Saving Muslim Youth From Extremism – OpEd


I once organized a week-long world youth festival on dialogue among civilizations in Vilnius, Lithuania. That was sixteen years ago and, yet, I still have fresh memories of that wonderful experience that brought together several hundred youth from sixty countries for what turned out to be a highly successful experimentation in cultural exchange and the promotion of the ideas of diversity, tolerance, and culture of peace. Today, watching the news reports of various atrocities perpetrated by young recruits for extremist causes, I am convinced that what we desperately lack are such efforts to promote intra-cultural understanding and combat extremism through dialogue and tolerance of the other.

A big question is, of course, why the world is so slow in reacting to the dangerous growth of extremist ideologies that are wreaking havoc nowadays? Within Islam, big money behind radical charities disseminating the radical puritanical version of Islam is one factor, while the outside manipulation of certain powers for the sake of their own geopolitical interests is another. Certainly, the phenomenon of extremism and violent ideologies is complex and cannot be reduced to a simple explanation, its various root causes must be properly diagnosed. Like a spreading disease requiring proper treatment, political extremism feeds on ignorance and wrong and ineffective antidotes that give the false impression of containing it, when in fact it is resistant to so many conventional remedies. Extraordinary efforts must be expended on multiple fronts, above all education and pedagogy of non-violence, through various channels including the non-government organizations and UN itself, in order to neutralize this growing threat to world peace and stability.

Sadly, a global front against ISIS, which continues to inspire ‘lone wolf’ terrorists around the world, is still absent and there is not enough mobilization of resources to combat ISIS ideology of hatred and extermination of their opponents. We need world youth peace camps, among other things, in order to cultivate a breed of peace activists and leaders among the youth, the Muslim youth especially. Muslim schools everywhere should insert in their curriculum courses on Islam and peace and non-violence.

It is, of course, delusional to think that one type of extremism can be contained while another kind is left to grow. The European Muslim youth who grow up in ghettos and have serious identity problems partly due to the pervasive racism and Islamophobia are potential targets for the extremist recruiters who exploit their misfortunes and empower them. Therefore, these dissatisfied Muslim youth ought to be empowered differently, through economic and social uplift and respect and understanding, as well as exposure to the UN’s culture of peace and harmony. Yet, both in US and Europe, the terrorist atrocities have ignited utranationalist and xenophobic far-right passions that further alienate the marginalized “Muslim other” some of whom might be even more vulnerable to the lure of ISIS ideology as a result of their alienation.

With respect to the Munich attack, the teenage perpetrator was apparently brainwashed by the far-right, anti-immigrant propaganda and his example raises new alarm about the rising anti-immigrant waves in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. But, the bottom line is that the Munich shooter, irrespective of his ethnic background, was a German youth with mental problems who committed those atrocities on the fifth anniversary of the similar atrocities by another far-right extremist in Norway. The far-right and the “Islamist” extremism in fact mirror each other, and the only remedy is to save the youth from their destructive ideologies through proper means, hitherto lacking for the most part.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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