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Preventing Violent Extremism: Leaders Telling a Different Story
February 5, 2018

The Samir Kassir Foundation (SKF) was proud to partner with the Club de Madrid - World Leadership Alliance in the production of this report, with the support of the European Union.

In recent years, violent extremism of all kinds has been on the rise, killing innocent people and exploiting technology to spread its propaganda, ideology and recruitment. Extremist narratives are increasingly widespread in postmodern societies. Preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) practitioners and policy makers seem to be very interested in narrative, and promote the idea of fighting violent extremism with counter-narrative or alternative narrative strategies and policies. Despite international efforts, existing P/CVE strategies continue to be insufficient, uncoordinated, and often outdated considering the evolving modus operandi of recent terrorist attacks. Moreover, most of the projects lack an analytical framework that brings together the various positive narrative efforts, sheds light on complementarities of the work done in this area and provides an understanding of the dynamics of how an individual receives and perceives the messages. Most counter-narrative campaigns lack a specific target audience; nor do they have a global or regional framework of action to effectively create and disseminate these messages. 

For all these reasons and as part of their partnership with the Club de Madrid, SKF conducted qualitative research in Lebanon, Tunisia and Nigeria, focusing on how citizens understand, receive and perceive messages of radical groups, and the most effective channels for such messages. The aim was to provide evidence-based findings and policy recommendations which take into account local realities, the needs of target groups, the most-used channels of communication, and the analysis of extremist groups’ actual messages. The study also carried out an assessment of the language, themes and cultural images contained in the body of these messages in order to explain their appeal to and influence on the target group.

The qualitative research led by SKF involved 213 interviews in Tunisia, Lebanon and Nigeria, was conducted from January to June 2017, with male and female participants of various ages who were residents of urban and rural locations. In January 2017, research was carried out with Nigerian audiences who resided in urban and rural areas but were interviewed in Abuja. In March, focus groups were conducted in Saida and Denniyeh in South and North Lebanon; and in April, data was collected in Siliana and in Tunis. Analysis of the focus group discussions provided the opportunity to define (with a scientific base) the perceptions that citizens from Tunisia, Lebanon and Nigeria have about their public institutions and about the messages released by violent extremist groups. This study provides a better understanding of certain population groups and their vulnerability to radical messages, which can inform the production and dissemination of possible alternative messages. It also provides a practical tool for governments and policy makers to use in developing and delivering an engagement strategy with their target audiences.

The Club de Madrid is an independent non-profit organization created to promote democracy and change in the international community. Composed of 95 members, 64 of whom are former presidents and 39 of whom are former prime ministers from 65 countries, the Club de Madrid is the world’s largest forum of former heads of state and government.

SKF's steering committee for this project included  academic and policy consultant Drew Mikhael, SKF Executive Director Ayman Mhanna, former SKF Programs Coordinator Nassim Abi Ghanem, academic and senior researcher Nidal Ayoub, and social media communication specialist Marie-Thérèse Corbani.