Mary Beth Polley:

Hi, good evening everyone, and thanks to everyone from across Asia for joining the teleconference. And it’s early morning in Washington D.C. where our speaker is currently sitting, and we would like to give him a special thanks. So, thank you. We are very lucky to be joined here by the Director for the Department of States Office of Countering Violent Extremism, Irfan Saeed. He will provide an overview of U.S. government efforts to counter violent extremism around the world and share experiences and lessons learned from the ongoing global war on terrorism. I just want to remind everybody that today’s call is on the record, and in a moment I will turn it over to Irfan for his opening remarks. So, with that, Irfan, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with everyone today.

Irfan Saeed:

Thank you. Thanks for having me and good morning to all of my colleagues here in D.C. and good evening to all of my colleagues in Southeast Asia. It’s very, very early morning here, but we’ll do our best to kind of keep the conversation going. It’s always difficult not to see your faces as I am staring into a phone, but like I said I will do my best to keep the conversation going. This morning, we are going to talk about an issue that’s been, I think, misunderstood the last few years – an issue called countering violent extremism, and a lot of people when they think about countering violent extremism they think of counterterrorism. And when it comes to counterterrorism, I think we have a pretty good understanding of what that is, but when it comes to countering violent extremism there isn’t, I think, a lot of great understanding of specifically what it is. So, what I would like to do this morning is talk to you a little bit about the difference between counterterrorism and countering violent extremism and how, in a comprehensive approach for peace and security, we must do both.

So, let’s talk about counterterrorism for a second. When we talk about counterterrorism, I think everybody understands that it is a reaction. We are investigating. We are arresting. We are prosecuting. We are putting people in jail. We are stopping terrorists after they have already committed what we call overt acts or attempts to commit acts of terrorism.

But what happens to those individuals who aren’t there yet, who haven’t committed that overt act or a violent act yet? How do we stop terrorism in the first place? How do we prevent someone from becoming a terrorist? And that’s what we mean by CVE, countering violent extremism. In my mind it’s being very proactive and we sort of look at it from a prevention or intervention standpoint. Again it’s trying to intervene before someone can actually commit an act of violence or become a terrorist in the first place. So, I want to be clear when we talk about countering violent extremism, it is not separate and distinct from counterterrorism. I think it is part of a comprehensive approach to counterterrorism. For CT we have a lot of tools in our toolbox, and we want to make sure that CVE remains a very, very good and strong tool because we need to prevent, we need to react. It’s a combination of both. So, if we were talking about CVE and CT at this time last year I think our focus would have been on the over 1000 foreign terrorist fighters that had gone from Southeast Asia and different parts of Southeast Asia up to Syria and Iraq to join the ISIS fight. A year on a lot of good work by our partners across Southeast Asia, our partners across the world, the Global Coalition, and the good news is that we are not talking about a massive flow of fighters going to Syria and Iraq anymore. So, that’s the good news.

The bad news is that this threat has not diminished and I think we can say very clearly that ISIS and its adherents are not just giving up the fight. In fact in some aspects they are doubling down, they are trying to enhance their efforts, they are reacting to our gains on the battlefield. So, let me stress by saying that this threat is not over. We must continue to talk about CVE I think now more than ever. We have to ensure that groups like ISIS do not reconstitute, they don’t strengthen, and they don’t continue to inspire others to commit acts of violence. And almost as important, we can’t let groups like JI, we can’t let groups like Al-Qa’ida, we can’t let groups like Abu Sayyaf sort of take their place. We can’t let them grow in a vacuum that ISIS used to occupy.

We all know that terrorists continue to look for safe havens. They look for places to operate, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they were in Syria and Iraq. They were looking for a safe haven in which to operate unfettered. Now that we have had some gains in the battlefield, they are no longer able to use Syria and Iraq as a safe haven. They are looking at different parts of the world, and unfortunately I think Southeast Asia is in their radar. They are looking very clearly about how to establish safe havens across maybe the Southern Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia. So, when we are looking to counter violent extremism and counter terrorism, it’s important to ensure that we don’t give them that safe space that they need. And when we are talking about safe space, again we are not also talking about – we are not talking about land, we are also talking about the online space, and in just a few moments I will talk about the online space and what we can do to challenge terrorists online.

