What’s really causing violent extremism?

Violent extremism is a global problem. (© AP Images)

Countering terrorism is a global issue that requires a coherent strategy.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told global leaders, “If we’re going to successfully combat violent extremism, we better understand all of the factors, because we can’t change minds without knowing what’s in them.”

Fighting terrorism on a case-by-case basis ignores the environment in which the problem flourishes, Kerry said. He called on the international community instead to extend a long-term commitment to address the root causes of violent extremism, including alienation, poverty and thrill-seeking.

“Leader after leader in country after country has said that fighting the scourge of violent extremism is a global priority.” – Secretary of State John Kerry

In addition to this longer-term strategy, the U.S. and its international partners are taking immediate action. The United States is involved in establishing a reform government in Iraq and is part of an international coalition working to defeat Daesh, Kerry said. Defeating Daesh is a priority over other terrorist groups because they’re better armed, trained and funded, he added.

Violent extremists have killed thousands of people, closed schools, kidnapped schoolchildren and taken over territories. Most recently in Paris, their attacks on innocent people struck at freedom of speech, he said.

Though some of these acts of “criminal anarchy” have been committed by Islamic extremists, the real problem lies with individuals, not religion.

“Religions don’t require adherence to raze villages and blow up people. It’s individuals with a distorted and an even ignorant interpretation of religion who do that,” Kerry said.