Q: Mr. Koser, the Global fund was established in 2014, you have worked there for five years now. Could you tell us what you have achieved, and do you encounter any difficulties in reaching communities?
A: Well first let me thank you for your time and congratulate the Bulan Institute on the great work that you are doing, looking forward to working with you here in Geneva, soon, I hope. As you say the Global Community Engagement and Resilience, or GCERF for short, was established in 2014. So still quite a new and young fund with a very specific initiative to try to provide funding to local communities to build resilience against the risk of violent extremism. So, it’s about small grants at the local level to try to make people more aware, to allow people to mobilize, to allow people to find alternatives, to the risk of violent extremism. We have fourteen government donors at the moment. That’s thirteen countries plus the European Union. We’ve raised around 50 million dollars which I think is a good start for a fund. We also have in-kind contributions from the private sector and from foundations as well. So, I’m very pleased that we’ve begun to raise money, we’ve begun to raise our reputation in this area. Most importantly for me, we are now making grants. So, for the last year we been providing grants in Bangladesh, Kenya, Kosovo, Mali, Nigeria, soon Tunisia as well. We think we’re reaching over a million people at the very local level, and I think we’re beginning to demonstrate that we’re making a difference. Now you asked about some of the challenges. Now there are many challenges of course, at first in raising money. As a fund we have to continue to raise money, to attract funds. I’m very pleased that we’re raising money from development actors as well as security actors. We sit somewhere between development and security. Of course, reaching local communities is difficult. You have to have a mechanism that allows you to get money to local communities in a trustworthy, efficient, sustainable way. We have to do that. Perhaps the biggest challenge of course is demonstrating results. We’re a young fund. We’re doing something that’s difficult. As you can imagine preventing violent extremism is a long-term goal. Prevention is very difficult. Prevention is of course a counterfactual. The success of prevention is nothing at all happens which isn’t a very exciting outcome. So, we’re doing a lot of work at the moment of really demonstrating that the money we’re spending at the local level is beginning to make a difference.
Q: Why can’t the Global fund work directly with NGOs? In some countries, governments label NGOs as foreign agents and for these governments, it is better if NGOs don’t get foreign funding for any kind of projects. This means some governments may block your way to reach communities and NGOs.
A: Just to clarify, none of the money from GCERF goes to governments. All of our money goes to local communities. So, we clearly don’t fund governments, we only fund communities and local NGOs and community-based organizations. Equally, we think it’s important that we always work with the governments in the countries where we’re providing grants. This is a politically sensitive issue. We’re a global fund. We’re a multilateral instrument. So, it’s important that we work with governments, that governments understand what we’re doing that we’re not working off the radar screen or behind the scenes. So, we work with governments. Governments invite us into their countries. But we’re very clear, none of our money goes to governments and governments have an input but not a veto over where the funding goes. So there have been examples where we’ve wanted to fund communities, but sometimes the government isn’t happy or isn’t comfortable. We’ve made the argument that we have a mechanism, that we have a governing board, thatwe’ve made a sensible, reasoned, objective decision and every time that’s happened the government has accepted our recommendation and allowed us to work. So, we have to navigate of course local politics, government priorities, but so far, we’ve been very successful in reaching local communities. The other point to make about GCERF that I think really is the added value is that because of our neutrality, we’re a Swiss foundation, we’re a non-profit foundation. We don’t wave a particular national flag. We have fourteen donors. That means we can reach communities that sometimes bilateral donors can’t reach. It may be that there are communities out there that don’t trust the UK or Canada or Australia or France or the US and so on and so forth. It may be that those donors find it hard to manage very small grants. It may be that there’s a lack of confidence between some recipients and donors. The point of GCERF is to allow bilateral donors to reach communities where sometimes it’s hard to reach by themselves.
Q: Around the world we continue to see terrorist attacks and innocent people are still being killed by terrorist groups such as Boko Haram Al Shabab, and ISIS. Could you tell us where we stand in defeating these groups ad can we become more optimistic? Are these terrorist groups now weaker than before, or not?
A: If you look at the recent global terrorism index, which was published a few months ago, it is an annual publication that I think is very valuable, as the main data source on terrorism.That indicates that there’s a good new story. That the number of deaths, of injuries as a result of terrorism has decreased over the last year. That the amount of money lost to the global economy has decreased over the last year. So, there’s a good, positive trend. But I think everybody that I know warns against complacency. There are still some concerns that Boko Haram is still, we think, active in certain parts of the Sahel. ISIS certainly is losing considerable ground in Syria and Iraq but still has pockets of influence. There are concerns that Al Qaeda may be reforming and regrouping in other parts of the world, for example the Philippines. We have the risk of returning foreign fighters who may be so called lone wolves. Or coming back to societies and perhaps being indoctrinated. So, there’s a positive trend, but we must guard against complacency. I would argue that part of guarding against complacency is to focus on prevention. Now, clearly we need a comprehensive approach. Clearly you need security responses. Clearly you need military responses or police responses. Clearly you need border control and migration policies and so on and so forth. But equally I think we need to work in communities with people at risk to try to make sure that those people make a positive decision rather than going down the wrong route. So, prevention is part of making sure that we can secure the gains that we’ve made over the last year and try to make this a positive trend going forward as well.
