In Europe, the latest terrorist attacks, such as the London underground bombings in 2005 and the shooting in Munich in 2016, created a narrative for young people that is presented within “two frames: ‘Youth as Problems’ or ‘Youth as the Future of the Nation’, both of which are instruments for political control rather than reflections of the life experiences and interests of youth themselves”[i].
Indeed, they are seen by policy makers as being the most at risk to violent radicalisation as they are the main targets of recruitment, and so this phenomenon tends to alert our society to the risk of losing a generation of youth to despair.
Being 21 and a part of this group (“young people”) as well, it brings me closer to the phenomenon itself and increases my eagerness to find a solution. I may never get to meet this solution, but I will sure do something. That is why I joined the RJ4All Institute and its project "Violent Radicalisation, Restorative Justice and Human Rights"
Governments and EU institutions are taking conscience that allocating funds to reinforce security measures is insufficient to protect everyone. However, preventing radicalisation is a challenge, and doing it at an early stage is even more so because of current prevention obstacles such as detecting who is at risk of violent radicalisation, being able to get into contact with them and give them and their families the right support[ii]. But, despite all these challenges all the professionals and people who work to understand and prevent this phenomenon have the same goal and reason to make a change.
Education as soft power
Many European governments as well as the EC see education as the soft power that can play a key role in prevention of violent extremism and radicalisation. And so, education has been a defence against the rise of violence, racism, extremism, and more.
Even though the right to education has been recognised as a human right in international conventions and as one of the key targets of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by UN member countries in 2015, many children and youth face barriers in accessing and receiving quality education[iii].
Education can take place through formal and informal routes. Formal education is understood as “the structured training systems that run from pre-primary and primary through secondary school and on to university”[iv]. Non-formal education is understood as “any planned programme of education designed to improve a range of skills and competences, outside the formal educational setting”.
The primary purpose of education is not only to develop knowledge, skills, competences and to embed fundamental values, but also to help young people – in cooperation with parents and families – to become active, responsible and open-minded members of society[v].
Regarding formal education routes, teachers play a central role in the prevention of VE (not as punishers but as educators) since they can be role models but also the first to identify signs of radicalization. They can also serve as a bridge between school, families and the broader community[vi]. Therefore, they need to be equipped with appropriate skills and tools to deal with young people’s problems, because, resilience is about how students are taught as well as what they are taught, and that’s why education is central to strengthening – or undermining – personal resilience[vii].
Setting my heart on fire
By having the opportunity to be part of the RJ4All project, as well as the Youth Empowerment and Innovation Project, I learned so much already. I can work in the area that sets my heart on fire, and to get closer to young people. During the last few months I’ve come to the realization that young people don’t think that schools or teachers are well prepared to deal with any kind of problematic behaviour. But the thing that concerns me the most is that, through the eyes of these young people, “they [school staff] don’t even care”. If young people feel like they don’t have the response they need, we should not also focus on providing them tools to tackle this phenomenon, but we also should work with school, to promote safer environments and to raise awareness among teachers and school staff.
The truth is that education by itself cannot prevent an individual from committing a violent act, but the provision of relevant education can make it difficult for violent extremist ideologies to thrive. And when trying to face this problematic, Europe cannot afford wasted talent, social exclusion or disengagement among its youth, and that’s why young people should not only be architects of their own life, but also contribute to positive change in society[ix].
A holistic approach
Integration policies have positive ancillary effects on preventing violent radicalisation, however a holistic approach to integration is necessary, that manages social, cultural, religious, linguistic and national differences[x]. And although young people can be radicalised they are not “risks” to manage, in a way that all of them have something to offer, and that’s why Europe needs their ideas and hopes[xi]. To empower young people implies the discovery of individual skills, the transformation of emotions into energy and ideas into projects[xii].
As a young researcher on the RJ4All Institute's project "Violent Radicalisation, Restorative Justice and Human Rights" and after my work in YEIP Project I must conclude that young people should have their voices eared often, otherwise we will try to prevent this problematic based on what we think will work.
Being 21 years old helps me and keeps me going passionately about this problematic, but it also affects positively the way I look at it. My eyes tend to see clearly the more complicated things and tend to understand better the adversities they face.
For me, society needs to see young people (those who are at risk and those who are not) as part of a society, with talents, dreams, hopes and with a voice. In this regard, young people should be encouraged to channel their energy to create and develop positive ideas and solutions to the challenges we face today[xiii]. Society needs to deal with the fact that extremism is going to be around for a very long time and that the “most effective long-term solution is looking upstream and changing the ethos of people to make sure they are more tolerant, more inclusive.
[i] Professor Emma Murphy, Durham University.
[ii] RAN Centre of Excellence, “Working with families and safeguarding children from radicalisation: step by step guidance paper for practioners and policy-makers”, 2017, pp. 1.
[iii] According to Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals report by the UN Secretary-General, despite considerable gains in education enrollment in the past decade, access to education, as well as educational inequality in terms of outcomes and unequal distribution of educational resources such as trained teachers, technologies, still constitute a major challenge in education (E/2017/66).
[iv] Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education, Adopted in the framework of Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)7 of the Committee if Ministers.
[v] “Declaration on Promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education”, Informal Meeting of European Union Education Ministers, Paris, 2015.
[vi] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2017, “Preventing violent extremism through education: A guide for policy-makers”, pp.50.
[vii] Stewart, S., “Building Resistance to Violent Extremism”, British Council, pp. 12.
[ix] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, “Engaging, Connecting and Empowering young people: a new EU Youth Strategy”, Brussels, 2018.
[x] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council concerning “Terrorist recruitment: addressing the factors contributing to violent radicalisation”, Brussels, 2005.
[xi] Restorative Justice & Radicalisation: From theory to practice, 2nd Biennial International conference on Restorative Justice, Tehran, Iran (4-5 May 2018), Dr. Theo Gavrielides.
[xii] “We are all Europeans: Your guide for projects with migrant, minority and multicultural youth groups2, SALTO YOUTH.
[xiii] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2016, “A Teacher’s Guide on the Prevention of Violent Extremism”, pp. 40.