Why Young People are Drawn in to Extremism

A rather alarming number of young people are drawn towards extremism of all kinds. When we start to consider the factors that contribute towards this, it is not so surprising.

An article on the BBC website, entitled ‘Islamist Extremism; Why young people are being drawn to it’, outlines three factors that we would all recognise in terms of matters that affect young people. These 3 factors are:

  1. Social Media
  2. Counter Culture
  3. Impressionable

Alongside this, an article by Tim Elmore on his ‘Growing Leaders’ website offers ‘5 Reasons Extremist Groups are Attractive to Youth’. These 5 factors are:

  1. Social media connection
  2. Contrarian viewpoint to mainstream thought
  3. The offer to become someone significant
  4. Grievances against society as a whole
  5. The challenge to invest your life in something big

Both articles are worth the short read, especially Elmore’s article as it offers practical suggestions to address these issues.

Perhaps the clearest rationale for highlighting the vulnerability of youth towards extremism comes from the ‘Kings College International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation’. An insight piece written by Shiraz Maher, titled ‘The Roots of Radicalisation? It’s Identity, Stupid’, perhaps gives it way in the title but the following quote sums it up:

Yet, strip away all the grievances and myriad individual triggers that might drive an individual to join an extremist group and you find underlying issues of identity and belonging.”

The phrase ‘issues of identity and belonging’ will be familiar to parents of teenage children across the world; it’s almost part of the process of travelling through adolescence.

Maher is keen to point out that this is true of all forms of extremism:

The underlying ingredients are always the same: righteous indignation, defiance, a sense of persecution and a refusal to conform. Put this way, it easy to imagine another life where the po-faced Islamist preacher Abu Waleed is a beer-swilling lout hurling abuse from the terraces of his underperforming team.”

It was this last sentence that hit home with the approach taken in the resource “Where’s the line?”. Football hooliganism is a form of extremism and the process of moving from being an ‘ordinary fan’ to a ‘violent hooligan’ has strong similarities to other forms of radicalisation, as does moving from a ‘general animal rights supporter’ to taking up violence against individuals and organisations that are perceived to exploit those rights.

Both of these scenarios are used by teachers who need to explore extremism, whilst being concerned to manage the discussions and minimise potential conflict within a classroom. A classroom full of young people who, as we can see are in the transition from child to adult, are most at risk of falling victim to those quick to recruit someone to their cause.

What can you do about it?

The answer, as is most often the case, is education. Helping young people identify where, when and how they are being ‘targeted’ with social media messages, stories and images which are designed to draw them down the path of extremism. To give them skills to challenge the messages and stories whilst supporting them as they continue to develop their identity and sense of belonging in a world which they will inherit.

For more information on “Where’s the line?” prevent educational resource, please click here to see a walk-through of the resource. If you would like a free one week trial of the resource, you can request one by clicking here.


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