So, let me pause for a second and talk about how we define countering violent extremism, because the question we get a lot is, yes, we want to do CVE, we think CVE is important, but we are not really sure what it is. And so here at the State Department in the last few years, we have identified sort of a fivepronged approach on what we consider efforts to counter violent extremism, and I will take them step-by-step. The first step in anything that we are trying to do is research. If we are going to counter something, we have to understand what we are trying to counter. So, the first step in any good CVE effort has to be understanding the global, but also more importantly the local drivers to violent extremism, and I want to be very clear here, this is not a onesizefitsall approach. You cannot say that the driver of violent extremism in Malaysia is the same as in Indonesia, is the same as in the Philippines, is the same as in Thailand, in other parts, Australia, the United States. Every entity, every country has their own specific drivers, and we have to do our due diligence in understanding what those drivers are. And to do that we can’t just rely on our capitals. We can’t just rely on a think tank to tell us the global drivers of violent extremism. We have to understand those local grievances. We have to understand what makes a particular person in disparate parts of Southeast Asia, from Marawi to Mindanao to Eastern Sabah, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, [inaudible], Tuban these are [some of] the areas where we have to understand and dig down deep to figure out what are those drivers of violent extremism.

So, that’s the first step – research. Once we understand what those global and local drivers are, then we can work to address those conditions conducive to terrorism and that’s what we call prevention efforts. It’s no secret that there is a lot of research out there that shows that poverty and lack of socioeconomic opportunity is a driver of violent extremism, and I think we get that, but we can’t make the mistake of saying that poverty is the sole driver. The research has shown that’s not true. There is no direct correlation between extreme poverty and someone joining a terrorist group. We have seen many terrorist groups around the world made up of very educated young people who have jobs, who are employed, who are buying into a terrorist ideology and narrative and going towards terrorism and they are not in any way, shape or form under the poverty level. So, we can’t simply say that poverty is a driver, but what we can say is that it is a factor that leads someone along the pathway of radicalization to violence.

So, we have to understand what those other drivers are, what those other conditions are that lead someone to join a terrorist group. So, we have to address those through comprehensive prevention efforts. That was number two, prevention. Number three is intervention, and this is important because many times we cannot stop someone from becoming a terrorist, we cannot prevent someone from becoming a terrorist, but we can identify who is on the pathway and try to intervene at an early stage and get them off of that pathway to violent extremism or terrorism, and that’s what we call offramps or alternatives to prosecution.

This is important from our government perspective, because we have to have the laws in place to allow our law enforcement officials the flexibility to operate. That is, that the only response cannot be jail. So I will give you a quick example. If you are a parent – a parent or a friend, or a colleague is always the first person to identify someone who may be getting radicalized. They will understand those indicators better than anyone in government or law enforcement ever will, but as a parent, as a friend you don’t know where to turn, and if your first call is to a police officer and he will tell you thank you and I am just going to put this person in jail for 20 years, I think youwill be very hesitant to call the police ever again. So, there has to be an intervention program set up to allow for law enforcement officials, government officials, or even community officials to play a role in intervention, in getting someone off of this pathway of violent extremism. So, that was the third one.

The fourth one is rehabilitation and reintegration. I mentioned that the only possible solution cannot be jail. However, sometimes jail is appropriate, sometimes people commit acts of terrorism, acts of violence and they have to be prosecuted and put in jail, but we have also seen very clearly, especially from terrorist groups across Western Europe that prison can be a very radicalizing factor in a lot of these radicalization to violence processes that these kids go through. So, we have to understand that rehabilitation and reintegration efforts in prison are absolutely essential so that once we do investigate, arrest, and prosecute and put someone in jail, that they don’t become further radicalized in prison.

Then finally counter-messaging, and I say finally because counter-messaging is often understood to be the only thing in the CVE space and that’s not true. We have to have local efforts. We have to have research prevention, intervention, rehabilitation, reintegration, but we have to talk about those efforts, and we have to push back on those narratives that the terrorists are putting outIt’s very clear that ISIS, Al-Qa’ida, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram all of these groups, JI, they know specifically how to tug at the heartstrings of their audience, they know what messages resonate. And they know how to get it out. They know how to disseminate those messages. So, if we don’t put out better messages, more locally relevant messages, more locally resonant messages then they are going to continue to have free rein to operate to get their messages out and continue to recruit and inspire and that can’t happen. So, we need to continue to encourage our local partners across Southeast Asia to develop their specific counter-messaging to battle that terrorist ideology.

