Quiet, neutral Switzerland unveils plan to combat violent extremism

Quiet, neutral Switzerland unveils plan to combat violent extremism
Switzerland has released a national plan to prevent violent extremism in the country, with its justice minister stressing that “you cannot wait until it is at your door.” It comes despite the nation so far being spared any major terrorist attacks.

The plan, unveiled Monday, contains 26 measures to fight extremism. Some of them are already in place, but will now be brought under a single action plan, according to a government statement“The National Action Plan complements existing measures... They must be deepened, strengthened and complemented by the national plan of action,” the statement reads.

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told a Monday news conference that the plan is necessary because “if you want to stop terrorism, you cannot wait until it is at your door and the police have to take action, you have to tackle it much earlier.” She went on to state that “if we want to accomplish something, we have to prevent people from being radicalized in such a way that they resort to violence and turn themselves into terrorists.”

According to the government, the plan was first developed in September 2016 and was unanimously adopted on November 24. However, it was only released to the public on Monday.

The action plan specifically asks cantons, towns, and communes to share information, advise authorities on relevant information, and specify the services they can offer when it comes to preventing and identifying extremism. It recommends that cantonal institutions work to identify radicalization at an early stage and evaluate the threat posed by potential suspects, and says that each canton should designate a body to take charge of such individuals and manage their reinsertion into society.

The plan notes that teachers, as people who “play an important role in the development of a personality,” should receive specialist support, while stressing that schools should develop teaching materials and projects to allow for the discussion of extremism and radicalization. It also states that those in charge of sports and leisure clubs should receive relevant support and training. Five million francs (US$5.08 million) will be budgeted over five years to support cantonal or communal projects that help meet the goals of the plan.

Although Switzerland – known for its neutral stance on the world stage – did not participate in any wars in the Middle East, some fear its domestic policies could make it a target of extremists, Reuters reported. Swiss voters chose to ban the construction of new minarets in 2009, while the canton of Ticino has banned facial coverings. A national referendum on whether burqas should be banned could also be held by 2020, after activists collected over 100,000 signatures required to put the issue to a national vote.

Switzerland has so far managed to avoid major terrorist attacks experienced by other European countries. However, the Swiss Intelligence Service said last month that it was tracking 550 people deemed to be a potential risk to the country, up from the 497 people who were being tracked at the end of 2016. The tracking is part of the government’s “jihad monitoring program.”

Switzerland is moving to tighten anti-terrorism laws, pushing for those who support violent extremism to receiver harsher sentences. It is also aiming to boost cooperation with other countries’ intelligence services.

The issue of radicalization in Europe has been put under a spotlight in recent years, particularly since the beginning of the largest refugee crisis since World War II, which has seen more than one million mainly Muslim asylum-seekers arriving on the continent in 2015. As a non-EU member, Switzerland has not been obligated to accept refugees under the EU quota system. However, the country is part of the Schengen zone which means travelers can typically cross into the country without undergoing an immigration check.

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