National Security Advisor Stresses Need to Address Drivers of Violent Extremism

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August 12, 2009
Kay Guinane

In an Aug. 6, 2009 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, addressed "the new thinking and the new approach that President Obama brings to the task of safeguarding the American people from violent extremism and terrorism."

While Brennan's speech did not directly address issues specific to charities and grantmakers, it highlighted the importance of addressing problems that breed violent extremism. Civil society can play an important role in reducing such factors as poverty, hunger, lack of education and abuse of human rights.
Addressing the President's long term strategy to prevent terrorism and violence, Brennan said:
"We cannot shoot ourselves out of this challenge. We can take out all the terrorists we want – their leadership and their foot soldiers – but if we fail to confront the broader political, economic and social conditions under which extremists thrive, then there will always be another recruit in the pipeline, another attack coming downstream. Indeed, our failure to address these conditions also plays into the extremists’ hands, allowing them to make the false claim that the United States actually wants to keep people impoverished and unempowered."
U.S. charities and grantmakers are in a position to make a positive difference in this effort. The programs we operate respond to natural disasters, provide shelter and other necessities for refugees, help impoverished communities with economic development, provide education and protect human rights. There are even charities that specialize in conflict resolution training, teaching people how to use nonviolent means to achieve their legitimate goals.
U.S. government policies and rules that create barriers to this work are counterproductive. That is why we have called for reforms that protect security and charity. (See more information on reform proposals here.)
Brennan closed is speech with an essential point:
"Finally, as I described, we will harness our greatest asset of all – the power of America’s moral example. Even as we aggressively pursue terrorists and extremists, we will uphold the values of justice, liberty, dignity and rule of law that make people want to work with us and other governments want to partner with us."