How do you counter extremism? With small acts of kindness


As journalists will understand, spending your life looking at the worst aspects of humanity day in and day out can cause you to lose faith or lose sight of the good that exists. But we must remember that the small acts of kindness are the foundation upon which community is built and are ultimately stronger than the attempts to destroy them.


Terrorism and extremism will never cease but I spend every day trying to improve understanding of the ways in which we can better counter and prevent the spread of radicalisation, via all forms of ideological extremism, or just the belief that violence is the best way to air grievance.


I started out my professional career in the military. This environment was of course resolutely gendered and hierarchical. I learned a great deal from my time there about how national security organisations think and operate. Mostly, they are dedicated people who do their jobs, in an effort to protect their country and its citizens. However, there were also some gaps. ‘Group think’ can blind organisations to what the threat really is, or how it even becomes a threat. Often there isn’t a bridge between those doing the ground-level national security work and those academics writing about the perspectives and ideas that could aid better understanding of the issues.


‘We need to make it everyone’s world – not just a man’s world’


This set me on a path to my PhD and on a mission to build a better bridge between those two worlds, if possible. For one thing, as a woman in the military, I wanted to better understand how we can mainstream gender in security policy and how we can show and convince others that gender equality is a key element of improving everyone’s security. Even though, after decades of human and women’s rights agendas, it may be ‘a man’s world’ in most places still, we need to keep fighting to make it everyone’s world; to give everyone the same opportunities and allow us all to share the burdens equally.


From my research I learned to better understand how gender inequality, alongside all other forms of inequality, feed into the narratives and motivations of extremist and terrorist organisations. No matter the ideology, the basis of the narrative is always to ‘other’ and dehumanise. The effectiveness of these tactics has been highlighted by the pandemic and the political polarisation that has dominated the headlines of the last year. This ultimately feeds mass public disinformation and radicalisation in many ways and locations around the globe.


However, in the face of all challenges, I would urge everyone to draw encouragement from the small acts of kindness and to build a common ground where we can work together to discuss and overcome the inequalities that feed our insecurity.

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