7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Promoting young people as peacebuilders

Promoting young people as peacebuilders

How can engaging youth prevent violent extremism?

Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 09:15 to 10:30

Key points

•    It is important to better understand how radical ideologies manipulate youth by appealing to their desire for dignity.
•    Radicalisation does not occur in a single moment; it is a long-term process that requires specialised approaches.  
•    Policymakers and civil society leaders need to be fully and totally informed to address the root causes of radicalisation.


Violent extremism is growing and capturing the hearts and minds of young people globally. Their sense of disengagement and marginalisation has left them vulnerable to recruitment.

European officialsand civil society leaders stressed the importance of engaging youth as allies against extremism, sharing a common goal to build resilience in societies against radical ideologies and to empower change-makers to inspire a culture of tolerance. And not just in developing countries such asMorocco or Egypt, but also in European countries where violent extremism is on the rise.     

Speakers agreed on a need to better understand why radical ideologies attract youth in the first place. Research conducted by Search for Common Ground in Moroccoon the Islamic State (IS)group revealed that youth have dreams and ambitions that radical groups are expert atmanipulating. 

For many, ISoffers dignity to youth in a world with rampant inequalities and grave uncertainties surrounding their future. The vison of a united Islamic state also attracts young people who want to counter the power and outsized influence of the West. As long as these challenges remain unresolved, youth will remain vulnerable to radical ideologies. 

Rarely, speakers agreed, do youth become radicalised in a single moment. It is a long-term shift in thinking that is tough to deconstruct among young minds. 

Search for Common Ground finds that fact-based arguments simply do not work, nor do emotional appeals that try to help young people see the terrible harm that violent, radical groups inflict. Really listening to radicalised youth– understanding their experience and world views – occurs far too rarely.By dismissing their perspectives, we areironically reinforcing their indignation. 

Addressing youth grievances, especially in fragile societies, is a core focus of EuropeAid’s work. Whether in education or health programmes, youth are conceived as a cross-cutting group that need active, not passive inclusion.When it comes to counter-radicalisation programmes, interventions are targeted at young men who make up over 80 % of radicalised youth. 

Within these programmes, the words used to talk about radicalisation and violent extremism has come into sharper focus. The phenomenon has increasingly become synonymous with ‘Islamic radicalisation’, but this is not how European officials conceive of it. They are confronting radicalisation on many different fronts that extend beyond Islamic extremism.

The European PeaceBuilding Liaison Officenoted that while they too generically use the words ‘violent extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’ in policy papers and funding proposals, the reality on the ground is that they are mostly working with Islamicyouth. Political correctness applies less to them in the field. 

Understanding the social, political and religious dynamics in countries confronting radicalisation is a major challenge; developing practical, effective solutions is even harder.Policymakers and civil society leaders need to be fully and totally informed to really solve the root causes of radicalisation.


Theresa, a young peacebuilder whose cousin died fighting against IS, said that WorldVisionhelped her see that IS fighters represent themselves, not Islam as a religion.She is now a voice for tolerance and religiousunderstanding among youth in her community.

Organised by

    Sonya Reines-Djivanides
    Executive Director
    European Peacebuilding Liaison Office
    Noufal Abboud
    Country Director, Morocco
    Search for Common Ground
    Theresa .
    Young Peacebuilder
    World Vision Lebanon
    Malgorzata Wasilewska
    Head of Division Conflict Prevention, Peacebuilding and Mediation Instruments
    European External Action Service
    Elisabeth Pape
    Head of Unit Fragility and Resilience
    European Commission - DG for International Cooperation and Development
    Séverin Yao Kouamé
Photo gallery

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