Updated: Jul 10
Specifically targeting youth for recruitment is increasingly becoming a key strategy of terrorist groups. Youth are easy to instrumentalize for criminal purposes due to their ability to escape suspicion. More importantly, however, they are easier to manipulate than adults and, once indoctrinated, can make for loyal foot soldiers furthering the groups’ agenda without asking too many questions.
Daesh in particular has been noted for its strategic prowess in attracting children and teenagers. To this end, the group has invested considerable resources into creating its own ‘jihadi cool’ subculture through flashy magazines and videogames promising excitement, fame and comradeship to young people. Especially to socially and economically marginalized youth lacking a sense of belonging and perspective within mainstream society, this ‘jihadi cool’ branding may act as a strong attractor and point of entry from which further radicalization and indoctrination with the groups’ resentful ideology may be pursued by malicious actors.
When working with youth on the basis of personal trust, your efforts in engaging vulnerable children and teenagers and providing them with a sense of self-worth, belonging and purpose may be key for preventing them from seeking achievement of such psycho-social values through engagement with terrorist groups. The present how-to guide sketches some activities suitable to equipping young people with the mental strength as well as cognitive and social capacities to resist the appeal of violent extremism, thereby fostering the resilience of your target group against radicalization and ensuring the wellbeing of your community.
Planning your youth project
Below some activities are sketched out intended to provide guidance. They are based on the author’s experience in project work, as well as a review of a number of already existing projects. Each section provides links to relevant projects from which you may take additional inspiration, though you are encouraged to design your project in a way most feasible and impactful for your target community. The following factors should inform your approach:
Availability of resources – most of the activities suggested below do not require substantial material resources for their implementation; nonetheless, you should inform yourself about funding possibilities and draw up a budget plan for your project in order to determine your options.
Needs of your target community – where do you see the greatest potential for action within your target community? Where do you see demand for youth engagement, and which types of action are perhaps already being covered by governmental or non-governmental actors? A good strategy to find out about the types of activities that might be most impactful is to partner with civil society or governmental organizations as well as local schools and consult with them.
Your own expertise – you do not need to be a professional instrumentalist in order to lead a music ensemble or choir – but some knowledge of music certainly will have an impact on your credibility and the success of the project. If you want to implement a project in a field you are less knowledgeable about, you might consider recruiting volunteers or paid staff with specialized expertise.
Expected size and composition of your group – none of the activities described below has an explicit limit in terms of membership. On the contrary, you should make sure no one with an interest in participating is excluded. However, a debate club or a theatre group may require a different design whether it has 5 or 30 members. Furthermore, for obvious reasons, the concrete contents of your project should be adapted to the average age and mix of gender and religious orientation among your participants.
Legal framework – restrictions on the right to assembly, the right to association or freedom of speech may restrict your options. Ascertain that you do not act outside of what is legal so as to not put yourself or your protegees at risk.