Rajika Jayatilake writes that when corrupt governments marginalise communities they become eager vessels for extremism

Even though violent extremism can never be justified, it’s not something that happens in a vacuum. Apart from actual or perceived injustices in a country, poor governance and corrupt politicians are seen as significant factors that contribute to rising extremism and terrorism.

Accomplished Asian-American entrepreneur Iqbal Quadir says that “when leaders are no longer beholden to the people who elected them, corruption results and the recruitment of extremists becomes easier.” As Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C. records, there is a causal link between corruption and terrorism.

Former Carnegie staffer Sarah Chayes, internationally recognised for her innovative thinking on corruption and its implications, observes: “Governments that ostensibly fight terror may actually generate more dire security crises than they curb as a result of corrupt governance practices.”

Indeed, corruption is responsible for driving many people into the folds of extremist movements. If judges and lawyers can be bribed and a person can win a case in court by taking a beautiful girl to the judge (this happened in Nigeria), then what would happen to close family members who are affected by such behaviour?

They want to take revenge on the people who humiliated them and drove them to the brink of despair. They’re desperate enough to seek the help of extremists and terrorists waiting in the wings for the right opportunity.

Conflict ridden countries around the world reflect how corruption is at the core of their security crises. Marginalised people are driven to extremism and terrorism because of corrupt political leaders and officials; because terrorists offer them an opportunity for revenge and some measure of comfort, by unleashing death and destruction on a corrupt society.

Transparency International notes that countries with the lowest scores in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) are generally those in the throes of war or conflict.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in the US found in studies it conducted that terrorism recruiters offer a way out to people in countries where opportunities are scarce because corruption has swallowed up the way forward for people and where justice is hard to come by.

Research has exposed how the deep sense of injustice and alienation from conventional social structures can goad young people to join terrorist groups.

As CSIS studies have found, 92 percent of all terrorist attacks in the past 25 years have taken place in countries with extensive state sponsored terrorism. A former extremist in London explained: “If you are living under a dictatorship, people will look for an outlet because they are already facing injustice and inequality.”

Violent extremists succeeded in recruiting over 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 countries to travel to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen for intensive radicalisation. Afterwards, many returned home to spread hatred, intolerance and violence.

However, merely imprisoning radicalised individuals will not resolve the issue of radicalisation. The problem only multiplies. Jailed radicals generally build recruitment networks inside their prisons. Guantanamo Bay is a notable example where extremists who served lengthy prison sentences rejoined terror groups when deported to their home countries.

In September last year, in a first ever meeting on corruption, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the UN Security Council that the global cost of corruption is at least five percent of global GDP. He said: “Corruption breeds disillusion with government and governance, and is often at the root of political dysfunction and social disunity.”

Underlying the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism is the reasoning that countries that are unable to control corruption – and along with it, other social factors like poverty, unemployment and human rights abuses – are likely to experience violent extremism. There’s growing policy recognition that violent extremism is driven by corruption.

Therefore, governments need to activate a plan to provide their citizens with an impartial judiciary, an independent legislature, and fearless and independent anticorruption agencies. When an unbiased and undaunted media, as well as dynamic civil society organisations, are allowed to thrive, they will consequently provide the necessary environment for a corruption free society.

Experts in governance insist that deradicalisation needs to be holistic and comprehensive, and not merely focussed on military and security approaches.

Indonesia is an example of a country seriously intent on deradicalisation. Ali Fauzi Manzi, the chief bomb maker for the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, claims to be reformed and committed to deradicalising other potential terrorists. He has established a foundation to steer people away from the lure of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Supported by Indonesia’s National Agency for Combating Terrorism (BNPT), Manzi has established a community called the Circle of Peace Foundation (YLP) where former terrorists counter radicalisation.

The late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto once said: “A people inspired by democracy, human rights and economic opportunity will turn their back decisively on extremism.”