Violence will not stop terrorist extremism in Syria, according to international conflict mediator and international law attorney Samar Ali.
Ali presented a lecture titled “Countering Violent Extremism in Syria and Beyond” Monday, Feb. 29 in the Howard Baker Center. Her lecture discussed the Syrian conflict over the past decade and strategies for countering violent extremism in the Middle East.
Ali stated that there are now 13.5 million refugees as a result of the Syrian crisis. As a result, 40 percent of youths in the Middle East are unemployed, which makes them targets for terrorist recruitment.
“[Terrorist groups] prey upon grievances, and they understand what those are,” she stated. “The smart thing for us to do is to provide alternatives to those grievances.”
Ali stated that these “grievances” that make individuals or communities vulnerable to violent extremism recruitment are predominately conditions like physical insecurity or the inability to provide for oneself or one’s family. But sometimes they are mental needs as well, such as feeling valued or having a “higher purpose.”
Ali’s solution is to implement strategies that improves living situations for at-risk populations. Some strategies included promoting human rights, expanding economic and political opportunities, and avoiding harmful generalizations about entire groups of people. She concluded by suggesting that there is a global responsibility surrounding these strategies that cannot be left to just the Middle East.
“The majority of Muslims want to live the same lifestyle that everyone in this room is living right now. These people are people, just like anybody else, and they have had historical realities that have pushed them into a very unfortunate time period. This is a global security matter where we all hold a certain level of responsibility, and if we rise up to the opportunity, we will conquer violent extremism.”
Grace Rotz, a senior studying technical communications who attended the lecture, appreciated the reminder that it is crucial to be well-informed before forming opinions about groups of people, especially during a time when the United States is seeing large numbers of Syrian immigrants enter the country.
“Public policy and international policy deals a lot more talking with the people and not just assuming political rhetoric is always correct,” Rotz stated. “We can’t assume that Americans know everything about Syria or that Syrians know everything about America. We need to know both sides of the story.”
Ali’s lecture was held by the Baker Center’s Global Security Program, which offers many related events year-round that are free and open to the public.
This article was featured on TNJN, the official news website for the University of Tennessee’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media.