In the global struggle against violent extremism, the frontlines run deep into our own communities. In recent years, tens of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters from more than 100 countries have traveled to Iraq and Syria to take up the banner of savagery, slavery, and slaughter. They receive support from a network of propagandists, recruiters, and financiers who lure our citizens abroad to serve their destructive ideologies. The danger they pose casts a shadow over all of us.
And yet, these monstrous forces have not divided us.
This week, high-level representatives from 60 countries will gather in Rome to lend their voices and support to a growing movement of teachers, coaches, parents, young people, and faith leaders around the world united behind one common purpose: breaking the cycle of indignity and intolerance that fuels violent extremism. Together, they are tackling this challenge in our own communities with the same energy used to defeat terrorists on distant battlefields.
Since this movement first launched at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February, we have broadened our approach to this common threat in three important ways.
First, we expanded how to address violent extremism. We know that countering violent extremist groups with military and intelligence tools is necessary but not enough. We have to address the political, social, and economic grievances that alienate young men and women and make them more susceptible to the siren call of extreme ideologies. That can mean strengthening human rights, building trust and cooperation between security forces and the communities they are charged to protect, promoting tolerance and critical thinking in school curricula, increasing opportunities for work and service in marginalized communities, or amplifying credible local voices that point out the reality of what these terrorists are doing to anyone in their way.
Second, we expanded our understanding of who must lead these efforts by emphasizing that local communities, civil society, religious leaders, and the private sector must play a vital role in addressing these underlying forces, because they are often more capable and credible at doing so than governments alone.
Third, we expanded where we focus our efforts--from areas on the periphery of active conflicts to prisons in our own countries where inmates can be radicalized. In Italy, where this week's conference gathers, the Ministry of Justice recently launched a program to have 15 imams and 40 cultural mediators work with prisoners. The initiative has been so successful, they are already looking to scale it up.
Since February, governments, international organizations, and civil society groups have begun to put these proactive approaches into practice. Albania, Algeria, Australia, Kenya, Kazakhstan, and Norway have all hosted regional summits on countering violent extremism, and Mauritania will soon join them. Dozens of participating countries are developing national strategies and programs, and they are expected to share their progress at the United Nations General Assembly this September.
At the community level, we have already seen many inspiring examples of such progress--from Syrian activists who challenge extremist narratives through social media and satire, to students in Southeast Asia who create videos to spur conversations about radicalization on campus, to local mayors and businesses in Europe who help at-risk youth connect with and invest in their own communities.
As violent extremists distort religion to justify their beheading, raping, and enslaving, we will counter their savagery with a strategy that is built around empowered people and resilient communities. Today in Rome and every day into the future, we can show violent extremists that their efforts to divide us have not only failed, but have inspired new unity, agility, and resolve to defeat them.
Antony Blinken is the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State. Angelino Alfano is the Italian Minister of Interior.
This article originally appeared in Il Messaggero on July 29, 2015.