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Education and radicalization: security or development?


Evidence shows that  higher levels of education do not necessarily ensure  decreased radicalization. In fact, many of those who have engaged in violent extremism successfully completed high school or university. To understand this phenomenon, the Platform, in collaboration with Human Security Collective, The Hague Institute and the International Center for Counter Terrorism (ICCT), organized a workshop to explored the links between education and radicalization as part of the Spark IGNITE! Conference 2016.

Understanding and dissecting education and radicalization

Three are at least two competing approaches to the role of education in preventing radicalization. Does taking a hardline – securitized – approach, where allegedly radical ideas and behaviors are suppressed and diverging opinions are shut out of the conversation increase the risk of violence? Does a developmental approach that encourages critical thinking and exchange of ideas suffice? How can these approaches be balanced to meet the growing challenge of radicalization?

Starting with an overview of some of the dilemmas related to radicalization, Agnese Macaluso, researcher at The Hague Institute for Global Justice, explained that the relationships between education and radicalization is not straightforward. Education creates expectations: degree holders expect jobs and a social status that reflects their qualifications and skills. Where these expectations cannot be met, frustration and a feeling of injustice can give rise to susceptibility to radicalization. As Floor Kroft of RadarAdvies argued, education alone is not enough. Education must go hand-in-hand with the creation of real, sustainable job opportunities.

But what about education itself? How must we adapt education to enhance our ability to root out radicalization? The participants in the workshop identified a number of approaches. Fostering tolerance between religions and ethnicities is crucial in societies where divisions are emerging or established. To this end, Indira Aslanova of Search for Common Ground presented programs undertaken in Kyrgyzstan, where secular elements are included in religious curricula, and vice versa, to promote mutual understanding and appreciation.

In The Netherlands, Heleen Cousijn explained, Diversion is helping teachers and students to discuss taboo topics and to understand that conversation is the best way to challenge the assumptions that underlie marginalization and drive radicalization. From a more global perspective, Dr. Eri Park of University College Roosevelt presented the UCARE curriculum, which provides a toolkit to foster citizenship and social skills by teaching high-school students social competences, building resilience against those factors that can lead to radicalization.

Takeaways from group sessions

After learning about the various approaches to radicalization, the workshop’s participants split into groups, exchanging ideas about the challenges and opportunities in using education as a tool against radicalization. The interactive conversations generated a number of valuable insights.

For example, it was noted that the preference for security-based approaches to deal with radicalization is driven by a need to measure and quantify the success of counter-radicalizations efforts. Governments should not prioritize hard data if this prevents alternative approaches from gaining traction.

Another interesting insight from the group discussion was that while education should accentuate differences between people and continue to teach tolerance and understanding, there should also be a renewed focus on common identities and similarities, to help build a sense of belonging to the same community or group.

The workshop highlighted that being neutral in the face of radicalization is nearly impossible. Personal misgivings about radical thoughts and ideas are difficult to avoid. However, despite these personal reservations about others’ perspectives, marginalization and alienation of those who think differently  in the classroom, and more broadly, should be avoided as much as possible. An open and inclusive conversation where differing opinions are not immediately shut down must be the objective.

Finally, the groups all noted the dangers of framing. Radicalization itself is a term that can lead to exclusion and stigmatization. Furthermore, especially in the West, there has been a substantial focus on radicalization of Muslim youth. It is crucial to keep sight of all types of radicalization – nationalist and left-wing, among others.