Q: Are poor people in underdeveloped countries more likely to be radicalized? How would you explain why hundreds of people from European countries traveled to Syria and joined ISIS?
A: You’re absolutely right and this is of course the majority of deaths and injuries and economic losses are still in poorer countries. But this is absolutely an issue of rich countries as well. Whether Switzerland, where we’re sitting now, or the UK or the US and so on and so forth. What I’ve learned in my years working with GCERF is that the drivers of radicalization, ofviolent extremism are very context specific. Some people might say it’s about religion and I can take you to people who have no religious belief but are still perpetrating violentextremism. Some people might say say it’s about Islam, I could take you to parts of the world where Buddhists are committing acts of extremism. Some people might say it’s about poverty, I can take you to middle class students in Bangladesh who have committed crimes in Dhaka and so on and so forth. So, I don’t think it’s just poverty. Poverty may be one of a range of factors. They coalesce in particular contexts, in particular settings. If you ask me to generalize, I think there’s something around disenfranchisement, around marginalization, around frustration. Those are the things that seem to be driving people to radicalization and it may or may not be associated with poverty but certainly there is something around marginalization, around frustration, around a feeling that you have no hope that you have no future. The government can’t provide any options and so perhaps you decide to take another option.
Q: Do you think that there might be a direct link between refugees coming to Europe and radicalization? There have been concerns raised that some members of terrorist groups would come as a refugee or might be recruited after coming to Europe.
A: I don’t. And as you know, before my life with GCERF, I worked with refugees in migration for along time. It’s clear to me that the main association between displacement and displaced populations and violent extremism is that displaced people are fleeing violent extremism and not coming to our societies to perpetrate violent extremism. That’s the obvious link. People who are leaving Syria, or Iraq, or other parts of the world are fleeing terrorism or thereat of terrorism. That’s the clear message. However, I think we should have a sensible debate. I think we should be open and honest. There are clearly risks that on occasion some people arrive in our societies and may be arriving with ill intentions.Whether that’s to commit crimes or to take advantage of social welfare, or perhaps to perpetrate terrorist attacks. I’m very clear, and I think the evidence is very clear, that the majority of attacks, in terrorism and violent extremism, are perpetrated by nationals of countries and not migrants to those countries. So, let’s have the debate. Let’s be honest, let’s be open. Now and again there are examples of migrants and asylum seekers and even refugees perpetrating terrorism and we shouldn’t deny that. But absolutely there is no case that migration or asylum or refugee poses a security risk to our societies. On the contrary, I think the evidence is clear that migration and indeed asylum and refugees can benefit our societies, and the economies in the long term. So, a careful debate, and I think really disassociating the risks of migration with violent extremism and terrorism.
Q: You are the son of a first-generation Pakistani immigrant and you grew up in a Muslim family. Islam is a religion of peace, but it has been associated with extremism and terrorism. How can we change this stereotype and restore the image of peaceful Islam?
A: I’m very pleased you used the word stereotype, because it is a stereotype and it’s a shocking stereotype. I mean it is quite clear to you and to me and to anyone of any religion that the vast majority of Muslims, as Christians and Jews and Buddhists are peace loving people who follow the rules of their book and follow the idea of peace. Clearly some people in some contexts may become angry, violent, extremist, and terrorist. There is a terrible misperception that there is a direct link between Islam and violent extremism and terrorism. And the evidence clearly does not bear that out. Most of the victims of violent extremism are Muslim rather than the perpetrators being Muslim. And I think we really need to think about how we as a Western society in particular, can correct this really rather threatening misassociation. I was in Saudi Arabia yesterday, I came back just this morning which is why I’m a little tired, and the misrepresentation of Saudi Arabia I think is striking. I had very positive meetings with the government, with various centers there who are really doing very hard work to counter, to prevent violent extremism. I think doing some really innovative work indeed. These are societies of people who want to make a difference, who want to correct misperceptions of their religion, who want to make it very clear that Islam is not about violent extremism or terrorism. The answer is I think better education, the answer is I think more responsible media coverage. I think if I may at times some of the Muslim societies in our countries don’t do themselves favors. I think perhaps they should think about integrating a bit more effectively, about being a little bit more open, about being a little bit less mysterious. So, I mean, I don’t want to apportion blame unfairly. I think we all have to make an effort. Integration is a two-way street. The government has to make an effort, the local population has to make an effort, and migrants have to make an effort as well. And I think if all of us can make an effort, can educate our children, can really understand what the challenges are then I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Q: Thank you very much for your insightful answers, and you’re right when you say education is the key. That’s why the Bulan Institute has been working on improvement of the conditions and curriculum in madrasah system in Kyrgyzstan. Thank you very much for the interview and I’m sure that we will meet again and all the best.
A: Thank you and well done on your very excellent work with the Bulan Institute. I look forward to work with you going forward. Thank you for your time.