The terminology used to describe countering violent extremism efforts must convey the intention, focus, and strategy of any CVE approach. The newest term, “terrorism prevention,” entails a certain flexible ambiguity. Particularly given the lack of substantive U.S. domestic terrorism laws and the hesitancy to identify certain acts of terrorism as such, notably in Charlottesville in August 2017, communities are uncertain of their role in so-called terrorism-prevention efforts. Their uncertainty leads to misunderstandings and, ultimately, ambivalence.
To build trust within communities, CVE messaging cannot be left up to random interpretation, which can result in the faulty impression that efforts to counter violent extremism are attempts, whether direct or indirect, to coopt communities into engaging in investigations and surveillance efforts. To the contrary, these efforts should remain within the purview of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Instead, a paradigm shift must now occur, similar to that playing out in societal understandings of domestic and sexual violence. This shift must acknowledge that violence, not ideology, is at the center of prevention work. The term “ideologically influenced violence” would clearly articulate violence as the target, while demonstrating that the U.S. government recognizes a variety of ideologies and a spectrum of radicalization. Indeed, shifting the language is the first step to achieving a transparent strategy and actual improvements in this form of violence prevention. Transparency in strategy, for its part, provides communities with concrete information and helps establish the trust critical to building their resilience.