Interview with Dr. Samantha Kruber

Interviewer : Would you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re working on now?

Dr. Kruber : I feel like my work is really spread across a lot of things at the moment. So I’ve recently finished my PhD, and that was actually looking at state sponsorship of foreign fighters. So, sort of to the side of the P/CVE stuff, but obviously some overlap, I finished that this year. Since then I’ve been working with SEAN-CSO. I’m basically just working with violent extremism, foreign fighters, and P/CVE in general right now. I recently had an article on Al-Shabaab in Nigeria, so I’ve been very issue-focused, not necessarily area-focused. I’ve also had some research in the Middle East, so really I’m looking at the issue all over the globe.

Interviewer : How did you get interested in the topic of violent extremism?

Dr. Kruber : When I finished my undergrad studies, I ended up working for a Member of Parliament and in that role I was doing a lot of work on terrorism legislation. This was around 2012, just as it started to become a big deal. We saw Australia pushing through a lot of changes with terrorism, and changes in the way they deal with it. And at that time, it was very much the ‘counter-terrorism’ phase and I could see that it only dealt with half the problem. And that’s when I started to get interested in what the other side of the solution was, what the ‘preventing/countering’ side of it was. 

Interviewer: Looking at the past few months, how has your work been affected by COVID-19?

Dr. Kruber : It’s made a massive difference in everything it seems. I mean the first thing is that COVID has taken over. You don’t hear much about violent extremism at the moment, you don’t hear about anything else. I guess when you start to dig a little deeper, you do see how it has actually woven it’s way into every aspect of life. So you do see that violent extremist groups are kind of harnessing this as an opportunity in some contexts. The article I worked on looks at how they can potentially use it to expand their support base or potentially engage in more attacks while people are distracted. And we’ve seen this happen elsewhere in the world- we’ve seen recent attacks in parts of Indonesia and we’ve seen groups in the Philippines saying that they don’t like how the government is handling this, but also this is an opportunity for us to actually start ramping up attacks as well. And of course, the narrative of organizations like ISIS and Al-Quada is that they are optimistic about how they can use COVID for their own purposes.

Interviewer: What are the highlights of SEAN-CSO this year?

Dr. Kruber : Yes, we’re really excited to do some work although our big gatherings have been cancelled. The global situation makes it seem like we won’t be able to do any of those things anytime soon. But it has actually given us an opportunity to work a bit more closely with some of our partners- we’ve been able to see what everyone else can do if they’re given a little support, and that’s been a real highlight, being able to see what has actually come out of our members instead of just us organizing things. It’s really great to be able to showcase other people’s work instead of running workshops. I guess something I’m quite excited about are our CHAT discussions, though we’ve only had one so far, it’s a great opportunity to mimic what we would have had with a workshop, but get people from every country together to discuss violent extremism and how COVID-19 has impacted their organizations. We can share experiences, and we’re able to touch base a bit more frequently this way, which allows for more consistent communication- a real highlight in what would be considered a negative situation.

Interviewer : Looking more into the trends of P/CVE in Asia, what do you think current trends are in PVE in Asia?

Dr. Kruber : I’m not sure if this counts as a trend, but I think some things we need to be thinking about right now, especially in light of the COVID situation is the issue of potential foreign fighters or people with plans to travel overseas who were unable to. We need to think carefully about what people are coming back to and what support networks are available to them to help reintegrate them into society, or if their only option is prison, what that looks like. Are we actually taking a P/CVE approach to that, or are we taking a terrorism approach to it? I think it’s really encouraging to see so many different efforts bringing in different voices, things like incorporating a gendered approach and really looking to youth voices as well. Also, the educational approach that we see organizations take for preventing violent extremism. I think all of that is really impacting PVE greatly at this time in Southeast Asia. 

Interviewer : So when we consider these trends in the midst of this pandemic, what else do you think needs to be considered?

Dr. Kruber : I think the worst thing we could do is forget that the issues of VE are still there despite there being a pandemic. It’s obviously an enormous issue that the world is facing but it would be terrible to see certain other efforts to deal with VE not have the support to continue to function because COVID19 has been such a political distraction as well as an economic disruption. So I think that it would be a real weight if these issues do end up being neglected because of the pandemic.

Interviewer : From a practical level for Civil Society Organizations, what do you think they can do to respond to the continued threat of violent extremism while balancing their response to COVID19?

Dr. Kruber : I wish I knew the answer to that one! It’s a very difficult one, I think that it’s in times like these that we do need really strong communication between CSOs and ideally the government as well, to try and really collaborate on this, as it is a much harder space that we are operating in right now. There have been some really interesting initiatives that I’ve seen, sort of PVE practices that are working specifically with women, where they’re making face masks. So it’s sort of addressing the issues of COVID while also getting people together in a constructive project to talk. I think creative initiatives like that could be a very useful way to move forward.

Interviewer : How do you think education can prevent violent extremism?

Dr. Kruber : I think it’s absolutely crucial. Of course you need PVE education on all levels, but particularly in a school context, I think this is a perfect time to start learning values like diversity, respect for different worldviews and religions. I think this approach of establishing respect for one another and for our differences is a really important way of achieving social cohesion. There’s actually been some research in Australia looking at high school students who received a diverse world-view education, and the data from that research found that 80% of students who received this kind of education were more tolerant and have more positive views of different religious groups. So, I think that through teaching things like diversity and understanding, we really can create a more cohesive society to prevent some of the tensions and injustices that lead to violent extremism. Through education, we can stop them from happening in the first place.

Interviewer : In Southeast Asia, a lot of violence in schools comes from religious intolerances and prejudices that exist in the household. Is that something that’s faced in Australia as well?

Dr. Kruber : Unfortunately, Australia in the last few decades has had problems with Islamophobia, so I think that is present. There is that tension there, and in homes these existing views do get passed down. It’s easy to make assumptions about people who we don’t understand, about people who appear to be an ‘other’ from where you are sitting. I think that educating people about different religions and providing opportunities for people of different religions, worldviews and backgrounds to have honest and open conversations with each other- that kind of exposure is so important to reduce levels of intolerance. There is a lot of evidence that shows that through teaching people more about diversity and different ideas, it can really help to open people’s minds to be more inclusive and accepting to other people’s needs.

Interviewer : So when you think about SEAN-CSO members, especially the one’s working in the education sector, do you have any message or advice?

Dr. Kruber : Honestly, they’re experts in what they’re doing. I think it’s so important to take into account the particular contexts of a country and region. Although there are shared issues we’re all dealing with, every community has their own context that they need to work in, which can essentially make or break programs. So I think that it’s really best to leave those things to the people who understand the context they’re working in. What works in one region may not work in a neighboring region depending on the identities and issues of the people. I do think it’s very important to share when things don’t work out- failure is the best way to learn and move forward, so I think we should all be open to sharing weaknesses and problems that have occurred, so we can learn from those together and move forward together. I think tailoring and learning from mistakes is very important.