Underfunded and poorly organized Countering Violent Terrorism (CVE) programs face an uncertain future, according to experts speaking at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday.
An Obama-era initiative, CVE was intended to prevent the radicalization of youth—particularly those attracted to ISIS—by offering community-led and "counter narrative" anti-radical Islamist propaganda. The effort was criticized for funding organizations with little accountability and for its inability to hone in on terror threats. Since President Trump took office CVE policy has changed to favor funding local law enforcement initiatives over community-led efforts.
"The national CVE strategy is best defined as a series of fits and starts," Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the program on extremism at George Washington University said.
Hughes added that for a more long-term solution, the Department of Homeland Security should reduce its efforts to use CVE for broad-based deradicalization programs, and instead rely more on programs that foster one-on-one relationships.
"I think I do a pretty good job when I talk to mosques and community centers about this issue, but I can't measure effectiveness with 200 people. And I can't even be sure if they're my target audience," he said. "I think if we focus our efforts on one-on-one programs we can have a measure of effectiveness so we can go back to Congress and say, ‘I need x-amount of money; this is what works; and I can prove it works."
Muhammad Fraser-Rahim of Quilliam International said his experience working with deradicalization efforts in Africa and Europe confirms that one-on-one programs work better than broad-based programs, especially when a former radical acts as the mentor to budding extremists in the deradicalization process. At the same time, CVE should not entirely abandon its attempts to prevent radicalization through counter-propaganda, he said.
"I know a lot of arts programs cross over the line of ‘is this what government should be doing,' but I think having a human experience resonates," he said. "Pop culture resonates. We need to find an appropriate ways to balance those efforts out."
Additionally, both Hughes and Rahim said framing the issue to fit the audience's background makes a huge difference in CVE's success. Since CVE covers such a wide swath of issues—from combating radical Islam to homegrown terrorism—there is no set rubric for how to prevent radicalization.
"You do your best to get in the door. And once you get in, you start dealing with how to speak to your audience," Hughes said.
Hughes added, however, that since the vastness of CVE often makes its mission incoherent, it remains largely ineffective. He also said that the negative press surrounding it in the past few years and the Trump administration's aversion could kill CVE's future.
"CVE may not actually be able to get off the ground, even though it's been around this long," he said.