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Foreign Policy: Don't Be Evil

Author: William McCants
July 5, 2011

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Google Ideas, the Silicon Valley giant's self-proclaimed "think/do tank," just wrapped up its Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin. According to the director of Google Ideas, former U.S. State Department official Jared Cohen, the purpose of the summit was to "initiate a global conversation on how best to prevent young people from becoming radicalized and how to de-radicalise others." To this end, the summit organizers gathered an impressive array of policymakers, activists, and former militants -- from neo-Nazi skinheads to Islamist radicals to Irish ultranationalists -- to discuss the problem. A worthy endeavor, no doubt.

The conference, as the identity of its host would seem to imply, was heavily focused on the power of technology to combat radicalism. Former militants and aggrieved mothers can dissuade youth from joining violent groups; competing networks can distract them; and outlets for positive activism can channel their energy toward more productive ends. In each area, Cohen says, technology will be the key to "engineer[ing] a turn away from violence." Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, the BBC reports, harbors an "almost messianic conviction that new technology can eventually help prevent angry young men from drifting into a life of violence and extremism."

If these are indeed the conclusions of the conference, Google Ideas needs more thinking and less doing in its approach to countering violent extremism (known as CVE in U.S. government circles). The U.S. government, its allies, and NGOs around the world are already engaged heavily in each of these areas, at least with regard to Islamist radicalization (the major focus of the summit). For them, the primary challenge is not coming up with new solutions, but rather financing them, measuring their effectiveness, and ensuring they do more good than harm.

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