Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the Multilateral Counter Violent Extremism Working Group Meeting

February 23, 2016

His Excellency Senior Minister Om Yentieng, Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister and Deputy Director of the National Counterterrorism Committee; His Excellency Ung Eang, Secretary of State and Deputy Director of the Secretariat of the National Counterterrorism Committee; Rear Admiral Colin Kilrain; distinguished guests and colleagues from Cambodia and around the region; ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here today to spend some time with such an esteemed group of professionals who share a commitment to the critical information sharing, coordination, and bridge building necessary to counter violent extremis in all of our countries. I am especially grateful to the Royal Government of Cambodia for its leadership in hosting this event today. Cambodia has been an important partner in the fight against terrorism, and I would like to thank Senior Minister Om Yentieng, His Excellency Ung Eang, and a number of other distinguished participants from the Royal Government and civil society for their efforts in making this event happen.

Let me begin by extending my condolences to our Indonesian colleagues for the loss of life from the shocking January 14 terrorist attacks by the ISIS in Jakarta. I believe all of us in this room stand firmly with the Indonesian people against terrorism and extremist ideologies that give rise to terrorist violence. The attacks in Jakarta, as well as other recent terrorist incidents in Paris and California, remind us that the core strategy of extremist organizations is to attempt to exploit differences in religion and culture to fracture our societies.

The goal is to not only add fear to our daily lives, but also to damage the livelihoods of our families and neighbors by scaring off investors and tourists and destroying the simple trust than underlies all functioning economies. This is one reason that ISIS has destroyed priceless cultural heritage and artifacts in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. This gathering today is recognition of the overriding importance for our countries of defeating violent extremism, a campaign being waged on the battlefield by a global movement united by the mission of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.

But in addition to defeating ISIL in the battlefield, we have to prevent it and other extremist groups from radicalizing, recruiting and inspiring others to violence in the first place. And this means defeating their ideology, lifting up the voices of moderate scholars, clerics, and opinion leaders, and discrediting extremist propaganda, especially online. It is also important to confront the economic and political grievances that feed violent extremism. Poverty does not cause terrorism, but the corruption and hopelessness that often accompany it can fuel resentments that terrorists exploit.

This is why sustainable development — creating opportunity and dignity, particularly for youth — is part of countering violent extremism. So is creating more accountable government institutions and protecting free speech, freedom of religion, the rule of law, and strong civil societies. But in the end, the best partners in protecting vulnerable people from violent extremist ideologies are communities themselves — families, friends, neighbors, and faith leaders who love and care for the young people in their own communities. Our job is to build true partnerships with at risk communities, based on trust and cooperation, so that they can help protect their loved ones from becoming radicalized.

This is where the Multilateral Counter Violent Extremism Working Group makes a very valuable contribution. The Working Group operates from the premise that well-informed families, communities, and local institutions represent the best defense against extremist ideologies. It brings together security sector personnel, academics, and non-governmental organizations to share best practices, build regional relationships, and develop solutions for countering and preventing violent extremism. In all these efforts, collaboration between countries is more critical than ever as terrorists try to expand their network to new regions or online through social media.

The participants in this Working Group meeting are practitioners and experts with a wide range of experience fighting terrorism and extremism. I expect many of you will have insights into what strategies have worked in your countries, what we can do better, and how we can promptly and effectively share information and lessons learned. I was also happy to learn that you will get a chance on Wednesday to tour Angkor Wat, one of the world’s great tourist attractions and Cambodia’s unifying national symbol. It is one of the most extraordinary monuments ever built by man, and more than two million visitors toured the temples in the Angkor Park in 2015. But it too suffered indirectly from terrorism last year—experts believe the November attacks in Paris reduced significantly the number of European tourists who traveled to Cambodia during the holiday high season.

In addition, Angkor demonstrates like no other place that preserving our cultural heritage is something worth fighting for, not just in Cambodia but in other areas at risk of terrorist attacks around the world. My thanks go out to our Cambodian hosts for offering to share their magnificent heritage with us all. I encourage you all to make the most of this week and to leave Siem Reap with lots of new ideas, an expanded network of contacts, and a heightened determination to work together to defeat violent extremism.

Thank you again for the opportunity to join you this morning. I wish you a successful Working Group meeting and the best of luck in your future endeavors. Thank you very much.