From rebels to violent extremists
Evolving conflict trends and implications for the recognition of armed non-state actors
in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
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The nature of conflicts (and conflict actors) is constantly evolving, and since the 2010s we have entered into the era of ‘violent extremism’. However, such labels are subject to historical change, too, and they enable certain practices and kinds of behaviour towards armed non-state actors (ANSAs) while precluding others. How ANSAs are labelled has important ramifications for whether their claims to recognition can be met.

This chapter takes a practitioner’s perspective in order to explore the purpose, dilemmas and options for recognition of ANSAs through soft-power ‘engagement’ by governments or third parties (state or non-state) actors – through the prism of contemporary conflict trends, that is, in the era of violent extremism. The chapter opens up a broad perspective on several ANSAs active in various conflicts and world regions. It traces the labels given to ANSAs historically and analyses the practices of engagement related to them.

While the term ‘recognition’ has so far not entered the conceptual world of practitioners in the field of conflict transformation, the chapter tries to evaluate whether and how it could be a useful conceptual addition. In particular, it tries to delimit recognition from engagement, as well as identifying how the two concepts relate to each other. In the conclusion, the arguments made in the chapter are used to critically reconsider the novelty of ‘violent extremists’ and give an outlook on how the concept of recognition could be used in dealing with these groups.

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