And that in a nutshell is what we define as CVE. I am going to talk very quickly about some of our bilateral and multilateral efforts, because no one can do this alone and we must join forces. I will say very clearly that our Southeast Asian countries have cooperated throughout the globe on CVE. We have seen them at conferences. We have seen them in training programs around the world. Here at the State Department, we have hosted delegations from around Southeast Asia, school teachers in Mindanao to the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism in Malaysia, tons of great partners across Southeast Asia, and then of course the work they do through the ASEAN as well. So, I would say great partnership across Southeast Asia.

In addition, I would highlight a few efforts that are specific to CVE. One is the UN PVE Plan of Action. For those of you who are not familiar, a few years ago the United Nations put out a plan of action on preventing violent extremism which highlighted about maybe 50 or 60 recommendations, and the first recommendation is one of the most important, and it’s the development of a national action plan, so we would encourage and continue to encourage all of our Southeast Asian countries to develop their own endemic national action plans on countering violent extremism and appoint a senior person in government to help implement those efforts. And we have seen this happen and grow across the world. I think now we see 50 or 60 countries who have dedicated CVE national action plans.

I would also stress the work that Hedayah is doing. Hedayah is the International CVE Center of Excellence based in Abu Dhabi. So, if you ever have a question of what does CVE mean to Southeast Asia? What does CVE mean to North Africa? Hedayah is that entity that can answer those questions and they are also online. They have a very strong presence online. I would recommend you looking at hedayah.ae for more information there. I would also look at some of the counter-messaging centers in the region that have come up such as the Etedal Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia or the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi, again focused on developing endemic counter messages to push back on a specific terrorist narrative. And finally, I will direct you to two new entities that have been set up, one is the Strong Cities Network which is designed to get local cities more involved in the CVE fight, and the RESOLVE Network which is designed to get more researchers involved in again understanding those global and localized drivers.

So, I think I have spoken enough. Let me stop there and let me turn it back over to the moderator for any questions. I appreciate the opportunity to talk this morning and for you guys to listen. I am happy to answer what I can. Over to you.

Mary Beth Polley:

Right, we will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call. Please press star one to ask a question. So, you can go ahead and hit star one and because of limited time, I will try to get in as many people as possible for our first question before allowing follow-up. Great. Want to go ahead AT&T.

Moderator:

We do have a question from the line of Jonathan Edward with Malay Mail. Please go ahead.

Jonathan Edward:

Hi, good morning. Is there any Southeast Asian country that has had success with the CVE program and are there any countries in the region that are of concern to the U.S.?

Irfan Saeed:

Should I answer these one at a time? So, it was little hard to hear the question, but I understand the question to be were there any other countries out there in the world that has some success in CVE, and any countries in the region that are of concern, I think in the CVE space. So, the first question other countries around the world. I think if you look at one country in particular that has had to deal with this issue very recently is the United Kingdom, and they have done a lot of work trying to understand the threat, specifically how it differs across the United Kingdom. The drivers of violent extremism in London are very different from Manchester and Birmingham. So, what they’ve tried to do is parse this out and spread the work to those very small localities, and I think that has been an important way of looking at this issue rather than just having the capital in London look at this issue.

So, when you look at countries like Pakistan, you look at countries like Trinidad and Tobago, what they’ve done is follow the same type of route, find the desire to do the work in the capital but spread the work to the local cities, because each region, each city, and each neighborhood really has a different driver. So, there are I think a handful of examples around the world that have to look at this issue very closely and they have done a pretty good job of developing national action plans, implementing against it, and then more importantly developing a holistic approach. This cannot be a government-only approach. This cannot be a law enforcement-only approach. It’s those countries that have worked more closely with civil society and making sure that civil society is involved in the fight and protecting human rights and civil rights and civil liberties. It’s those aspects I think they have been very important in the success of CVE.

In terms of some of the countries in the region, like I said earlier, ISIS in particular has looked at finding new safe havens in terms of land as well and in that aspect they have looked very strongly at Southeast Asia, in particular Southern Philippines. And they are looking at drivers that exist across Southeast Asia, across this part of the world, even looking into the Rohingya crisis in Burma as a potential driver. So, there is a focus across Southeast Asia that terrorists are looking at these as a possible narrative, and I think we have to be aware of that, so we can counter it.

