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Trump govt needs $1 bn effort to fight extremism: experts

Trump govt needs $1 bn effort to fight extremism: experts

WEDNESDAY, November 16, 2016
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WASHINGTON - The incoming government of Donald Trump needs to create a top-level office for battling Islamic extremist ideology, experts led by ex-CIA chief Leon Panetta and former British premier Tony Blair said Tuesday.

While the United States has laid out billions in the armed fight against Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group and others, it sorely lacks a coordinated effort for the "long war" of preventing their ideology from affecting Muslim youth at home, they said.

They said the White House needs to establish a new presidential assistant with a $1 billion-a-year budget to coordinate and fund efforts across the country to stop radicalization.

Current spending on such programs, according to a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies on how to fight extremism, is just 0.1 percent of the country's counter-terrorism budget.

"It is time for the US government and its allies to go all-in to prevent the radicalization and recruitment of a whole new generation," the report said.

"There's no question that we ought to be spending more on this war of ideas," said Panetta, who with Blair co-chaired the commission responsible for the report.

"A billion dollars would be significant."

The report highlights the way extremism can ferment in schools, mosques and online, and says the threat has not receded even as IS is being pushed back on the Iraq battlefield.

"At the end of 2016, the threat is getting bigger," said Farah Pandith, a member of CSIS's Commission on Countering Violent Extremism.

She stressed the focus has to be on Muslim youth connected through social media, drawing on a wide range of resources, from community organizations to social media providers.

Everyone from technology and entertainment companies to religious and community leaders should be systematically recruited "to compete with and overtake extremists' narratives in virtual and real spaces," the report says.

"It is the responsibility of all citizens to rebut extremists' ideas, wherever they are gaining traction."

But it also stresses the need not to engage in religious oppression and to protect Muslim communities from attacks by non-Muslims.

The report was completed before Trump won the presidential election a week ago, and was not targeted at him, the authors stressed.

But it comes after a rough campaign during which Trump sparked fears in the US Muslim community after he said he supported blocking Muslims from entering the country.

Pandith stressed that, in order to be comprehensive and effective, an operation would need as high a profile as the US war on terror -- and that the person in charge "needs to have the ear of the president."