Morgan State University welcomed Dr. Douglas Padgett and Mr. James Lawrence from the US State Department on Tuesday, October 20, 2015 to speak on efforts to combat violent extremism around the world. Approximately 40 students attended the lecture organized by HDI as part of its effort to assist Morgan State in internationalizing its curriculum, now in its third year. The presentation touched on definitions of violent extremism and international efforts to combat it.
Mr. Lawrence began the presentation by giving the audience a short description of how we have arrived at the current state of affairs. From 1990 to 2001, Mr. Lawrence stated that certain critical signals were missed that should have alerted US authorities in particular to the dangers of violent extremism. The bombings of the Marine barracks in Khobar, Saudi Arabia in 1996, of two US Embassies in Africa in 1998, and the USS Cole in 2000, marked the beginning of a war of ideology, ideas and values that culminated with the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. This type of asymmetric warfare/guerilla insurgency by non-state actors such as ISIL, Al-Qaida, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, etc., is driven by several factors. These include a dislike of western secularism, values and culture, the perception that the West is out to destroy Islam, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, failed (and inadequate) states and non-state actors, and a ready pool of disaffected people due to poverty and unemployment. The threat posed by violent extremism is neither constrained by international borders nor limited to any single ideology. Groups and individuals inspired by a range of personal, religious, political, or other ideological beliefs promote and use violence. Increasingly sophisticated use of the Internet, social media, and information technology by violent extremists adds an additional layer of complexity. Accordingly, the US government has designed an approach that addresses violent extremism regardless of ideology, and focuses not on radical thought or speech but on preventing violent attacks. This approach provides numerous physical and virtual environments to promote information sharing and collaboration between all entities working to counter the threat of violent extremism.
Dr. Padgett then went on to detail some of these approaches. Overall, the approach emphasizes strengthening local communities. The premise that well-informed and well–equipped communities and local institutions represent the best defense against violent extremist ideologies is the starting point. While the primary purpose is to prevent attacks by individuals or groups recruited by violent extremist organizations, or inspired by violent extremist ideologies, the support of strong and resilient communities is an important end in and of itself. Dr. Padgett said that there are three broad objectives. These are 1.) Understanding Violent Extremism, which entails supporting and coordinating efforts to better understand violent extremism, including assessing the threat it poses to national security as a whole and within specific communities; 2.) Supporting Local Communities, which bolster efforts to catalyze and support community-based programs, and strengthen relationships with communities that may be targeted for recruitment by violent extremists; and 3.) Support Local Law Enforcement, to deter and disrupt recruitment or individual mobilization through support for local law enforcement, including community policing efforts. In addition to these efforts, international development programs to ameliorate extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing security and prosperity, outlines the answer to preventing its spread. It is through international approaches to development that the underlying causes of discontent can be prevented from turning into radicalization. Over half of US foreign assistance goes to countries in the midst of conflict, or trying to prevent conflict or state failure. While remarkable gains have been made, the scourge of violent extremism undermines the work being done by the US and other states. Violent extremism impedes growth by discouraging long-term investment –- not only by international corporations, but also by local entrepreneurs who hesitate before setting up shop in a market or fear investing in inventory. Dr. Padgett concluded by stating that violent extremists’ actions tax health systems, overcrowd hospitals, create refugees, and displace people from their homes. Responding to attacks consumes government services and resources, stymieing development.
James Lawrence was the Director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) of the U.S State Department until 2013. He managed the U.S. governments program to clear landmines and other explosive remnants of war; curb the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons; and reduce the threat from aging and unstable munitions. PM/WRA is the lead office within the State Department on landmine and cluster munitions policy and directs the Public Private Partnership Program which works with over 60 private organizations to engage civil society to increase mine awareness and facilitate the flow of funding to support conventional weapons destruction. From 1980 to 1996 Mr. Lawrence served as the Executive Director of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. This $700 million program admits 75,000 refugees to the United States each year and provides support for another 20 million refugees through contributions to the United Nations and other international organizations. Mr. Lawrence was involved in every humanitarian relief operation from the Vietnamese boat people to the Kurdish outflow from Northern Iraq. Before joining the State Department Mr. Lawrence served as a Peace Corps teacher in Morocco from 1968 to 1970, and as a staff officer in the field and at Peace Corps headquarters from 1972 to 1979. Born and raised in a military family, he received his bachelor’s degree in French from the University of North Carolina.
Dr. Douglas Padgett serves in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Labor and Human Rights office of Religious Freedom. Dr. Padgett comes to the State Department from George Mason University, where he taught Asian religions and globalization studies in both the Department of Religious Studies and the Global Affairs Program. Dr. Padgett previously served as a consultant at The Center for the National Interest, where he worked on a range of topics, including the Arab spring, Muslim immigration to Europe, and Mexican drug-related violence. His consulting experience extends to the wine trade where he once worked. In addition, Dr. Padgett is a former naval officer and served in the Gulf region and Western Pacific. Dr. Padgett holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Indiana University with concentrations in the study of East Asian religions (primarily Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism) and religion and American culture. His Master’s degree is from the University of Florida, and he holds a BA from Duke University.