Jonathan Edward:

Thank you.

Mary Beth Polley:

Jonathan did I take your question. Did you have a follow-up?

Jonathan Edward:

Yes, besides the Rohingya crisis, besides Philippines, are there any other drivers identified by the U.S. in Southeast Asia?

Irfan Saeed:

I will be honest. My colleague who is sitting right next to me, Barbara, she led a team down to Southeast Asia late last year, and they did a lot of work trying to identify that very question. What are the specific drivers? And they touched upon a handful of drivers, but I think the overall response was that there needs to be more research done in the area to truly identify how one goes from Southern Philippines from Indonesia to join a terrorist group, and I think we are still not there yet in terms of Southeast Asia, and that’s what we are trying to do is increase the capacity of researchers across Southeast Asia in universities and think tanks, so that they can understand how to do the research, how to understand the drivers of violent extremism better. This is a hard question to answer. A lot of countries around the world struggle with this. Even here in the United States, we have increased our capacity with universities, so that they can do studies to try and identify why people from the United States, Canada, Western Europe, why do they join terrorist groups, and I don’t think we have a comprehensive answer yet, but part of the national action plan recommendation is to do that research and find out so we know what we are trying to counter.

Jonathan Edward:

Thank you.

Marybeth Polley:

Thank you so much. We will go to the next question.

Moderator:

And we do have a question from the line of Santi Dewi with Indonesian Times. Please go ahead.

Santi Dewi:

Thank you very much Mr. Saeed for the opportunity. I’ve got two questions for you. After the terrorist attack which happened last year in Marawi, do you think the potential attack which similar happened in Marawi in Southern Philippines is able to happen again in any country in Southeast Asia, for example, in Indonesia we still have seen some kind of potential attacks inside of our country and even the organization is trying to infiltrate the political organization which is [inaudible] in our country. Since our country right now is entering political year in 2018 and in 2019, that’s the first. And then the second, how U.S. government view to see Indonesia’s effort and how to de-radicalize some of terrorist leader which right now we are trying to do by giving some kind of sermon or preach from the religious leader. Do you think it is effective enough to erase the ideology that they have in their mind? Thank you very much for the opportunity.

Irfan Saeed:

Thank you for the question. So, relating to the first question I really can’t speculate about what’s going to happen next and what can happen, but what I can say is that as ISIS and groups like ISIS continue to lose the ability to operate freely and travel to places like Syria and Iraq and again we have to recognize the great work that has been done by our partners across Southeast Asia to limit those foreign fighters going from Southeast Asia to Syria and Iraq, they are no longer able to tell people to come to Syria and come to Iraq, because it’s not a viable place to go anymore. This does not mean that ISIS stops trying to get people to join the fights. What they are saying now is operate locally, there is no need for you to travel to a city in Iraq where you have the ability to commit acts of terrorism in your hometowns and that’s why I think we are seeing such a diffuseness of the terrorist threat. You know in the old days and by the old days I mean 10, 20 years ago, when you talked about terrorism, you talked about big cities only and you know, look no further in the United States where even here some of the cities where we’ve had terrorist attacks like Orlando and Chattanooga, Tennessee are no longer – were never on anybody’s radar, but now because the terrorist groups like ISIS continue to say look, operate where you are, then I think there is a greater chance that, you know, what you see in places like Marawi and places outside of Jakarta, outside of Indonesia, or the Sumatra side, you’re going to see, I think, a desire why groups like ISIS target again wherever they are, wherever they are operating.

The second question relates to you know countering the ideology and I think that is a very important point to make because the President last year – our President last year went to Saudi Arabia to speak to the Saudi counterparts about this comprehensive counterterrorism fight and one of the discussions that grew out of that conversation was how do we counter this terrorist ideology that is being proselytized around the world. I know for a fact that the State Department is also having this conversation with a lot of our partners around the globe to ensure that a terrorist ideology does not continue unfettered and that’s why earlier I mentioned the Etedal Center. Let me stress that point for a second because the Saudis themselves set up this center. It’s called the Etedal Center, but I think its official name is the Global Center to Combat Extremist Ideology. So the one thing I would do is encourage Indonesian religious leaders to look at the Etedal Center and the work that they are doing because when you’re trying to push out an ideology that is tolerant of others that exists to speak about people’s freedom to practice religion, that can only be a good thing and so when you have the Etedal Center pushing this type of messaging out, I think a lot of religious clerics around the world can look to that center as sort of a – as a guide, but thanks for the question.

