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Alternative Narrative

The area of efforts of “working with” violent extremism: Finding the starting point!

The area of efforts of “working with” violent extremism: Finding the starting point!

What is being reflected on this paper is coming from my own personal opinion about interventions and practices I think it should be taken in order to have an effective approach that is being practical and adaptable from theory into practice. First, it of all what makes theory something that is well thought of, well tested somehow, and what is most important is the transferability of theories according to the local reality, context and the groups we are working with them. In order for such transferability to happen then we need to have a rich experience by the organization doing that, this organization really need to have a very clear mandate and approaches towards working in the field of transforming violent extremism.

After that being said, now, we need to come to the next point of being practical. On what level we are talking? It is important to be realistic and to have a clear mission and if not, clear objectives that you are working for and directing and channeling your efforts to serve. To simplify this matter, there are three obvious levels for the interventions in the area of transferring violent extremism and these are can be looked at as who are the actors in this. We have three main actors; at the government level, at the civil society level, and at the youth (young person) level. We will not be going into what entails to be working on the governmental level because it is not the aim of this paper. The main focus is to sensibilise the efforts being done in this area as a practitioner coming from civil society background.  

Focus on the preventing role of youth work (not the de-radicalization)

This is an important element in the whole mindset of transforming and/or preventing violent extremism is to come from such a working style of preventing. Which means that we prevent the “unwanted” to occur instead of waiting for it to happen and then to come with a set of trials of reversing or removing the action or what has happened already. Having such mindset of preventing or even transforming really matter and it will be reflected in how and why we are designing programs in this area.   

Another keyword was mentioned in this title as well as having to focus on the aspect and the value of youth work as a mechanism for preventing violent extremism. Youth work is being understood and practiced in various ways in different contexts in different countries. Even the age group for what defines a young person is also varied in different contexts and in different countries. You also may have your own and professional understanding of what it means by the youth work. Stressing on the value and importance of youth work is something worth keeping in the mind wither in related meetings or in designing future youth projects.

Set of competencies

Recommendations for local intervention in the area of Preventing Violent Extremism. The below video is trying to put some context around competencies to be developed with youth in order to strengthen community resilience. The video stresses some important aspects to be considered and one of them is the aspect of youth agency. This video is the results of primary research I Dare for Sustainable Development did during 2017 as part of the scoping phase of a project around preventing violent extremism in Jordan.

With that comes two dimensions that need to be reflected upon:

  1. Working on the set of competencies for (civil society and its workers) organizations and for the youth.
  2. Agreeing on a general understanding of the word “competencies”

The topic around competencies is really detailed and have many aspects and factors to be considered. For the sake of having a starting point, we can keep this through the lens of youth work sense with this we would have the young person in the center of what we are doing and this is a vital aspect.

Before moving into proposing a set of competencies for working on them (developing and acquiring) we need first to establish and common understanding of what it means the word “competency”. Competency is better understood by visualizing a triangle and the three corners of the triangle represent three important factors: knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Therefore, in order to work on a certain competency, it is not enough alone to tackle the aspect of the knowledge or the skills or the attitudes all standing alone. The three factors and important inter-related dimensions that we need to keep in mind, to dedicate the time and to design youth programs reflecting and catering for the three factors together: knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Now, in order to identify and to decide on which sort of competencies you need to work on? And to develop programs around? Then you need to look at your context that you are operating in and here comes in value your accumulated knowledge as active and engaged civil society and as a practitioner. Moreover, having in mind that there are techniques that you would use such as running a human-centered design approach, running a pilot and then performing a systemization would lead to concerned and tested results of a relevant set of competencies you would work on and having them as part of your program/project you are designing.   

By moving into the UNSCR 2250 about youth active in building sustainable peace and security within their communities, here is another video showing recommendations by the Jordanian youth were I Dare for Sustainable Development worked on 16 months long project Feb. 2017 and May 2018 with the youth towards finding a local translation for the UNscr 2250 in Jordan. Below you will find a video showing the recommendation by the youth and after that a summary document where there is a stress on the need to strengthening community resilience.

Summary for recommendations for translating the UNscr 2250 in local reality by the Jordanian youth:

Link for the document


Having a practical approach: moving from theory into practice

The Positive Youth Development theory which was developed by Karren Pittman in 1990, would provide a relevant and practical start for understanding which set of competencies you would like to develop within your program. By looking at the six C’s presented through the positive youth development theory we would see six main categories, there are sort of general understanding of what each category would mean but also, if you are a practitioner and engaged with youth work already then you would have your own definitions for each category reflecting your accumulated knowledge and practices that would enable your organization achieve its own mission and goals.  

