Foreign policy expert lectures on role of government, individuals in countering violent extremism

Hannah Daniel

Shaarik Zafar, special representative to Muslim communities at the U.S. Department of State, gave a lecture discussing the importance of countering violent extremism yesterday afternoon at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Zafar, a Plan II and UT School of Law alumnus, said Muslims are victims of terrorist acts far more often than they are the perpetrators. The stereotypes about this group perpetuated by society are inaccurate, Zafar said.

“There’s 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and they care about the same things everybody else does,” Zafar said.

Zafar said recruitment by extremist groups causes some young Muslims to undergo a process of radicalization influenced by personal, group, community, sociopolitical and ideological factors. Although these factors might motivate a violent extremist, Zafar clarified none of these influences can justify or excuse the actions of terrorist groups.

Combating violent extremism should be a joint effort by private groups, individuals and the U.S. government through foreign policy, Zafar said. For example, one private group took Zafar’s suggestion and held a free workshop teaching Muslim activists how to produce their own material to combat the high-quality propaganda videos being created by terrorist groups.

Zafar ended the talk by saying individuals in the Muslim community are making active efforts to negate the ideas promoted by violent extremist groups.

“Young Muslims are recognizing that their communities are being attacked,” Zafar said. “They are increasingly taking leadership roles in countering violent narratives and making clear that terrorists do not represent themselves or their religion. This is what gives me hope and a sense of optimism.”

Public affairs graduate student Sam Biscaro said the lecture reassured him about the government’s strategy to mitigate terrorism, since he agreed with many of Zafar’s points.

“It was really insightful,” Biscaro said. “The big takeaway for me is that there’s not one problem. You have to go at this from a lot of different angles and address areas like economic policy, women’s rights and humanitarian policy.”

Government sophomore Hicks Bolton said he was encouraged by Zafar’s hopeful outlook, despite the frequency of terrorist attacks in recent years.

“I thought it was really interesting hearing someone in the government’s perspective on it,” Bolton said. “It really struck me how optimistic he was, even though he’s the one doing this work and who sees the dirt behind this.”