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Violent extremism and development are inextricably linked. Violent extremism is a major obstacle in the path of development, so understanding and preventing it becomes a high priority for development actors. What’s more, since the right development policies can help address the root causes of violent extremism, we are faced with a mutually beneficial situation where development and the prevention of violent extremism go hand in hand.
Complexity: understanding violent extremism’s social, economic and political origins
Looking at violent extremism from a solely economic point of view will not suffice; neither will taking only political or social elements into account. Causes of involvement in jihadist networks, for example, can be extremely diverse: from identity-related causes rooted in humiliation from the colonial era, to the political dimension, where both trust in governments and social contracts are broken across the MENA region, and from geographical elements through to the socio-economic. To prevent violent extremism, we must consider its full complexity. Prevention policies will need to be implemented through a genuinely multi-sectoral approach.
Three groups of vulnerable youth are highlighted: economically excluded youth, often with little or no education, young graduates who are either unemployed or stuck in low-paying jobs that don’t correspond to their qualifications, and young women who, although increasingly integrated into the education system, often remain excluded from the labor market. This exclusion and subsequent vulnerability can leave youth at risk of radicalization.
Teaching methods such as rote learning, or those that discourage critical thinking or fail to teach individual or collective responsibility, as well as education that does not equip the youth with the right mix of knowledge and skills to enter the labor market, all increase the risk of youth falling into violent extremism. Furthermore, when education no longer fulfills the role of driver of upward social mobility, and graduates remain economically, socially and politically excluded, the risk is even higher.
A combination of factors including the emergence of step-families and the decreasing authority of parents, and the apparent failures of feminism along with the crisis of masculinity, have all contributed to the emergence of new actors. These are adolescents, driven by a crisis in parental authority, and young women, often drawn in by the image of the “hero”, men who are ready to fight to the death for honor and whom they can “complement” as a good wife.
Violent extremism is a serious threat in both the North and the South. Although it can take different forms and have different effects on each shore, dangers resulting from exclusion and those education-related remain present across the region. The most glaring convergence is the bleak employment outlook for youth throughout the region, and this remains a major risk factor for vulnerable youth on both sides of the Mediterranean.
Lessons and outcomes
Youth policies: youth must be the central focus of policies that aim to prevent violent extremism. Youth policies must be organized with a long-term vision, and must consider the youth as societal actors, empowering them to take back their role in social, economic and political life.
Education: education can be a key instrument in the prevention of violent extremism. Initiatives are needed that promote pluralist thinking in schools, and pedagogic methods need to be streamed in that encourage civic engagement and critical thinking. In this way, school can help demystify the discourse of violent extremism. Also, the risks engendered by exclusion can be reduced if education focuses more on employability, better equipping students with the necessary vocational skills to find work and their place in social and political life.
To read the full policy paper in English, Arabic and French: Link