Mary Beth Polley:

Thanks so much. We’ll go to the next question.

Operator:

And we do have a question from the line of [Arie Mega Prastiwi] with Liputan 6. Please go ahead.

Arie Mega Prastiwi:

Yes, hello, good evening. I am Arie on behalf of [inaudible]. I have a question about you know Indonesia couple of years back until now there is a group of [inaudible] social movement regarding Islamization in Indonesia and it correlates about how to fight extremism. It’s growing not yet in social, but in social media itself and the cyberspace itself and it tends to become more extreme, more violent and also we would be considering the dynamics in Indonesia politics itself. So how does the U.S. overcome over this because between Indonesia and US have a great bilateral relationships and about the, my second question is about Indonesia initiatives to — hosting a tripartite meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia.

How does the U.S. saw this and how this effectively [inaudible]overcome the violent extremism in the three countries – the three countries [inaudible]really extreme ideology. Thank you.

Irfan Saeed:

Thanks for the question. I think when we talk about this Islamization in Indonesia, let me stress something that, that I think needs to be said is that when we talk about the drivers of violent extremism, increased religiosity is never a driver. In fact, if you look at the research, the research shows that those individuals who have a greater understanding of the tenets of the religion, they understand how it’s being misused by the radicalizers and how certain tenets are being misused and mischaracterized. So if you have a basis of knowledge of the religion and you have the ability to think critically and analyze what certain proselytisers might be telling you, then you can push back on the misinformation or disinformation that pushes people further on the pathway of radicalization to violence. But you also mentioned an important point about this growing space, the cyber realm where this type of narrative can spread very easily. And I think when you talk about this in the cyberspace; the one thing we should stress is that the response is neveryou know, censorship and the response should never be to shut down the Internet, it’s important to maintain a free and open Internet, maintain free speech, because one of the things we’ve seen globally as a driver of violent extremism, is suppression of human rights and suppression of civil rights, that leads people further along the pathway of radicalization to violence.

So when we talk about how narratives spread online, we have to understand that the Internet is not the problem, but it can be part of the solution. So what we need to do and part of our efforts have been is to increase the capacity of some of those religious leaders who want to get the message out that these terrorists and these ideologues are pushing out a false narrative. They need to get better at leveraging social media. They need to get better at working online and I can tell you from a personal example, a few years ago, here in the United States, we were having this conversation with some religious clerics and we told them that ISIS, Al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram; these groups, Al-Shabaab in particular, are very good at engaging people directly through social media platforms and they are very good at putting messages out through the Internet and we said that they’re putting out a lot of false information and a lot of the clerics said, well of course it’s false. We know it’s false and we know specifically how to counter those false narratives. And we said okay, well you’dhave to put those messages out online through the Internet and they didn’t know how to do that and if they did and the handful that did know how to do that, they would simply look into the camera of their computer and say things and then hope that people would watch it and for those of you who have kids, for those of you who are online, you know that the message has to be good, it has to be locally resonant for people to watch it, before they really understand the message. So you know one of the things we have to do to defeat bad ideas is to develop better ideas and better messages and better narratives and I think that’s where a lot of our focus is right now.

Mary Beth Polley:

Great, thanks so much. Because we have limited time, we’re going to go ahead and move onto the next question.

Operator:

And we do have a question from the line of Melo Acuna with China Radio International. Please go ahead.

Melo Acuna:

Good evening. This is Melo from Manila. I hope everyone is all right. I have two questions, two concerns actually. How has this group utilized technology to their advantage? And then how do you look at the prevailing conditions in Southeast Asia? Would you say violentextremists have gained a foothold?

Irfan Saeed:

So thank you for the question. I think I just talked a lot about technology in the last question, but I agree with you 100%. I think, you know, these terrorist groups were the first ones to figure out really how to leverage social media and they understand their target audience, which is the youth and I think one of the figures I saw was that across Southeast Asia in particular, that there is a great youth bulge and ISIS identifies that and they target kids between the ages of 12 and 20 and for those of you who have kids between the ages of 12 and 20 like I do, I can tell you that they don’t watch TV anymore. They don’t listen to the radio. They are online. They are on their phones constantly looking at different social media platforms.

