Violent extremism is a complex and multi-causal issue, causing human suffering and devastation around the world. Club de Madrid and the European Commission on Violent Extremism recently organized a meeting in Brussels to build bridges between governments and civil society – including media – to develop alternative and effective narratives to prevent and counter the challenges of radicalization and violent extremisms. SPP Visiting Professor Kinga Göncz participated in the Brussels conference and spoke about the role of participation in preventing youth radicalization and the need for coordinated international efforts. Below is a summary of the discussion that took place during this important gathering.
Long-term and unresolved international conflicts create vicious and self-destructive cycles of revenge. Governments and international organizations must do everything in their power to break political and institutional deadlocks that prevent conflicts from being resolved, even when those conflicts appear distant. Political leaders too must get involved and ensure that security measures are lawful, balanced, and foster peaceful and cohesive societies.
Systemic exclusion, injustice, humiliation, and unfair treatment are providing bases in today’s interconnected world for violent extremism to flourish. Governments have to create equal access to opportunities for every individual, group and community. There must be a genuine commitment to democratic values and human rights. If this does not exist, frustration can easily develop into violence. Quality education and enhanced opportunities for young people to participate in the labor market and also in decision making can be effective in preventing radicalization.
Information technology – especially the internet and social media – have improved the lives of many people. They have also given violent extremists opportunities to disseminate their ideology, mobilize resources, and connect with supporters. A comprehensive and coordinated strategy is needed to encourage free expression, challenge extremist narratives, and galvanise “counter-speech.”
Violent extremism and the racist actions of extreme right-wing groups are strengthening each other and influencing the public discourse. While it is true that many of the people who commit violent attacks have a criminal history, they could not operate without wider support. Real engagement – and not stigmatization – with this group of silent supporters is urgently needed. Rehabilitation programs are also needed for those who are returning from regions where “violence has become a way of life.” De-radicalized youth should be involved in the counter-narrative and encouraged to share their personal stories and experiences.
Religion can intensify conflicts. It can also be a force for good. Religious leaders have a responsibility to be role models, promote inter-faith dialogue, and engage with disenfranchised young people. Muslim women, for example, could be vital actors in the process of deradicalization and counter-narrative.