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No Easy Answers At Nairobi Summit On Countering Extremism


Why do people become terrorists? Researchers put that question to Kenyan members of the Islamist group al-Shabaab, the group who killed 147 university students in an April attack. They got a surprising answer. Two out of 3 militants said they joined the group because of the anti-terror tactics of the police and army. So how do you fight terrorism when the fight only creates more terrorists? NPR's Gregory Warner reports from Nairobi, which is hosting the fourth Global Summit on Combating Violent Extremism.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: That survey of Islamist militants in Kenya was done by a think tank called the Institute for Security Studies. Sixty-five percent of al-Shabaab members interviewed said that they joined the group because of the aggressive behavior of security forces, ethnic profiling of Somalis, random detention, police corruption, assassinations of Muslim clerics. We Muslims, they said, are treated as enemies. Why not fight back?

SARAH SEWALL: This is something that the U.S. has certainly learned.

WARNER: Sarah Sewall is the U.S. undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights. She's leading the U.S. delegation to the summit this week in Nairobi.

SEWALL: We have to be cognizant of the enemies that you can create as you seek to fight terrorism with military methods.

WARNER: This is the fourth Summit on Countering Violent Extremism since the first gathering in Washington in February. She says these summits reflect a shift in the U.S. war on terror away from a mere military approach, where the U.S. trains and equips foreign armies to fight terrorists, toward what she calls community empowerment - to fight the terrorist message where it most appeals. For example, if the militants can gain recruits by making propaganda videos about police brutality, then the government needs police reform. If jobless youth are ripe for recruitment, then launch job training.

SEWALL: What you need to counterbalance extremism are authentic voices that speak on behalf of the community about a future that's better than that which the terrorists can offer.

WARNER: Faced with militant groups that hate democracy, give them democracy that actually represents. That's harder than teaching African militaries where to shoot. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.
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