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A grassroots approach to tackling violent extremism

Independent research consultant Alejandro J. Beutel discussed his publication “God Loves the Just: American Muslims Tackling Extremism and the Path to Violence,” in a talk hosted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and START.

Beutel spent nearly a year analyzing case studies of violent extremism in the United States, meeting with members of the American Muslim community, conducting literature reviews and interviewing former members of extremist movements. The product: a detailed guide that focuses on grassroots efforts to counter extremist ideologies and pull individuals back from the precipice of violent behavior.

“Today’s potential extremists develop warped ideologies over time, not instantly, and at some point decide to step over the line that divides extreme ideas from criminal behavior,” Beutel said. “The factors are complex, and people don’t fall into these issues overnight. That provides the community an opportunity to intervene.”

Beutel designed the guide in two parts: the first part provides a background on extremist beliefs and behaviors to educate communities on the threat; the second, how to approach individuals who may be flirting with extremist beliefs following the “Prevention, Intervention, Ejection” (PIE) framework.  Empowering the community to rehabilitate and educate at-risk individuals provides an alternative to incarceration and can succeed in minimizing violence, according to Beutel.

“A person’s path toward violence can be slowed, halted, reversed or even prevented in many cases. The goal is to create a climate of trust within communities,” Beutel said. “But once an individual crosses over into extremist behaviors, criminal activity, the community has to notify law enforcement.”

After fostering that trust, community support and assistance become an integral part of helping rehabilitate extremists back into the American Muslim community. Extremists are frequently incarcerated, and while jail time is necessary for some individuals, Beutel insists that there are more productive ways to handle extremists.

 “The community needs to take ownership of countering violent extremism,” said Harris Tarin, director of the Washington, D.C., office of MPAC. “We hope that the guide will help shed light on the internal dynamics of the movement to counter violent extremism."