As governments and communities seek the right combination of methods to halt terrorism, one that we too often miss is nonviolent resistance. It’s not that we haven’t seen the power of protest movements that use mass marches, sit-ins, boycotts and other forceful but nonviolent tactics. To the contrary, people worldwide have been moved by watching such movements sweep aside the walls of apartheid, the tanks of dictators or the impunity of kleptocracies. But governments and civil society alike have failed to connect the dots —to promote nonviolent action that can help communities address grievances while absorbing the youth alienation upon which terrorist movements feed.
We understand the need to undercut extremist ideologies by strengthening the inclusiveness and justice of governance in conflict-afflicted societies. Thus governments and peacebuilding organizations fund and support programs to redress injustices and alienation. Such programs may focus on strengthening the rule of law under corrupt or weak governments; others build the social and political participation of youth and women. Or they may strengthen communities through local dialogue initiatives and other methods of conflict resolution.
Those efforts are essential. Yet a piece is missing. Typical strategies to counter violent extremism fail to confront what we know is a paramount appeal to youth of terrorist groups: the attraction of belonging to a community that seems to be on a moral mission to resist injustices.