Engaging local stakeholders to understand and address violent extremism in Kosovo
Violent extremism stems from diverse factors, many of which are dependent on local circumstances. FHI 360 believes that effective efforts to counter violent extremism must address its local drivers and be implemented by credible local stakeholders. Through its work in the area of civil society and peacebuilding, FHI 360 has implemented activities to counter violent extremism since 2008.
According to an April 2015 report by the Kosovar Center for Security Studies (KCSS), out of 22 Western states, Kosovo possesses the greatest number of foreign fighters in extremist organizations. The report states that Kosovo has 125 foreign fighters for every one million citizens, and approximately 30 percent of the fighters who have left Kosovo recently have joined rebel groups in Syria and Iraq.
In September 2015, FHI 360 convened four leaders from various sectors of Kosovar society for a televised discussion on how to counter violent extremism in Kosovo. The discussion aired on KTV’s Rubikon, one of the country’s most popular news discussion programs, and featured Rexhep Lushta, Head Imam in the city of Mitrovica; Luan Keka, Deputy Director of the Kosovo Police and head of the Department Against Terrorism; Besa Ismaili, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies; and Skender Perteshi, a researcher at KCSS.
The program aired live during prime time, and viewers were able to participate by posting questions on Facebook that Adriatik Kelmendi, Rubikon’s host, posed to the panel.
The panelists provided insights on the causes of violent extremism and the steps that civil society groups, the government, religious authorities and the media can take to create sustainable solutions to address the most significant drivers in Kosovo.
The panelists discussed the country’s success in reducing its number of foreign fighters through awareness-raising campaigns, targeted arrests of suspected militants and the denouncement of extremism by moderate imams. They mentioned the potential for the media to play a negative role in promoting violent extremism and the importance of the media portraying events in conflict countries without sensationalism. The prevention of spreading extremist messages was identified by the panelists as a challenge, one attributed to the protection of radical speech that can lead to violence. The panelists emphasized the need for better reintegration measures for returning foreign fighters, who often face imprisonment that can lead to further radicalization.
Building on this rich and diverse discussion, and our experience implementing activities to counter violent extremism in Africa and the Middle East, FHI 360 hosted a workshop in January 2016 that compared assessments of violent extremism drivers and responses in various contexts around the world. The goal of the workshop was to promote learning among practitioners and researchers so they can contribute to more effective programs to counter violent extremism — ones that engage local stakeholders to identify and address the drivers of violent extremism in their unique local contexts.