PBS NewsHour had a segment on fighting hate and extremism featuring the work of my organization Muflehun, 2017 https://youtu.be/nAvRaw4xZAc?t=32m51s

UN Conference on the Human Rights of Victims of Terrorism, 2016 Muflehun Executive Director Humera Khan presented on the potential role of victims and survivors of terrorism in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PVE and CVE), beyond counter-narratives and highlighted the need to protect their rights without instrumentalizing them. Video archive is available from UN WebTV and starts at 2:03:26. http://webtv.un.org/watch/part-2-un-conference-on-the-human-rights-of-victims-of-terrorism/4752438709001

Why Countering Extremism Fails, 2015 https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2015-02-18/why-countering-extremism-fails

Proof: https://i.redd.it/99dmx7u7zdwz.jpg

Comments: 281 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

shawnwasim37 karma

Hi Humera, I'm a former muslim who moved to the US from Pakistan when I was 10 years old. Growing up in the US, I've always seen subtle discrimination against muslims and it has always irked me that terrorists use the guise of islam to justify their attacks and further perpetuate this prejudice against moderate/liberal muslims living in the west. It does make me happy that most muslims I've encountered in the US are moderate to liberal compared to those in Pakistan. However, I've seen many documentaries lately which are showing a rise of extremism in Europe and it is quite disturbing as to how nothing is really done to stop them. Do you know why there's a rise in extremism in Europe or are these documentaries selectively biased? And what can be done to prevent the growth of extremism in the west?

khanserai27 karma

Many reports I'm seeing suggest that there is a growth of extremism in the Europe- across the full spectrum of types of extremism. Right-wing, Neo-nazis, white supremacists, religious, 'black flaggers' (all the various groups aligned with Al Qaeda and ISIS ideologies) are all on the rise. As for what to do about them, that is the million $ question. Actually more like a many many MANY million $ question which is one of the problems. To start to address ALL the extremisms on the rise, each country will have to look inwards and examine the conditions that are fueling the vulnerabilities. Racism, discrimination, injustices, lack of consistent services from the government, unequal access to employment opportunities are all reasons being cited (in different locations). The factors that are consistently raised are: identity, sense of belonging, sense of purpose, wanting to not feel helpless, social justice. Until we don't deal with the systemic problems, and bring money, political will & civil society to the table, the issues will not go away.

paulmd19919 karma

Does conflict fuel extremism or does extremism fuel conflict? How do we unwind this chicken and egg problem?

khanserai23 karma

It's AND, not OR :-)

Conflict can definitely fuel extremism and vice versa. Looking at the vectors underneath might make it easier to unpack the problem. Conflict is the culmination of other situations/grievances/injustices that have already occurred/are occurring. Which means that solving the conflict, with or without extremism involved, will take more than just more brute force. Same with vulnerability to extremism. What makes it harder is that these are complex human systems that falling apart and trying to find simple solutions will always be insufficient.

Chtorrr18 karma

How did you first get into this work?

khanserai34 karma

By 2010 we were seeing a rise in the number of home-grown cases of terrorism in the US and a small group of us were worried that there was no real response strategy. I spent a few months researching the phenomenon and every indicator seemed to point in the direction that the problem was going to get worse, not better. No one else was willing to focus on the issue at the time so we set up a new organization (Muflehun) to work on it. I took the work/methodologies that I was working on since 1999 and applied them to the violent extremism space. And here we are, 7 years later!

arabscarab18 karma

What do you find is most effective in getting people to turn away from violent misinterpretations of their religion?

khanserai48 karma

Building a trusted relationship to have real discussions. It is rare for people to join extremist groups BECAUSE of their ideology- they tend to be looking for something else in life and then get sucked in. Which means that in trying to pull anyone back one has to deal with the whole person and their myriad issues that made them vulnerable in the first place. And be honest about positions and grievances. The world we live in is very imperfect and we cannot just ignore (real or perceived) injustices.