So you know I think terrorists groups understood that better than government did, better than CVE actors did. Advertisers understood this better than government did as well. So they focused a lot of their efforts on leveraging technology and so what we have to do now is partner with those companies that are producing the technology to try and help build the capacity not of government, but of local actors. So we are doing much more with Facebook and Google and Twitter and I’ll point to a program that Facebook is doing, which I think is exactly what needs to be done in terms of leveraging technology for their counter message. Now there is a program that they run that works with university students across the globe and I know a handful of countries particularly in Southeast Asia have been involved in this where they participate in a semester’s worth of class and then they develop a product or an app or a messaging campaign to try and push back on ISIS’ narrative. That is how you get this counter message out there. You leverage the same target audience that ISIS is trying to recruit and we get them the tools that they need to push back on ISIS’ message. The numbers are clear. People do not support ISIS’ message. We just need to leverage those great numbers, because right now their voices are getting drowned out by the ones that do support ISIS, the very small number that do support ISIS.

And a very quick question to your — quick answer to your second question about the conditions in Southeast Asia, are terrorist groups like ISIS getting a foothold? I think the quick answer is they are looking to gain a foothold. I can’t speculate right now about the numbers, because we haven’t seen concrete numbers of where the returnees are going the returning foreign fighters are going. But what I can tell you is, is that, it’s definitely on their radar and it’s also on the radar of groups like Al-Qa’ida, JI, because they’re seeing a vacuum and they’re trying to fill that and so we cannot lose sight of all the other terrorist groups out there that are trying to fill that void. Thanks for the question.

Mary Beth Polley:

Thanks so much. The next question?

Operator:

And we do have a question from the line of Seth Robson with Stars and Stripes. Please go ahead.

Seth Robson:

Hi there. Thanks so much. My question is just thinking about the counter violent extremist in the realm of cyberspace, I’m just curious, can you give me a breakdown of what’s the extent of the American effort to have an influence in terms of like how many personal do we have? What kind of a budget are we spending? Do we have contractors working for us on other countries? And I guess the second part of my question is, in terms of these operations to counter violent extremism, what kind of tools are you willing to use and which kind of tools are you not willing to use in terms of this engagement on the cyber sphere and the reason I am asking this is because there has been a lot of concern in America about Russian people going into cyberspace, having false identities, trying to influence people in America. I realize that it’s not the same thing, but how is the counter violent extremism effort different than operations that perhaps nefarious actors have been carrying out in various parts of the world?

Irfan Saeed:

Yes, thanks for your question. I think in terms of the U.S. effort, this is a global effort. I don’t want to, I don’t really actually have the information about specific personnel. I can tell you here at the State Department, we have a dedicated office of countering violent extremism within the Bureau of Counterterrorism and the Bureau of Counterterrorism obviously sees aspects of CVE across all the work that we do. At the State Department, we have numerous other offices, bureaus that work on CVE as well. So it is a global effort here at the State Department, but around the world, we have the Global Coalition. You have messaging centers. You have partners around the world that see CVE as an important aspect to counterterrorism. So I just can’t give you the numbers, because I just don’t have them, but I can tell you that there is a comprehensive effort around the world to sync our efforts and through entities like the United Nations and through efforts like the Global Counterterrorism Forum, it’s an opportunity to also engage our ASEAN colleagues as well through these multilateral fora. So this is definitely on the minds of a lot of different countries and a lot of different multilateral organizations.

In terms of tools, we’re willing to use and tools we are willing not to use. What we’re willing to use is everything that we have legally, everything that we have that works and we’ve done some metrics and evaluation on some of the programs and initiatives that have been run around the world, because we can’t continue to do programs that don’t work and as we try new things because the threat metastasizes and it changes and it differs and it’s different in different parts of the world. We can understand what has come before us in places like Afghanistan, places like Pakistan, places like Indonesia, places like Malaysia and we can do more of what works and do less of what doesn’t work. I know it’s a simple way of saying it, but we spent a lot of time and effort on our metrics and evaluation of programs.

The things that we are not willing to do is suppression. I think we’ve seen very clearly, you know, government suppression, government overreach, denial of human rights, denial of civil rights. It furthers the grievances that exist and it furthers people along this pathway of radicalization to violence. So our first, I think mantra in all of the CVE realm should always be, do no harm and the first thing that we should do is do no harm. So we know things like suppression, we know things like abuse and overreach and corruption leads to greater harm and if we continue to do that, then we will be in a never ending cycle of radicalization to violence. So I think you know we need to make sure that we don’t do any harm to begin with.

