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Young peacebuilders act against extremism

Hundreds of young peacebuilders from across the globe gathered in New York City on 28 September 2015 for one purpose – redefining the role of young people in countering violent extremism.

I was one of them.

Along with three other Australian youth delegates, I was at the One95 Global Youth Summit Against Violent Extremism to collaborate, share and learn from other delegates – as well as help inform policy directions for national governments.

Representing the ACT, ANU law student Jeeven Nadanakumar, said “Fostering social cohesion is the best way to counter violent extremism and achieve national security - not the other way around.”

In the lead-up to the Summit, we all helped draft a Youth Action Agenda, articulating what young people know about violent extremism and what they are doing in their communities to tackle it. The statement  was a call to action for governments, NGOs, and policy-makers to seize this moment and engage young people as partners against violent conflict and extremism.

The Youth Action Agenda states that youth are often framed “as either perpetrators of violent extremism or as possible victims of recruitment into violent groups. However, this narrative fails to capture the fact that most young people are part of the solution. They are not turning to violence. Young people around the world are working to build peace and prevent violent extremism.”

What struck me the most about the summit was the passion that these young people have.

Some were former extremists. 

Countering violent extremism narrative often fails to capture the fact that most young people are part of the solution. They are not turning to violence. Young people around the world are working to build peace and prevent violent extremism.”

– Youth Action Agenda

Others were directly affected by war or were victims of violent attacks in countries ranging from Somalia through to Iraq.

Five of us also had the chance to showcase our work. I spoke about my work at The Point Magazine and how we are giving communities and young people a voice to speak about these complex issues, without being drowned out by vocal commentators. International delegates seemed surprised and impressed that we were hosting these types of discussions in The Point.

The Federal Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, who supported our delegation, said the Summit “was a fantastic opportunity to showcase some of the cutting edge work that young Australians are doing to counter violent extremism in our country. The Point Magazine is a case in point. The Australian Government is proud to work in partnership with young people who are committed to building peace in a world that is too prone to hate and violence."

The room throughout the day was buzzing with discussions about some of the world’s biggest issues as young minds collaborated on how best to approach countering violent extremism (CVE).

True, some CVE projects have failed. Many young delegates outlined why they had failed. And that led to practical advice on how to address these failures and improve the success rates of such projects.

The summit attracted online criticism from columnist Rami Khouri, senior fellow at the American University in Beirut. “The main problem in this well-meaning effort is that none of this has worked in recent years, and young people have emerged as the heart of many terrorism movements — in the Middle East and increasingly in Western states as well,” he wrote for Al Jazeera online.

He argued that efforts to counter violent extremism should be dismissed as a distraction because they ignore the core reasons why people become radicalised. And he linked the issue to United States foreign policy and military intervention in Middle Eastern countries by the US and its allies.

That argument seems simplistic.

Mr Khouri fails to acknowledge that young people at the heart of terrorist movements are often influenced by adults preying on young people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities. These people are bullies with warped interpretations of the world and they are exploiting young people to pursue their own ideological ends.

Social factors need to considered, especially when talking about young people deciding to take the route to violent extremism. There is no one reason why someone chooses to take that path. 

So it is critical to adopt a multi-faceted approach because there are many reasons why young people turn to violent extremism.

Countering violent extremism doesn’t focus solely on preventing young people from potentially becoming terrorists. The ripple effects of violent extremism on our society extend far beyond national security threats. They also impact on social cohesion and community harmony.

We all have a role in protecting that, ensuring that hate and violence do not threaten our peaceful way of life here in Australia or elsewhere. 

The summit’s Youth Action Agenda looks at many practical approaches to improving CVE work, including education, and projects that involve families, religious leaders and youth leaders.

Young people at the summit strongly recommend grassroots-level initiatives by various sectors to help address the issue.

This is a collective responsibility, one where everyone has a role to play.

Certainly, we must discuss the impacts of overseas conflicts and our responses to these. But we must not allow terror to flourish, despite the critics of CVE measures.

The Point

Hundreds of young peacebuilders from across the globe gathered in New York City on 28 September 2015 for one purpose – redefining the role of young people in countering violent extremism.

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