Conversations and concerns about violent extremism and the potential link to religion continue to rise globally, including throughout the continent of Africa. In a recent study that took place in Kenya, researchers Charles Villa-Vicencio, Stephen Buchanan-Clarke and Alex Humphrey sought to explore local perceptions and attitudes on violent extremism, particularly considering the recent attacks in Kenya, including the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi and the 2015 Garissa attacks. The researchers focused on al-Shabaab and their affiliates in the region as well as the government and CSO initiatives aimed to address issues related to violent extremism.
Covering the study in The Conversation Africa, Charles Villa-Vicencio, author of The African Renaissance and the Afro-Arab Spring, reports that no evidence was found to support the notion that religion directly drives terrorist violence. Rather, the findings suggest that al-Shabaab “exploits perceived historical, social and political grievances and draws on extreme interpretations of Islam to craft its propaganda narratives.” Significantly, Villa-Vicencio highlights the voices of Muslim and Christian leaders in the study who expressed similar views regarding Jihadist Islamic extremism as being “far removed from mainstream Islam as the heretical neo-Calvinist support for apartheid was from mainstream Christianity.” This study provides a critical lens into understanding the complex pathway to violent extremism that has no direct connection to religion, but instead is fueled by discontent and despair based on social circumstances. Villa-Vicencio clearly indicates there is an immense need to listen more carefully to community based voices when seeking to address violent extremism.
It’s discontent, not religion, that draws people to al-Shabaab
by Charles Villa-Vicencio, The Conversation Africa