--especially when it matters most--they will strengthen the [anti-extremist] brand.”
Maajid Nawaz, Co-founder and Director of the Qulliam Foundation, an organization working exclusively on radicalization, said that the collaboration is about strength in numbers, but also has a more tactical component to it.
“Ultra-Nationalist and Islamist extremism feed off each other to justify their own existence,” said Nawaz. “Collaboration by Former far-right and Islamist extremists is crucial because, by its very nature, it bears powerful testimony to the fact that these two extremes are the mirror image of each other.”