Countering Extremism

The global information environment has become a battleground of competing ideas. Hostile non-state actors and extremists around the world, including ISIL, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and others, threaten core U.S. values of freedom and democracy and respect for human rights. These violent extremists seek to instill fear and intimidation among local populations.

Countering Extremism

The global information environment has become a battleground of competing ideas. Hostile non-state actors and extremists around the world, including ISIL, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and others, threaten core U.S. values of freedom and democracy and respect for human rights. These violent extremists seek to instill fear and intimidation among local populations.

According to Freedom House, fewer than 40 percent of the world’s population lives in free societies—the lowest level in nearly 15 years—while only 14 percent reside in countries with a free press. The professional, factual and locally relevant journalism of the BBG networks counters extremists’ lies and half-truths. BBG networks provide discussion of alternative avenues for conflict resolution and examine constructive means of addressing problems faced by these vulnerable populations. They are a mirror, not a mouthpiece, illustrating the United States’ democratic process, so that countries struggling to nurture their own democratic systems might learn from the American experience.

BBG networks’ high quality, on-the-ground reporting brings news, information and alternative perspectives to regions where governments or terrorist groups spread misinformation and propaganda.

Syria, Iraq, and Iran

Providing Alternative Perspectives

Male MBN reporter kneels in front of a tent, interviewing a displaced woman.
Radio Sawa correspondent Bahaa El Neaimy interviewing a displaced woman in Iraq. MBN

Alhurra, Alhurra-Iraq and Radio Sawa focus on voices of empowerment and tolerance to combat ISIL’s messages, whether they are from the streets of Iraq or high profile government officials. Alhurra and Radio Sawa also serve as platforms for discussion and, through social media, amplify the all-important voice of moderation.

These Arabic-language networks tackle the root causes of the issues that feed into ISIL propaganda with programs highlighting examples of plurality, religious tolerance, minority rights, and policies addressing unemployment and sectarianism. Alhurra TV’s Youth Talk features Iraqi young adults discussing the dangers of extremism and what people can do to counter it, as well as the importance of interfaith dialogue. Radio Sawa’s Free Zone focused on a group of 125 Muslim clerics and leaders who show how Islam differs from the propagandist interpretation ISIL uses to recruit new members.

[Photo: Radio Sawa correspondent Bahaa El Neaimy interviewing a displaced woman in Iraq. MBN]

Ramping Up Coverage

A reporter stands in front of a refugee camp -several tents with people milling about are behind him.
Radio Free Iraq correspondent Abdelkhaliq Sultan, during a visit to the camp for internally displaced people in Suruj, Turkey, December, 2014. RFE/RL

Since the first reports of ISIL emerged, Alhurra and Radio Sawa have provided daily updates on the terrorist organization’s tactics, advances, funding and potential threats, as well as comprehensive coverage of regional and international response. The networks have also engaged audiences in understanding their own role in combating extremism. In Alhurra-Iraq’s Youth Talk, young Iraqi adults discussed the causes for the insurgence and what young people can do to combat it. Another Alhurra-Iraq program, In Iraqi, examined ISIL’s use of media and how journalists can provide important information without becoming a mouthpiece for either ISIL or the Iraqi government.

With ISIL intensifying its drive toward Baghdad, Radio Sawa began to air six and a half hours of RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq (RFI) programming on its AM stream into Iraq, offering audiences more access to RFI reporting from hotspots such as Mosul, Ramadi, Kirkuk, Baquba, Dohuk, and Irbil. RFI also expanded its live morning radio show to 90 minutes in March, as violence escalated in Syria and Iraq’s Anbar Province.

In October, RFE/RL launched Under The Black Flag, a blog featuring detailed, authoritative news and analysis on ISIL and its terror campaign in Iraq and Syria. The blog aggregates reporting produced by RFE/RL services to create an uncensored picture of ISIL-related developments.

VOA Kurdish moved aggressively to provide targeted content in Kurdish on television, digital and social media. The VOA weekly program Kurdish Connection is now broadcast on affiliate station Naliya TV (NRT), the first non-partisan news channel in Kurdistan. Being on a popular channel in an ideal time slot enables VOA Kurdish to reach many more viewers with news and information on U.S. policies and perspectives on this critical region.

A Window on Muslim Life in America

Man with bookshelf behind him.
Stephen Colecchi, Director, International Justice & Peace, U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, appearing on VOA Persian special report on interfaith dialogue between American Catholic leaders and Shia Muslim leaders in Iran.” Aired June 5, 2014.

VOA Persian worked with 10 leading U.S. universities, including Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and UCLA, to launch a new multimedia project introducing audiences in Iran to the history, research and student life at these institutions. The partnership will showcase these universities’ research on Iran in a series of TV documentaries. VOA also increased efforts to fight religious extremism and dispel misconceptions about the United States by producing a series of TV interviews and special reports on interfaith initiatives in U.S. religious communities.


