Photo above: Deputy director Hedayah Ivo Veenkamp

Worldwide, we are seeing more and more terrorist attacks by groups and individuals who use violence to achieve their ideological aims. Can public authorities, civil society organisations and other parties actually do anything to confront violent extremism? How can we prevent people from being susceptible to the radical ideologies of terrorist groups and then becoming radicalised themselves?

Working together

One strategy is to work together at international level to develop an effective, coordinated approach to tackling radicalisation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinates the Netherlands’ counterterrorism efforts through international platforms like the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF, co-chaired by the Netherlands and Morocco), the European Union, the United Nations and the anti-ISIS coalition.

Terrorist attacks that are ‘steered’ from inside Syria and Iraq influence how safe we feel here in the Netherlands

Easing concerns

Of course, combating terrorism is easier said than done, as Roelant Sitvast – policy officer with the ministry’s Counterterrorism and National Security Division – is only too aware. ‘More than ever before, international security, or the lack of it, is having an effect on our own national security. Terrorist attacks that are ‘steered’ from inside Syria and Iraq influence how safe we feel here in the Netherlands, what we as a country are doing to combat terrorism, and who we work with to achieve it. Our collective aim is clear. The international community wants to reduce the terrorist threat worldwide and prevent attacks in the future. A safer world means a safer Netherlands.’

This is why it is important for the Dutch foreign ministry to share its knowledge and experience in these forums in order to prevent radicalisation and combat violent extremism.

As Roelant Sitvast explains, ‘Open, fast and active information-sharing enables us to make the most of each other’s good ideas. For example, we tell others about the positive role played by influential individuals working with young people in local Dutch communities. They include community police officers, youth workers, teachers and groups of school friends, not to mention civil society organisations. They understand what’s going on at neighbourhood level, where the problems are, and how they can be tackled before the situation escalates or young people become radicalised. Parents also need to have access to the right organisations if they’re concerned that their children may be radicalising. By sharing this kind of know-how and running programmes of this kind, we can help each other to combat terrorism.’

Getting results – together

The Netherlands certainly isn’t working in isolation, as these examples show. ‘Complex issues, like preventing foreign terrorist fighters from going to join ISIS in Syria or Iraq, cannot be solved single-handedly,’ Roelant Sitvast explains. ‘In our fight against violent extremism we depend on each other. Unless we form a united front, no single country can achieve results. Unless we pool our resources, it’s unlikely that different countries, ministries, local authorities, police and civil society organisations will learn about each other’s experiences. How to tackle terrorist financing, for example, or engage with young people, teachers and community workers on the issue of radicalisation. With a joint approach, every country, ministry and organisation – and every member of the public – bears individual responsibility. Working together saves everyone time. You share your expertise and make sure that the results don’t just end at your national borders – because the problem doesn’t, either.’

'You share your expertise and make sure that the results don’t just end at your national borders – because the problem doesn’t, either'

A better understanding of radicalisation

The Netherlands wants to make as many people as possible aware of the part they can play – however great or small – in combating violent extremism and reducing the terrorist threat. That’s another reason we work with a range of international partners. Hedayah is one such partner. It’s an independent ‘think-and-do tank’ aimed at combating violent extremism, which emerged from the Global Counterterrorism Forum and is based in Abu Dhabi. A number of Hedayah’s activities receive Dutch funding, and Dutchman Ivo Veenkamp has been the centre’s deputy executive director since its inception. ‘Our focus is on dialogue, research and providing training to the staff of governments, civil society organisations, and influential people in local communities, such as religious leaders, teachers and police officers. By enabling these organisations and individuals to gain a better understanding of why radicalisation happens and how they can work together to prevent the use of violence, we’re helping to reduce the threat of violent extremism.’

There is no single reason why certain people become radicalised and embrace violence

Prevention – a relatively new approach

There is no single reason why certain people become radicalised and embrace violence. A combination of factors are involved, all of which depend on the context. ‘For instance, a person may feel excluded or unfairly treated,’ says Ivo Veenkamp. ‘As a result, they may feel

strongly drawn to the ideology and message of terrorist organisations like ISIS, Boko Haram or al Qa’ida. Because the reasons are so diverse, there is no single all-purpose solution, either. The preventive approach to violent extremism is relatively new. We’re specifically avoiding an approach that fights violence with violence. Since so many organisations and members of society are involved, it’s crucial to boost our know-how and share it with others. Hedayah is doing this in various parts of the world.’

Making a difference

Ivo Veenkamp cites three examples of how Hedayah is sharing that know-how. ‘First, we support other countries in drawing up national action plans. By doing this we help counter violent extremism and encourage all the various actors – governmental and non-governmental – to play their roles. We’re also helping to develop strategies for reintegrating returning jihadist fighters and organising an annual research conference for discussing the latest insights and making them available to others. For example, we’re using Dutch funding to develop a workshop to enable female former fighters to tell their story and develop it into a media campaign. This means you have a credible source telling an authentic story; this authenticity helps counter the myths of the terrorist narrative. Another example: in small communities, the role played by people like primary school teachers, religious authorities and police officers is invaluable. We train them to combat radicalisation, especially among young people. They really make a difference. For instance, a primary school teacher from Kenya was nominated for the 2016 Global Teacher Prize for his outstanding contribution to these efforts in the local community. In an interview, he described how a Hedayah training course had helped him make his pupils more resilient to radicalisation.’

Long-term process

In recent years various Dutch experts have also taken part in training courses by Hedayah. As Ivo Veenkamp explains, ‘At the end of 2015 we ran a training course in The Hague for a group of Dutch diplomats on combating violent extremism and the international approach to this challenge. Of course we’re only one of the parties involved. Worldwide, there are many organisations working together on this issue in an increasing number of countries. It’s still vital that we pool our resources, because this is a long-term process.

The Netherlands is working at international level to promote Dutch security interests. To prevent radicalisation and combat terrorism, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is actively involved in platforms such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the anti-ISIS coalition. Together with Morocco we chair the GCTF and its Foreign Terrorist Fighters working party.

The ministry funds a range of anti-radicalisation projects and also supports training and peace missions. The Netherlands is renowned as a reliable and efficient partner that works to promote security interests both within the European Union and beyond. Sharing experiences and building capacity are essential to combating terrorism, as is international cooperation in all its forms. Our contribution is significant and is appreciated by our international partners. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs connects partners, shares knowledge and pools innovative ideas.