On Engaging with Extremist Narratives – The Berghof Grantees Conference 2016


Recent times have seen a rise in violence rooted in the misuse of arguments based on religious narratives. This demonstrates a need for better understanding how organisations pursuing alleged radical religious narratives can be engaged in formal negotiations, or how peer-group initiatives within religious communities can help mitigate biases and contribute to processes of inclusive conflict transformation.

The Berghof Grantees Conference 2016 focused on the topic of Engaging Actors with Violent Extremist Narratives in Conflict Transformation. The conference offered opportunities for exchange among Berghof Foundation staff, its grantees and members of the Board of Trustees.

Intimate and open discussions focused on concrete modalities of engagement with groups espousing radical religious narratives, and on the influence of recent shifts in international politics, first among them the change in administration in the USA. The need to scale up and broaden the initially confidential engagement with small groups, as well as the sources of hope for continuing work in often seemingly dire circumstances was another topic of discussion.

Among the takeaways were the significance of long-term trust, confidence and access building, of taking an approach which is highly aware of history, and the importance of working with partners who have both credibility with their constituencies as well as an authentic interest in dialogue. Grantees pointed both to the need for clear ethics and to the fact that “there is no success without failure”.