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The challenge of keeping up with the changing nature of terrorism and violent extremism

The Global Terrorism Index 2022 shows that terrorism remains a significant threat. Global terrorist attacks increased in 2021 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is likely to drive rising terrorism in the region. According to the Report, terrorist attacks in the US declined by 68%. However, terrorism and violent extremism are making use of increasingly advanced technologies. Therefore, preventative and peacebuilding frameworks should understand the evolving nature of terrorism and violent extremism to implement effective policies. Firstly, there is no globally standardized and accepted definition of acts of terrorism. Rather The United Nations Security Council resolution 1566 (2004) makes use of specific elements to define acts of terrorism. However, the ambiguous definitions of terrorism have led to ineffective policies and practices that fail to protect citizens from terrorism and violent extremism. Therefore, comprehensive national definitions that comply with international principles of legality need to be developed.

According to the Index, 48% of global deaths from terrorism occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. The African Union has adopted extensive policy frameworks on terrorism and violent extremism and deployed a number of counter-terrorism missions in various parts of the continent. This includes the Multinational Joint Task Force, the G-5 Sahel Joint Force, Southern Africa Development Community Mission in Mozambique, and the African Union transition mission in Somalia. However, the African Union’s response to terrorism and violent extremism is not comprehensive and coordinated enough to bring about effective change. While policies have taken an African-led approach, key drivers of continental terrorism have not been deliberated. Counterterrorism and preventative policies in Africa remain occupied with a highly militarized response. The responses have failed to keep up with the evolving and increasing nature of terrorism and violent extremism. Conversely, in the global West, politically motivated terrorism attacks overtook religious attacks. Thus, a significant shift in the instigators of terrorism has occurred. Most acts of terrorism or violent extremism were driven by left or right ideology and perpetrated by individuals with no formal affiliations with terrorist groups. Strategies and preventative policies have failed to keep up with the changing nature of terrorism and violent extremism.

The West has seen a dramatic increase in right-wing extremists while policies continue to pay insubstantial attention to these instances. Dominant narratives on terrorism and violent extremism in America continue to echo ex-president Bush’s “war on terror” rhetoric that frames terrorists as the others, such as Al-Qaeda. Right-wing extremists are most often white male supremacists or ethnonationalism. Thus, current strategies and policies are unable to effectively prevent or respond to the growing number of violent acts of terrorism and extremism. Right-wing extremists’ strategies make use of online and offline tools to spread conspiracy theories, racism, and violence. Technological advances have provided abundant opportunities for extremists to spread their ideologies with no repercussions. Thus, effective interventions and preventative policies should be multifaceted. It should address the growing political polarization and deconstruct propaganda used to recruit new members. Key political figures and other relevant stakeholders should be in consensus about the proper policy responses and publicly denounce acts of terrorism and violent extremism.


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