Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Richard R. Verma on Opportunities for Public-Private Partnership in Countering Online Radicalization and Recruitment”

Thank you for hosting me this morning.  I would like to commend the Vivekananda International Foundation and the University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism for organizing this workshop.  It is an honor for the Embassy to stand with Facebook in providing support for this initiative.  In addition, I am pleased to share the dais with General Vij and BJP National Spokesperson Akbar and delighted to participate in this gathering with each of you.

Before proceeding with my planned remarks, I want to join others in expressing my heartfelt condolences for the victims of terrorism, including and especially those who suffered, or are suffering, as a result of the attacks this past Friday in Paris.  The Paris attacks – like earlier attacks in the United States and India – are, as President Obama has stated, “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”  We stand together with the people of France.  Together, we can defeat this scourge of terrorism.  This conference is important, as we are gathered as part of an effort to defend our shared values against the “hateful vision” of those who perpetrate terrorist violence.

What Brings us Together

Looking across the room, I am reminded of Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ experience in coming to know India.  Years ago, on a business trip to Bangalore, Gates had caught a glimpse of India’s obvious talent and energy, but had “missed its hidden strength – the rich, the powerful, and the poor working together toward a common goal” of development.  Gates later saw this strength through his foundation’s efforts against polio.  The campaign to eradicate polio, he said, had revealed India at its best.  In this fight, India had “shown the world that when its people set an ambitious goal, mobilize the country, and measure the impact, India’s promise is endless.”

This workshop too is premised on an ambitious goal, the idea that we can work together across institutional lines against a difficult challenge to unlock “hidden strength” that perhaps has been missed to a degree.   An individual walking in off the street might wonder at the combination of individuals who have lent their time to the workshop.  After all, what cause would bring together a highly respected Lieutenant General, leading Indian Muslim clerics from a number of traditions, internet experts, professors, students, and others?

On reflection, the answer is clear.  Some of you are already working to counter threats posed by ideologies that may radicalize individuals to violence, and everyone in attendance has a long-term stake in the success of such efforts.   Where violent extremism is concerned, there is no single solution, and we must join together in facing the challenge.  We need Maulana Mahmood Madani, who has used his authority to declare Islam’s teaching that “the killing of one innocent human is tantamount to the killing of entire humanity.”  We need Dr. Sani Yasnain Khan, who has constructed narratives that teach children the path of peace.   We need each of you.

In September, at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, President Obama noted that we must prevent ISIL from “radicalizing, recruiting, and inspiring to violence . . . .  And this means defeating their ideology.”  While military, intelligence and law enforcement tools are critical, the President went on to explain that “ideologies are not defeated by guns, but by better ideas, based on more attractive and compelling vision.”  Our efforts here are dedicated to the belief that “better ideas” can emerge from rooms like this one.  This aspiration draws us together.

The spirit of partnership between the peoples of the United States and India likewise connects us.  Washington colleagues including State Department Special Representative to Muslim Communities Shaarik Zafar have joined us here.  Importantly, they are here in India not only to share experience but to learn.  Emblematic of our deepening partnership, the workshop will provide a venue for U.S., Indian, and world experts to participate in and inform discussions over the next two days.

Reaching the Vulnerable

The workshop will discuss radicalization and terrorist recruitment on the internet, a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon.  Our adversaries are becoming more creative in their outreach.   Until his death last month, German-born performer-turned-propagandist Denis Cuspert had led ISIL’s “Jihad Cool” rap-music effort.  ISIL recently announced a radicalizing curriculum in public schools it has seized in Mosul.  As workshop panelist Praveen Swami reported earlier this month, a new al-Qaeda recruitment video promises cost-free adventure travel, including tourism and big-game hunting, to prospective adherents.  Terrorist groups project their toxic messages in a broad variety of ways and we need to understand them in order to counter their influence.

Workshop panels will discuss responses to ISIL’s recruitment efforts, especially in cyberspace.  At a very basic level, the workshop will examine prospects for reaching individuals inclined toward violent extremism with ideas and values that counter this inclination.  Although the workshop will specifically address violent extremism inspired by groups such as ISIL and al-Qaeda, the White House has stated that the United States is concerned about “all types of extremism that leads to violence, regardless of who inspires it.”

The Opportunity Today

The ability of terrorist groups like ISIL to disseminate ideologies capable of radicalizing a son, daughter, sister, or brother to violence is a matter of global concern.  The challenges we face in countering online radicalization and recruitment are especially vexing because they give terrorist organizations opportunities to exploit national, institutional, professional, and language barriers that tend to separate us.  We live in an age where a phone call from a recruiter in Syria can motivate a person to purchase a plane ticket in London for travel to join a terrorist enterprise via Turkey, through a transaction recorded on a server in California.

A challenge this complicated touches upon numerous legal, policy, and practical concerns, some of them critical and each of them important.  In the face of these complexities, how can we focus our energies during this workshop?  Without knowing exactly where discussions will lead, I want to offer some thoughts and considerations in this regard.

First, I am extremely gratified to see that civil society occupies such an important role in this workshop.  I have often highlighted the importance of civil society in fostering a peaceful, prosperous, and stable future for both our countries.  In no area is this more important than the issue of countering violent extremism. The White House has acknowledged that “countering radicalization to violence is frequently best achieved by engaging and empowering individuals and groups at the local level, and pointed out that the “best defense against violent extremist ideologies are well-informed and equipped families, local communities, and local institutions.”  Civil society organizations are often best placed and equipped to achieve these goals.

Second, tomorrow we will hear Joint Secretary Ganapathy discuss India’s important achievements in countering radicalization and recruitment by ISIL to date, and I encourage participants to consider India’s successes and what we can learn from them.  I believe that India, with its diversity and rich history, can be a global leader in developing new strategies to counter extremists who co-opt Islamic theology for violent purposes.

Finally, violent extremists want us to turn against each other.  As in Iraq, they will target societies where they think they have a chance of exploiting divisions.  But as President Obama told a Kenyan audience this past summer, “extremists who prey on distrust must be defeated by communities who stand together and stand for something different.”

In the United States, we embrace the motto:  E Pluribus Unum, Latin for “out of many, one.”  Similarly, the Hindi phrase anekta mein ekta, or “unity in diversity,” carries the message that India is strongest when its citizens are united.  This room is wonderfully diverse, and yet we will be stronger if we unite in facing these threats, as we have done in recent years.  The fact is we are stronger – the United States and India – when we come together to solve difficult challenges like the one before us today.  Let us also embrace diverse views in a spirit of gratitude for what each brings to the table.  Leavened with gratitude and a common purpose our discussions can also reach their greatest potential.  Thank you for your participation, your ideas and your commitment to make a lasting impact.