According to Scottish Detective Inspector Shaheen Baber, it takes a community to counter extremism.

“This is not a police-led idea, it has to be organic, it has to be from within the community,” said the veteran police officer. “Many good bits of work are being done by many sections of communities.”

Baber and 13 others who combat violent extremism and radicalization in their countries recently visited the United States as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).

The IVLP participants learned about counterextremism efforts in the U.S., explored the underlying conditions that fuel extremism, discussed how sectors of American society work together to resist violent extremism and examined community-based efforts that promote tolerance.

Shaheen Baber holds dialogues with the community in Scotland. (© David Peterson)

Austrian IVLP participant Christa Bauer is the managing director of Mauthausen Komitee, an organization that fights “all forms of fascism, racism, neo-Nazism, chauvinism and anti-Semitism.”

Mauthausen Komitee holds workshops for youth that build tolerance and analyze the sources of prejudices.

“[We discuss] what makes an identity, how do you make an identity, how do you react when you talk to other cultures, with people from another religion, and we try to minimize the prejudices,” Bauer said.

Apparently, the approach works.

“We get feedback from teachers, from parents and from young people about what they gained in the workshops, and most of the feedback is positive,” she said.

Karin Petersen, a senior official with Denmark’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Integration, said her country’s network to prevent youth radicalization involves schools, social workers and the police.

In addition to this network, she said her office is trying a new approach: mentors, the kind of people that youth can look to for guidance.

Christa Bauer works with youth in Austria. (© David Peterson)
Christa Bauer works with youth in Austria. (© David Peterson)

“We are building up right now a national corps of mentors that we are educating, and we are doing the same with what we call parent coaches, so that each municipality has access to mentors and access to parent coaches,” Petersen said.

Baber, Bauer and Petersen all agree on the importance of the community’s role. Baber adds that many groups in the community already combat extremism, they just don’t call it that.

“Some of the good work the communities do, the community groups do, even mosques do, they don’t label it as counterextremism, it is just business as usual,” he said. “It is good religion, it is good citizenship, and it is good behavior.”