Former violent extremist and jihadist late Jesse Morton, who adopted the Arabic name Younus Abdullah Muhammad when he was recruited by a fellow detainee who was a violent extremist, discussed with the International Development News or DEVEX, his insights and efforts on CVE, a year before his death in December 2021.


As a former violent extremist and described as  “one of the most prolific recruiters for Al Qaeda” by The New York Times, Younus emphasized “To interact with extremist networks, you have to build a network that is antithetical to hate and extremism.”


During his time in prison and after he decided to work with the FBI on CVE, Younus founded the organization “Parallel Networks”, a Virginia-based nonprofit that works on CVE around the world and where Younus was executive director, speaks directly to his own example as a former extremist recruiter who — when given an opportunity to do so — was able to find and describe a path out of that worldview.


In the interview released by the DEVEX, “A ‘parallel network’ is based on the notion that you can’t feed into an ‘us versus them’ divide by taking sides in conflict, that you have to … attack a problem at a higher order of consciousness than that which creates it,” Younus said.


That necessitates a holistic approach, one more in line with public health interventions than what has characterized a lot of CVE efforts in the past, Younus said. It also requires those seeking to counter violent extremism to reject a “clash of civilizations” mindset that imagines extremists as theological or ideological enemies, he said.


“You can’t argue with a theological message so much as you have to realize that extremists belong to groups, and they join groups because everybody has a need for group belonging. If you don’t create a group that they can belong to as an alternative to those that are advocating for violent extremism, then you can’t fulfill those needs,” he said.


“All of the empirical evidence in the field suggests that you’ve got to find the right influencers and you have to get them to believe and work with them in partnership, and that they should be responsible for a large portion of the implementation,” he said.


“The first step is to craft a vision and make sure that vision is not just some idealistic notions about the superiority of democracy and human rights, but to get practices that embody them and to make sure that you don’t say what you don’t do,” he said.


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