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A Public Health Ethics Model of Countering Violent Extremism

NCJ Number
Terrorism and Political Violence Volume: 33 Issue: 2 Dated: 2021
Date Published
13 pages

The term “countering violent extremism” (CVE) refers to a suite of proactive actions to counter efforts by extremists to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize followers to violence, and thus prevent extremist violence from occurring. In this article we explore the ethics of CVE. We begin with a description of CVE, framed within a discussion of the history (and issues) with counter-terrorism efforts post 9/11. We also outline the many and varied techniques and practices that the term CVE describes. We argue that the fundamental ethical tension in many of these forms of CVE is between the purported benefits of addressing the conditions that most likely contribute to recruitment and radicalization by violent extremists; and the potential risks of upstream interventions that might unfairly target communities and individuals or produce counterproductive outcomes. We then mount a defense of CVE on ethical grounds. Drawing from literature in public health ethics, we argue that violent extremism is a “social contagion” that shares relevant features with infectious diseases that motivate arguments for publicly-funded and even enforceable vaccination schedules. CVE is justified, we argue, to the degree it is necessary, effective, proportionate, minimally infringing on individual rights, and subject to public accountability. We assess these criteria and demonstrate that, while there are cases in which CVE is performed in an unjustifiable manner, the practice itself is in principle justified. This article concludes with an applied test of the model on a newly formed CVE program in the United States. (Publisher abstract)

Date Published: January 1, 2021