In the global fight against violent extremism, a major element has been missing from the conversation that has focused on mostly top-down, official efforts: how ordinary citizens and communities are successfully challenging the acute corruption that drives young people and others into the folds of radicals.
Imagine growing up in a country where poverty is the norm, officials at every level demand a constant stream of bribes, the government is abusive and greedy and/or tied to organized crime, and rule of law leaves ordinary citizens in the dust while coddling cronies and those who can pay the price. No wonder young citizens rush into the ranks of extremist groups like the self-styled “Islamic State” in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Africa, or the marabuntas gangs in Central America.
Yet, in some of the world’s most repressive places, millions of people have become protagonists of successful nonviolent campaigns that challenge corruption and impunity, improve accountability, and promote political, economic, and social change. A new qualitative study by one of the authors documents 16 such cases in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, and Uganda.