To Counter Violent Extremism, Focus on the Young | Tara Sonenshine
To Counter Violent Extremism, Focus on the Young
By Tara Sonenshine, member of the NSN Advisory Board
July 2, 2015 | The Hill
In the run-up to July Fourth, there is increasing “chatter” about the potential for a terrorist attack somewhere in the world this weekend. And behind the fear of violent extremism, is always an unspoken assumption that Muslim youth around the globe are, by and large, inclined towards negative activity, and likely to be recruited and radicalized by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or another terrorist group, and that social media is today’s platform for youth-inspired hatred, hostility and horrific behavior. Both are misleading assumptions and likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Yes, ISIS has become very good at targeting young Muslims to come to Iraq and Syria and join foreign fighters in a struggle to build a caliphate. ISIS preys on youth vulnerabilities and the desperate longing by those most isolated to “belong” to something big, and to address whatever frustrations and sense of injustice young people feel by encouraging them to pick up a weapon and carry out an attack. But the media attention on terrorism carried out by young Muslims eclipses a broader story of positive youth engagement and responses to ISIS that, if leveraged, might provide a roadmap for more successful programs to counter the very violent extremism we so fear.
Today, we have a generation of young change-makers, including Muslim millennials, who are participating, positively, in addressing societal problems through nonviolent approaches to economic, social and political issues. We need to pay close attention to these voices.
Sonenshine is former under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs. She is a frequent contributor to The Hill and serves on the board of PeaceTech Lab, which uses new technologies to advance peacebuilding.