Having said that, confrontation and arguments definitely DON'T work!

optimister9 karma

Isn't it very difficult to establish this kind of trust with someone online? The appearance of character and sincerity is fairly easy to manufacture over social media, and this fact has been used to the advantage of many extremists. To truly reach people, don't we need some kind of physical presence e.g., to convey voice tone, and/or eye contact?

khanserai16 karma

Physical presence helps for sure however in our current world one can absolutely build trust online. Just takes time and commitment. Ideally, it would be a combo of online & offline methods- basically meet people where they are and what they are comfortable with.

TurtlesWillFly14 karma

What do you think about the Sutherland church shootings?For that matter,what about shooters that are US citizens?

khanserai37 karma

As far as we know (so far), there were no political motives around the Sutherland church shootings so it would not fall under the terrorism or violent extremism labels. That does not make the actions any less horrific.

The fact that he was not eligible to buy guns because of his criminal, violent history but the mess up by the air force in reporting it is outrageous.

Mass shooters are a problem in the US, whether they are citizens or not. Just think about Sandy Hook, Aurora, Las Vegas, Charleston, San Bernadino, Orlando etc. Hundreds of innocents killed and no changes in policy

fandango32812 karma

Do you think that the answer would be more legislation, or better enforcement of laws that are already in place?

khanserai10 karma

BOTH! We have to enforce the laws we do have and we also need different legislation. Bump stocks as an example make NO sense- the average person does not need (effectively) automatic weapons in civilian contexts

Chtorrr13 karma

What is the very best dessert?

khanserai28 karma

ooooooo, now that's hard. Rice pudding is THE best dessert, followed closely by flan

fadlpadl15 karma

Rice pudding is pretty great, your answer is acceptable.

However you then followed it up with flan, which is wrong, and thus I can no longer trust your expertise.

khanserai11 karma

You don't like flan? GASP

fadlpadl15 karma

Sadly I was born with functioning tastebuds.

khanserai20 karma

At least you admit that the issue with your tastebuds ;-)

Painting_Agency6 karma

Careful... Counter messaging is better done by in-group members because they have credibility ;)

khanserai7 karma

LOL!! Let me suggest an alternative dessert for you to try, how about chocolate mousse?

ImpatientOptimist472 karma

I'm doubting the authenticity of your account. Any Desi would obviously tell the answer as Qubani ka meetha

khanserai3 karma

NO WAY!! Kheer and firni is the way to go

optimister12 karma

In your view, what is the greatest barrier that prevents people from seeing past their cultural prejudices?

I am starting a video project with the intent of capturing stories that run counter to the narratives of hate, and I want to be sure that I am prepared for resistance when I face it.

khanserai24 karma

Most people do not think they're prejudiced or think that it's somehow justified! To be fair, every one of us has biases, it's really about how they manifest, our willingness to not force them on those and the like. For years, practitioners have been discussing the relative effectiveness of alternative, positive stories and direct counter messaging. The general views are that both are needed but for different audiences and using different messengers. Counter messaging (directly confronting assumptions/views) is better done by in-group members because they have credibility.

Resistance comes from all sides- anyone who has something to lose, or thinks that a change might take something away from them.

optimister10 karma

Most people do not think they're prejudiced or think that it's somehow justified!

I guess that's the big challenge. The problem with prejudice is that we are prejudiced about our own prejudice. It's prejudice "all the way down" as Bertrand Russell put it.

better done by in-group members because they have credibility.

This is a very helpful insight, thank you. It suggests to me that I should be very patient in my efforts and not expect fast results.

khanserai9 karma

It always takes time. Patience and consistency will help- even when it gets hard!

fadlpadl9 karma

Beyond criticizing current attitudes and ideas about countering terrorism, you yourself propose a framework of understanding, somewhat gentle social intervention, and re-entry into society.

