Afghan, Turkish officials meet with SCI to examine homegrown extremism

October 3, 2017

SCI’s Erroll Southers and Juan Noguera meet with a delegation of Afghan government officials and scholars in September. (Photo courtesy of Juan Noguera)

By Matthew Kredell

The Safe Communities Institute at the USC Price School of Public Policy has hosted representatives from more than 50 countries over the past two years to engage in dialogue around countering violent extremism with Professor Erroll Southers, as part of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Program.

However, the institute’s most recent meetings were very unique. Turkey and Afghanistan experience a level of violent extremism that even Southers, a former FBI special agent, had difficulty imagining having to address.

“These are nations I never thought would come here to meet with us,” Southers said. “When I think about the kind of work we do, the challenged they face have to be so much more significant. This was an amazing experience just to listen to them and hear how enormous it is.”

The separate meetings with the nine-person delegation from Afghanistan and five-person cohort from Turkey occurred over a one-week span in September.

Common concerns

Representatives from the Turkish National Police Academy visit Lewis Hall. (Photo courtesy of Juan Noguera)

Southers, director of SCI and homegrown violent extremism studies at USC Price, gave a presentation on instances and trends of violent extremism in the United States, and then held a discussion with the guests and their translator.

He noted that, since 9/11, 74 percent of deaths due to extremism in the U.S. have been a result of right-wing extremists rather than international terrorists.

“We found our Afghan [counterparts] have some of the same concerns we do,” Southers said. “Clearly, their focus is on border control. While we talk about homegrown, their real effort has to address radicalized individuals who are coming into their countries — especially in Turkey, which is a transit hub for foreign fighters. If you go online and say you want to join ISIS, it will tell you how to get to Turkey.”

Southers explained that SCI is part of an effort to develop resources in the United States to help people who may be embracing an extremist ideology. This approach follows the example set by Germany, where officials carry out assessments to determine if certain individuals are in an early enough stage to receive counseling, or too far gone that prosecution is the only option.

The possibility of rehabilitation encourages family and friends to say something if they see signs of radicalization, and Southers noted that 14 percent of jihadist terrorism cases thwarted since 9/11 came from family member tips.

“I was thinking extremism here goes more to Islamic groups,” said Ibrahim Amiri, deputy director of the Afghanistan Astronomy Association. “Learning of the different groups and their activities was interesting and kind of confusing, too, because I found that so many people who are educated can also be radicalized, and it’s not just the poor and illiterate parts of the society.”

Community-based approaches

SCI also hosted officials from Bangladesh recently. (Photo courtesy of Juan Noguera)

While the group from Afghanistan included a variety of government officials and scholars, the Turkish participants were all from the Turkish National Police Academy.

Southers was fascinated to find out that, like SCI, the academy is a holistic learning institution that has engaged civilians with law enforcement and military personnel since 2001.

“In Turkey, social trends in America and the trends about radicalization aren’t well known,” said Mehmet Ekinci, an assistant professor at the academy. “Hearing about these cases, best practices, approaches and emerging trends is quite informative for us to learn, and perhaps help guide our research and thinking of new approaches toward security.”

In addition to the meetings with Afghan and Turkish officials, Southers also met with representatives of Bangladesh in the past month.

“I think we’re at the tip of the spear when it comes to educating people in this space and researching in this domain,” Southers said, “and as time goes on, we will want relationships with countries like Turkey and Afghanistan. “Although they face a different kind of threat, the homegrown threat is not unique to the United States, nor will it ever be absent from those countries.”