The term “countering violent extremism” (CVE) has become like a buzzword in recent years – frequently used and yet rarely defined. Although there is no single definition of CVE, it refers primarily to ‘soft’ approaches to undermining the appeal of violent extremism and terrorism. This includes a wide variety of different measures, some of which are preventive, while others aim at rehabilitation. They may be narrow or broad in scope; state-run or non-governmental; in-person or online; large or small-scale. Perhaps most importantly, efforts to counter violent extremism are often culturally unique and so we cannot assume that what works in one country will work in the next. While clearly diverse, all CVE programs nevertheless share the same fundamental goal: to reduce the risk of engagement or re-engagement in extremist-related violence.
Importantly, there is growing consensus that CVE can play a significant role as part of a comprehensive counter-terrorism (CT) strategy and an increasing number of countries around the world are establishing CVE programs. Nevertheless, it is vital to appreciate that although CVE draws upon lessons learned from other areas, it is still relatively new, both in terms of concept and practice. In addition, there are considerable challenges involved in trying to measure the efficacy of CVE and, because of this, it is difficult to establish with certainty just how effective (or sometimes ineffective or even harmful) these types of intervention are. As a result, there are also many CVE skeptics. The aim of this chapter is not to persuade the reader either way, but to offer an objective assessment. The reality is that an increasing number of CT professionals will come into contact with CVE programs, and in some cases may be directly involved in them. It is therefore essential to develop an informed understanding of what these different projects entail and what they have to offer.
This chapter begins by explaining key concepts and exploring the different reasons why people sometimes disengage (or fail to engage in the first place) with violent extremism. It then outlines the range of different tools that can be applied in CVE before describing case studies of targeted interventions aimed at rehabilitation of captured/convicted terrorists in Saudi Arabia and prevention of potential violent extremism in the UK. Principles of best practice which seem to be important to perceptions of ‘success’ across different types of intervention are identified, followed by a discussion of key, ongoing challenges and potential ways to overcome those challenges.