Data Vital in Tackling Jihadi Violence


Data Vital in Tackling Jihadi Violence

Anthony Measures

22 Jul 2015

Detailed data on conflicts, as well as analysis of ideologies, is essential for governments to develop effective strategies to counter the threat of jihadi organisations, writes Anthony Measures.

The growth of ISIS and other Islamist militant groups in the Middle East, North Africa and across the world in recent years has been unprecedented, particularly since the Arab Spring. Analysis on the actions and ideologies of these groups is crucial. But such analysis must be viewed alongside the evidence that is increasingly being provided by organisations that collect and analyse statistics on conflict situations around the globe.

This evidence is particularly important for governments and international organisations to plan strategies to tackle conflict situations, including those seemingly motivated by religious violence.

Insights on the role of religion in conflict can be shed through statistics.

Insights can be shed on the role of religion in conflicts, and how to tackle it, through a range of existing statistics. These include such data as the number of attacks per country, broken down by the type of attack, perpetrator and location; numbers of people internally displaced by conflict; and socio-economic conditions, such as GDP, unemployment, and population.

The analysis of these data over time, mapped against what we already know of particular conflicts, can build up an understanding of why and how these conflicts occur. By pulling all of this information together, we can deepen our understanding of the dynamics of conflict situations around the world. Trend analysis of this kind of data is also important, especially when the planning of resources comes into the equation – where should funds be targeted at present and in the future?

The measuring of the fragility, vulnerability, and risk of conflict in regions, countries, and provinces has become ever more urgent in recent years, particularly with the growing strength of international jihadi organisations. This requires both the continued close analysis of countries with a recent history of conflict, and the monitoring of countries at risk. Today we see conflict situations in Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Central African Republic, Somalia, and Libya, to name just a few. The spread of Islamist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab, is putting more and more countries under pressure, requiring greater monitoring as jihadi groups strive to spread their ideologies.

Organisations that monitor and record data on conflict and terrorism incidents can make particular impact, by drawing out data as it happens, based on local knowledge. From here, detailed data analysis can take place enabling policy makers to plan out a strategy to tackle it. In greater time, this can only help to inform governments and institutions about how best to respond to developing conflicts, how to form new policies to tackle existing problems and grievances, and how to prevent the recurrence of disputes.

As an example, International Alert UK, in conjunction with the World Bank, has recently launched a conflict-tracking site that is specifically focused on the southern Philippines region of Mindanao, where there is an ongoing conflict between Islamist groups and the government over the establishment of a separate Islamic state for the Muslim region. The conflict database allows the government to track the extent of the violence in the country and to pinpoint exactly where help, resources, and assistance is required. Or in Nigeria, the Council on Foreign Relations tracks attacks, perpetrators and casualties.

These live data can be supplemented by regular assessments on the threat of terrorism to individual countries around the world, such as the Global Peace Index and Fragile States Index. These provide the detail for policy makers and planners to see how countries are responding to conflict situations.

Data should be used to target resources at vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities.

The next stage for this process is to see how the data can best be utilised to aid in the fight against all forms of extremist violence. This is especially important in the current climate, after attacks in Paris, Tunis, Sousse, Kuwait City, the continuing atrocities across Iraq and Syria, and a growing recognition of the scale and nature of the threat. Governments and policy makers around the world should take note and act upon the evidence that is being collected in these studies. The data should be used to tackle and target those who are vulnerable in society. One area where this could be used effectively is to protect ethnic and religious minorities who are so often the target of extremist groups today, such as the Yezidi in Iraq, and the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The key here is in the detail, trying to build up a very comprehensive picture of the conflict that is happening on a very local level, so that resources can be used in the most effective way. National level evidence is a start, and studies that already exist have helped to track conflicts around the world, but now we need an enhanced plan to get local granularity.

One way of doing this would be technical, such as through the monitoring of social media, but another is relational, working with those affected by particular conflicts, to gain their impressions of its causes, and gain the local knowledge that is essential to tackle it.

National databases for all of this will enhance the understanding of conflict situations, allowing local communities, including religious and ethnic communities, to feel that they are playing a part in gathering the evidence needed. Governments will then need to share this information nationally and internationally, building an ever clearer picture that will attract global attention.

It is only once this has been established that we will see a change in the way governments around the world track and act on the role that religion can play in conflict. Building up this detailed knowledge and understanding can only aid governments and policy makers in making informed decisions about security and peace building, to the benefit of all communities involved.


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