Mary Beth Polley:

Great. Thanks so much. Next question?

Operator:

And we do have a question from the line of Zam Yusa with Free Malaysia. Please go ahead.

Zam Yusa:

Thanks for the opportunity. Mr. Saeed, could you please tell us, is there any one country in Southeast Asia that we can all look to, we can all learn from and what makes them so good? Thank you.

Irfan Saeed:

Well, thanks for the question. I think one of the things I said off the bat is that our partnership across all the countries in Southeast Asia is very good. You know every country does something a little bit different and every country has something to offer in terms of how they look at this issue. Malaysia has done a good job of looking at the education sector and looking at this from a government reform perspective, looking at how the government through their Southeast Asia Regional Counter-Terrorism Centre can really play a role in developing national action plans; developing counter-messaging and moving forward. I think the Philippines has done a good job of trying to address a very prevalent issue that has blown up very quickly and that they’ve been able to address it and then try to think long-term right after that. I think Indonesia in particular has done a very good job of understanding what some of the drivers are. So I think each country has a little bit something to offer and I would encourage all of these countries to kind of learn from each other, because they are all at different spaces and time when it comes to their CVE efforts.

Mary Beth Polley:

Thanks so much. We have time for one last question.

Operator:

And that question comes from the line of Ervina Mohammed Jamil with Berita Harian Newspaper. Please go ahead.

Female Speaker:

Hi! For countries like Singapore, the ISIS threat has been largely distant all this time, but with ISIS weakening in Syria and Iraq, you have foreign fighters returning home to the Southeast Asian region and this is probably going to be a more direct problem for Singapore and Southeast Asia. Do you think the region is ready to tackle this?

Irfan Saeed:

Well, first let me apologize for not mentioning Singapore in any way, shape, or form throughout this call, because they’ve done a lot of great work in this space and a good friend and colleague, Rohan Gunaratna in Singapore has done a lot of work in the rehabilitation, reintegration space. So I think when it comes to how to address returning foreign fighters, Singapore is actually one of those countries where there has been a lot of good work that has been done in the past and they share that information. So Singapore continues to play a good role not only just regionally, but globally and raising the flag on returning foreign fighters and one of the things that we’re trying to push globally is, you know, this understanding that there were a lot of foreign fighters that had left their countries of origin and went to Syria and Iraq and a lot of them are either returning home or going to third countries it’s if those third countries that we are worried about, because they are harder to track and they are harder to engage with in rehabilitation, reintegration programs, if they aren’t citizens of those countries. So, if they are going to go home, we would encourage prosecution where necessary. We would encourage rehabilitation programs where necessary, but if they’re going to third countries, there has to be I think an awareness of who is transiting your borders, there has to be an awareness of who is doing what in your country and there has to be an awareness of what type of intervention programs, prevention programs and rehabilitation programs and counter-messaging programs can exist to target them as well.

Mary Beth Polley:

Great. Thank you so much and thank you so much everybody for listening in and for all the great questions. I am sorry; we couldn’t get to everyone tonight. We’ll try to do a similar call a couple months from now. Irfan, before we close this briefing, do you have any final remarks?

Irfan Saeed:

Well, I just want to thank everyone for the very insightful questions. I think it’s obvious that there is a focus on this issue and I think there is a concern that terrorists continue to find these safe havens and I think trying to identify how to deny them those safe havens, both online and offline are very important. But the last thing I would say is that, you know, the drivers of violent extremism and terrorism are always local. So the responses must be local as well and I would encourage each one of our partners across Southeast Asia to dig deep, to dig into those neighborhoods that have seen high levels of recruitment of foreign fighters of terrorism, understand what’s driving them and then put in those prevention efforts, those intervention efforts, those rehabilitation efforts to stem the flow and stop terrorism. I think that’s the way to go for peace and security.

Mary Beth Polley:

Thank you again and thank you to everyone for joining us. A digital recording of today’s call will be available for 48 hours. It usually takes about two hours to get up online. We’ll also try and send you an audio file very shortly. I will turn it back over to AT&T to provide instructions for accessing that recording and thank you again.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future