Female reporter sits across from President Karzai who is dressed in green and purple traditional dress. They sit in an ornately decorated room.
VOA Afghan Service reporter interviews outgoing president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai. VOA

U.S. international media play a vital role in supporting the struggle against terrorism and the development of democratic institutions. VOA serves as a professional, trusted media platform providing U.S. and world news, analysis of U.S. policy, and perspectives on U.S.-Afghan relations. RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi provides fair and objective journalism, and in a media environment dominated by powerful individuals or interest groups, serves as a bridge between common people and the government.

RFE/RL joined with state broadcaster RTA to sponsor and moderate two presidential candidate debates on February 15 and 16 in Kabul. On June 14, the day of Afghanistan’s presidential runoff election, RFE/RL provided 12 hours of live coverage, maintained live blogs in Dari and Pashto, and actively posted content on social media.

VOA also provided extensive election coverage, including an interview with outgoing President Hamid Karzai, and reports on voters defying Taliban threats to cast their ballots. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sat down with VOA’s Afghan Service for an interview that ran on Dari- and Pashto-language radio as well as on Afghan state television.

To promote social inclusion and counter the tendency of male dominated voices in most Afghan programs, VOA launched Najiba Noshaba, a show which would only take calls from women. Not a single woman called in its first weeks, so when men called, hosts began to say, “Please pass the phone to your wife!”

Now shows are drawing floods of calls from women in once-improbable places in the Taliban’s southern heartland, including Uruzgan, Khost, and Helmand.

Nigeria and Somalia


Two men shaking hands
VOA’s Somali Chief Abdirahman Yabarow (left) greets President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

VOA Somali continues to be a reliable source of information in the troubled Horn of Africa region, where more than 40 percent of adults cite VOA as one of their top three information sources and more than half the population listens to VOA weekly. VOA’s Nairobi bureau chief was embedded with Somali and African Union troops during operations against al-Shabaab militants and filed compelling reports for VOA television. VOA Somali conducted two town hall meetings this past year—one in Mogadishu on child soldiers and the other in Hargeisa on human trafficking.

Chibok Kidnapping

Demonstrators, dressed in red, shout while carrying red signs that read "Bring Back Our Girls Now!"
People call on the Nigerian government to rescue girls taken from a secondary school in Chibok region, in the city of Abuja, Nigeria. AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga

VOA was a leader in covering the story of the kidnapping of the Chibok school girls in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram. In mid-April, weeks before other Western reporters, VOA’s Dakar correspondent, Anne Look, filed a story on the kidnapping, and VOA stayed with the story when other news organizations had moved on. VOA exposed Boko Haram’s tactics of posing as soldiers to trick the girls, their intent to sell them into slavery, and the efforts of the United States and others to help in the rescue. VOA interviews with girls who managed to escape brought vivid details of their harrowing experience to a global audience. In October, the Hausa Service was first with the news that the Nigerian government was in talks with Boko Haram to establish a ceasefire and discuss the release of the kidnapped schoolgirls.

Boko Haram

Several men, some wearing traditional hats, some wearing baseball0style caps, protest against Boko Haram. The men are carrying signs that read, "#bringbackourgirls safe and alive" and "Our hearts are with the parents."
The abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014 sparked wide outrage against Boko Haram. Shown here is a protest against the group by hundreds of teachers in Maiduguri. VOA/Ibrahim Ahmed

With large measured audiences in Nigeria, Ghana, Niger, Cameroon and Burkina Faso reached via radio, video, Web and mobile audio streaming platforms, VOA has been the world leader in reporting about Boko Haram’s reign of terror.

In early 2014, a VOA Hausa reporter went where few reporters have gone, to Boko Haram territory in northern Nigeria, and filed stories showing how a once peaceful land has been transformed into a land of killing fields. Extensive video, photos and interviews were published in VOA’s special report, “In the Home of Peace, A Siege of Fear,” showing the everyday horror of life for millions of Nigerians.

Witnessing the Human Impact

Man, wearing headphones, sitting at a desk in a studio. There is a photo of the US Capitol in the background and a microphone at the table.
VOA Kurdish anchor Dakhil Elias listens to audience members who call into the Kurd Connection program. VOA

When ISIL militants attacked a group of ethnic Yazidi, some of the trapped Yazidi used dying cell phones to reach VOA Kurdish Service reporter Dakhil Elias. He heard the cries of a woman being held prisoner by ISIL in a school. She begged for help, telling him that the militants were “dragging girls by force” and demanding they convert to Islam. Recounting the human impact of ISIL’s violence is one of the ways BBG networks serve as a counterweight to ISIL’s messages of intolerance.

Countering Extremism Background Image Captions

  1. An Iraqi man reacts at the site of a car bomb explosion, in the Shaab neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq in a crowded marketplace. More than 1,200 Iraqis were killed in November by acts of terrorism by militants with the Islamic State. AP Photo/Hadi Mizban
  2. Alhurra correspondent Maithem Al Shibani embedded with Iraqi military convoy. MBN
  3. VOA Afghan Service reporter interviews outgoing president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai. VOA
  4. VOA Hausa reporters interview a female vendor in Nigeria. VOA