But do you have any evidence that your methods are effective? Any studies that show your methods work? Real non-anecdotal data for your methods?

khanserai20 karma

We've been doing output and outcome evaluations but I fully acknowledge that we have not been doing impact assessments on our work. Our biggest challenge to +3yr evaluation commitment per program has been funding. As for the approaches, these have been used 'successfully' in various other countries and other contexts (like gang violence reduction, existing programs for preventing recividism etc).

fadlpadl7 karma

Do you then have any evidence that similar mechanisms are in play for radicalization and gang participation for the young people involved?

khanserai13 karma

The recruitment dynamics of the two are almost parallel at the initial stages. The NIJ is actually funding EXACTLY this research right now.

maze_of_montresor5 karma

What course of study would you recommend to somebody desiring to work in a similar field?

khanserai1 karma

I know people who have entered the field from all these areas: International Affairs, Security Studies, Religion, Marketing, Communication, Psychology, Criminology, Intelligence, Social work, International Development.

Mutairy15 karma

With the current changes happening in KSA, do you believe it will help eradicate terrorism or flame it more ?

khanserai9 karma

The speed of the current changes is mind-boggling and from the outside it's unclear where the sentiment of the population lies. If they largely support the changes then potentially the society will be resilient. What we know from the past is that terrorist groups look for opportunities to exploit, and political uncertainty provides those openings. The greater the unrest in the population, the greater the vulnerability. Unless handled very carefully the current situation can create conditions for more terrorist activity. Both Al-Qaeda and ISIS have openly listed KSA as targets in the past.

Serialsuicider2 karma

What's the very best desert?

khanserai13 karma

I haven't been to very many deserts to compare them!

khanserai8 karma

somewhere with a beach, snorkeling, family & friends, good food

thaway3141561 karma

I find the most enlightening piece about understanding terrorists is this speech, do you know about Scott Atran's work?

khanserai1 karma

YES! I love his work

FuckingPotzer1 karma

Who is your favorite Spice Girl?

khanserai7 karma

Since I don't remember all of them I will have to go with the one I remember the most: Scary Spice!

jpdidz1 karma

People love to criticise the government for their inability to deal with extremism but is it more of an issue for the individual?

Does having the courage to speak out against smaller instances of extremism and challenge them (in the work place, at home, online etc) actually make a difference or does it only entrench these ideas with the individual?

khanserai2 karma

Your two questions are not asking exactly the same things:

  • Governments absolutely have a role to play in mitigating extremism, in ensuring the environment is not enabling incitement, that justice and rule of law is observed, that human rights are not violated, that there is freedom of speech/religion/belief, there is governance, law enforcement does its job etc. It is not just about individuals. In the same vein, it is not just about governments.

  • Depends. Challenging ideas before they have solidified definitely helps. If the person has already drunk the koolaid then challenging can make them dig in their heels and resist. In those cases it helps to reframe the discussion entirely so it is not perceived as a direct attack

chubz4you1 karma

How do you feel about the arrests made by prince mohammed bin salman in SA? Is he making a push for a more moderate governing or just ramping up tensions between neighboring countries?

khanserai3 karma

The moderate governing strains are really welcome (finally!) but I do worry about (i) the manner in which power consolidation is happening internally and (ii) the number of fronts that are being opened in the region and ramping up of tensions. The entrenched power brokers are not going to let go so easily.

_Sausage_fingers1 karma

How did you get involved in this field? I mean less what motivated you but more in terms of career progression.

khanserai3 karma

My career trajectory might be a bit more varied than others. Here goes the last 18 years:

I got my first four degrees from MIT. Bachelors in Nuclear Engineering, Bachelors in Art & Design, Masters in Nuclear Engineering, Masters in Technology & Policy.

After graduating I did what most people do who cannot decide what they like best and joined a strategy consulting firm that worked on decision support systems and business simulation. After a few years of helping the rich get richer I decided it was not quite my cup of tea and joined a think-tank to work on designing new methodologies for doing threat assessments (we cannot predict the future but we should be able to anticipate threats with better scenario planning so we can do strategic planning). I was taking principles from social complexity theory and creating new ways for intelligence analysts to anticipate upcoming threats.

Along the way I got a third masters degree from a seminary. After all this (and bunch of travel and moving around) we come to 2010 when the issue of home grown attacks was really rearing its ugly head. By now I was very clear that making a difference and serving society was my cup of tea!

