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Everyday prevention of radicalization


In the past year, the media image was strongly influenced by issues such as terrorism, Norwegian foreign warriors and radicalization. Politicians, government and civil society representatives have lifted the prevention of violent extremism high on the agenda. Awareness and the level of knowledge about the problems around the country have grown, but there are still many who work with and socialize with young people who are uncertain of their role in preventive work.

A social process. In his New Year's speech, Prime Minister Erna Solberg talked about "everyday integration", and presented some suggestions on what we can all do to contribute to the smooth integration of refugees. The same approach is also fruitful when it comes to radicalization: The radicalization process, like integration, has a central social component. We talk about radicalization when an individual begins to embrace an extremist worldview and, ultimately, becomes willing to act in accordance with the violent ideology he or she has adopted – and this process rarely goes through alone. Most often, it happens in close contact with other like-minded people. Self-radicalization also occurs – when the individual is radicalized without directly meeting other extremists. They sit at home and isolate themselves while consuming propaganda material. But so-called "lone wolves" do not even feel that they are alone. It often has an extensive social life on the internet, they have an imagined strong affiliation with like-minded people around the world, and are convinced that they are acting on behalf of their flock.
The biggest challenge for those who work with and deal with vulnerable youth is to notice when an individual goes from being a sympathizer to becoming a terrorist – that is, when it turns over.

Pressured life situation. It is difficult to assess who is at risk for developing extremist tendencies. The vast majority, most of them flirting with violent thought, pull away from it again. There is no "profile" of terrorists. They have very different backgrounds: Some are educated and come from good financial conditions, while others have struggled on the school bench and not able to establish themselves in the working life. Many, but not all, are dealing with crime and substance abuse. One common denominator is that many experience great pressure in their life situation, which opens up a quest for belonging and meaning. There may be identity, relational or mental problems. Then this is again linked to external factors, and one identifies one's own life situation with, for example, the notion that there is a war against Islam and Muslims, or on the opposite side, that our society is facing an invasion of Islam.

The biggest challenge for those who work with and deal with vulnerable youth is to notice when an individual goes from being a sympathizer to becoming a terrorist.

Across the border. If you first become part of a violent, extremist group, it lowers the threshold to carry out terrorism vigorously. You become more capable through training and by accessing a contact network. But it's also important to remember that most people who pay tribute to terrorist groups and spread an extremist message online don't pose a direct threat – but it does can be a reality if they come into contact with some kind of operational structure. Then you go from just thinking something, to actually having a throughput capacity. In everyday preventive work, it is extremely important to keep one's head cold and remember that although some people express extreme ideas, there is no automaticity that it will evolve into a radicalization process with acceptance for the use of violence and terror. However, it must be taken seriously. This balance is important.
The relationship between what a person means and expresses, and what a person is actually willing to do – that is, the relation between attitudes and behavior – is complex. Extreme attitudes need to be captured, but the way we do it can be decisive for whether we can manage to change them. For young people who struggle with belonging, and who are drawn to extreme and extreme groups, it is important to create safe spaces for discussion and exploration of thoughts and views.

Safe rooms for difficult conversations. How should we create this space for the development of critical thinking and compassionate commitment for all of humanity? How should we deal with the difficult disagreements without increasing the potential for conflict? I believe that such rooms can be found everywhere, as long as the framework is safe and based on a human rights point of view. It can be in libraries, in the classroom, in religious communities and in leisure clubs. Simply where people meet on a daily basis.
In Minotenk, among other things, we have invited young Muslims to discuss US foreign policy face to face with US diplomats, and we have facilitated dialogue with Islamists, politicians, PSTs, scientists and journalists. We also brought with us former extremists around schools to give a personal face to the story of how the way in and out of an extremist lifestyle can unfold. Such conversations can often be emotional and heated, but they are also incredibly educational for all parties. We can all help create such safe spaces for difficult conversations. We can all participate in everyday prevention. We must have a clearly defined goal in promoting critical and caring thinking, without a judgmental and offensive statement. Instead of trying to give the young answers, it is more appropriate to ask them questions. Challenge, encourage them to devise solutions and consequences, and guide the exchange of opinion so that it does not affect any of the participants personally. There is a much greater chance that one can change dangerous attitudes if the person arrives at the positive attitude change himself – instead of having it addressed from above.

Linda Noor is the general manager of Minotenk and a trained social anthropologist. She contributes regularly to Ny Tid with the column Krysskultur.

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