Young people, often the most vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremist groups, play a crucial role in countering and preventing violent extremism. But how can we more effectively focus on youth to reduce violent extremism? To answer this question, we convened a forum on the latest thinking in this rapidly evolving field. The forum, held earlier this year in Washington, DC, was webcast for a global audience.
Kyle Dietrich of Equal Access International, Lauren Van Metre of George Washington University, Dean Piedmont of the Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism Initiative and Joseph Sany of FHI 360 shared new research on and approaches to youth engagement. They covered topics including reorienting radicalization, youth-led approaches to preventing violent extremism, the role of social media and extremist messaging, and the reintegration of foreign terrorist fighters. The participants identified prevention as the most promising opportunity to mitigate violent extremism.
After the panel discussion, participants formed small groups to focus on six themes. The key takeaways from these discussions, which are summarized below, are explored in a follow-up report.
1. Reframing and reorienting radicalization
As with many terms used in discussions of violent extremism, there is little agreement on the definition of radicalization. What is clear is the need to move away from security-oriented interpretations of the term. For interventions and research, we should look at how extremist groups use a holistic approach to radicalizing youth and then develop alternative ecosystems that mirror their approaches.
2. Youth resilience
Definitions are also important when considering youth resilience. Resilience is not just how one copes with or responds to a threat. It can also be one’s contribution to a positive social outcome. Recommendations for encouraging youth to be resilient include conducting research to better understand individual versus community resilience as well as developing protective factors for confronting adversity, such as activities that create stronger links between youth and their families.
3. Youth-led initiatives
Youth-led approaches to preventing violent extremism can be effective if they are based on research and mainstreamed throughout the intervention. Building an evidence base for this work is critical, as is broadening our understanding of positive youth development from youth-led to youth-empowered programming.
4. Social media and alternative messaging
To develop effective alternative or counter messaging, we need research that provides a contextual analysis of the language we will be countering. Lessons from public health behavior change communications and marketing approaches can be integrated into our campaigns. The sequence of an effective alternative messaging intervention can start with research, followed by the messaging campaign and then on-the-ground programming to reinforce the messaging.
5. Engaging parents and other influencers
Several successful approaches for engaging parents have emerged, such as training mothers to look for risk factors in their children and assigning social workers to families to decrease risk factors. More research is needed, however, including analyzing the scale, cost-effectiveness and impact of rehabilitation and reintegration programs and exploring trauma-informed approaches for youth and their families.
6. Reintegration and rehabilitation of foreign terrorist fighters
Differentiating between foreign terrorist fighters and ex-combatants, and understanding individual and community contexts, are important for developing approaches for the reintegration and rehabilitation of foreign terrorist fighters. Recommendations include engaging family members in the process of reintegration and creating community mechanisms for support.
FHI 360’s civil society and peacebuilding team engages young people and their communities — including civil society organizations, local officials and religious leaders — to identify and create their own constructive measures to mitigate local violent extremism drivers and strengthen their resilience. We are committed to building a stronger evidence base and sharing knowledge on the most effective approaches to addressing violent extremism among youth.