  1. Connections: supporting a young person in creating and nurturing their own connections with themselves, peers, family, and community.
  2. Confidence: nurturing and enabling means for young people to be able to strengthen and unleash their confidence. In addition to having mechanisms for reconnecting with what boosts their self-confidence. Part of that would be the youth agency.
  3. Character: supporting a young person to be able to identify, relate and manifest their own values and what gives meaning to their life. part of that would be intellectual autonomy.
  4. Contribution: having meaningful engagement and active involvement and participation in life spheres; at the community, personal and professional levels.
  5. Competence: competencies development and acquiring is something vital in youth work as this is part of the attitude and the mindset of having a life-long learning approach.
  6. Caring: working on the emotional intelligence part of the youth and this would involve aspects related to compassion, empathy, and emotional wellbeing.

Providing young people with alternative and positive narrative

Another valuable aspect to be considered when working in the area of transforming violent extremism. There is a need to migrate from the mindset of acting against, combating and countering approaches since this in itself is not innovative nor provides solutions to the phenomena of being engaged with violent extremism. Moreover, stemming from the mindset of prevention and transforming in the first place then this makes a lot of sense and even leads to having concrete interventions based on tangible and engaging objectives.

Too often we hear the concept of “engaging”; engaging the youth meaningful but, my observation is that for those who are actively working with youth or on those topics, are yourself and your organization are engaged already with the topics you are working with? This is a very determined question to be able to have an answer to. If you are not engaged actively and meaningfully then how you would be involved in designing a program involving youth engagement?!

Effective engaging is not a technical word it is an approach that can be actioned into everyday life, this particular point is what really matters and makes the difference, being able to relate to the things we work with or read or come across our way.

Regional dimension: discussions of regional reality and dimensions  

Are we looking for an added value here? I am not sure about this point! But, what matters is that there is a need for establishing venues for regional collaborations and common spaces for coming together and facilitating some sort of exchange which would be an added value on the level of sharing knowledge and best practices.

However, there is a need to also put into perspective what do we mean by regional dimension since this can be tightened very much to the position you are taking right now? To make it simple again, if we are talking EuroMed then it is going to be North-South context, for sure, it can be something else depending on the context and the scope of work.

While keeping in mind the topic of preventing violent extremism then within the EuroMed area there are countries who are more active on the topic in countries where they have vibrant civil society organizations which are already active in working with youth and in the area of preventing violent extremism or as we would like to call it in IDare for Sustainable Development, strengthening community resilience. For instance, in Jordan, Tunisia, and Morocco there has been tremendous efforts being performed maybe this could be attributed due to the geographical proximity and perhaps due to the number of foreign fighters who have joined the fight in Syria during the period fallen in 2011-2017.

Regional collaboration is for sure a need and more than exchanging of best practices, approaches, and knowledge, we need to have concrete regional programs with actions involving the youth from the EuroMed region. We are looking here at behavioral change manifested in making young people and the community, in general, more resilient towards violent extremism.

Instead of wasting the time trying to get to know why violent extremism happens if it is political or for religious ideologies… or is it economically powered, the ultimate obvious fact is that we are in need for strengthening community resilience having the people and the youth with a conscious approach to deciding that not to be engaged with non-peaceful activities.

For being resourceful, it is worth mapping and naming the sort of violent extremism that would exist in the EuroMed region. This would make it more possible for practitioner and actors to be able to relate this to their reality.  Then, we would have concrete approaches and interventions designed around this. This would also be important to help in laying the foundations for having an understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it. We also need to establish a profound understanding that is open in its nature for why people and communities would be engaged in violent and hateful acts. As in many situations, such behavior is being based on lack of awareness and even understanding for what is going on and what is the manifestation of a behavior that is being based on racism and discrimination without even realizing that.

By Suha Ayyash

Efforts in the area of youth work to prevent violent extremism: EuroMed regional level


Coming soon, future activities:

  • Youth work against violent radicalisation: competencies development training. Training course, Italy, 4-9 March 2019.
  • Study visit in Belgium, Oct. 2019.

Other relevant useful resources on the topic of Preventing Violent Extremism:

Youth Work against Violent Radicalisation International Conference Malta, 28 – 30 November 2017

Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalisation that Lead to Terrorism: Ideas, Recommendations, and Good Practices from the OSCE Region

Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism An Initial Rapid Evidence Assessment and Analysis Plan Examining Local Authority Action Plans and Programming Elements

Young people and extremism: a resource pack for youth workers

YOUTH WORK AGAINST VIOLENT RADICALISATION Theory, concepts and primary prevention in practice

The contribution of youth work to preventing marginalisation and violent radicalisation A practical toolbox for youth workers & Recommendations for policy makers

Preventing Radicalisation to Terrorism and Violent Extremism practitioners

RAN ISSUE PAPER Annex to RAN’s Manifesto for Education: The role of non-formal education in P/CVE

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