Thus was born my organization- where we are using methods for horizon scanning/threat anticipation (same stuff that I was previously teaching intel analysts & govts) and applying it to a slightly modified problem set. And designing solutions, doing capacity building so people can create their own solutions, and being a resource center for others. Back then no one wanted to really get involved and it was a need.

We all hafta step up in whatever way we can when our communities/societies/countries/world needs us!

Eckeaux301 karma

It seems like a lot of work on terrorism is either speculation or simply descriptive. In your opinion, why does the study of terrorism (more than any other phenomenon, it seems) seem to value the opinions of self-proclaimed experts and speculators more than social scientific evidence? Is there a push for inferential scientific study of terrorism?

khanserai8 karma

The disconnect between counter-terrorism and social sciences (and between academics and policymakers) has existed for a while. I suspect many reasons play into it: - Terrorism is always considered an urgent problem "we must do something about it NOW- something is better than nothing" and the decision makers on the CT side are not coming from the same backgrounds - There are SO many ways for people to get involved in terrorist activity that there is no way to have a single theory of everything- that kind of fluidity around human decision making is not something that political leadership knows what to do with. - There is research being done about various aspects of violent extremism but it's not enough and we also do not know if it escalates up to the levels it needs to be understood at. - There are increasing murmurs about unintended consequences and how CT policies have actually caused more terrorist backlash so at least some things are shifting - Academics and researchers have to step outside of the ivory tower and talk to policy makers in their language, for practical solutions

Skallywagwindorr0 karma

Do you believe your interpretation of islam is the 'true' interpretation of islam and all the other interpretations are wrong?

khanserai1 karma

I don't think there is a SINGLE true interpretation of Islam or a SINGLE true way for people to live as Muslims in any era or geography. There are basics that are required as a bare minimum but beyond those there can be many true interpretations and it does not make everyone else wrong. In classical traditions, understanding of how people should practice their faith is always modulated by the context of their environment and individual circumstances.

Fuckstick_Magoo-2 karma

Let's go about this another way, what was your response to Americans being plowed down by a rent-a-truck? Do you communicate with mosques and let them know that shit isn't ok in this country?

khanserai15 karma

Yes, we do communicate with mosques and they are in agreement that all acts of terrorism are wrong/unacceptable and condemn them. It's wrong in every country.

Zootropic-2 karma

What is your absolute best place to vacation?

khanserai8 karma

somewhere with a beach, snorkeling, family & friends, good food

Fuckstick_Magoo-2 karma

Do you feel bad about the eventual attack on America by your people, or will you try to apologize and tell us how wonderful your people are?

khanserai18 karma

America is my people. Every American hurts when any American is attacked.

ShreddedCredits-3 karma

Are you in agreement with certain Islamic groups who believe that sharia law is best for America?

khanserai4 karma

The US Constitution is the law of the land in America and it should stay that way

[deleted]-4 karma

Why do your people throw gays off of buildings and burn people in cages?

khanserai20 karma

My people don't do that- the US criminal justice system does not allow for throwing anyone off buildings or burning people in cages.

polimodern-4 karma

I always thought it would be neat if there was Terrorist Victim Life Insurance.

You buy a lifetime policy for $100. It goes into a fund that is conservatively invested in...investment places...or whatever.

The main thing is if a policy holder dies, some multiple of their policy amount then goes to some good cause that is antithetical to the terrorists along with a press release to the media stating such.

College scholarships for orphaned minority women would probably anger most terrorist organizations, so maybe something like that.

Have you seen anything else along these lines? Attempts to reverse the calculus against terrorists that neuters the political effects of their violence?

khanserai1 karma

I haven't seen it in the terrorism context. I don't know if regular insurance companies would even cover terrorism. Will have to look it up cause it has great potential!

There are towns who have tried to reverse the calculus against extremists: https://www.thelocal.de/20141117/charity-turns-neo-nazi-march-into-fundraiser-wunseidel