Last weekend, 10 Brussels youth houses had their ‘Day and night of the youth houses’. It’s a yearly tradition where all members gather for a day and night of festivities and fun. Most youth houses are doing very well and their membership keeps increasing.
Combatting violent extremism can involve organizing Peer-to-Peer (P2P) preventing violent extremism (PVE) programs and social media campaigns. While hundreds of PVE campaigns have been launched around the world in recent months and years, very few of these campaigns have actually been reviewed, analyzed, or assessed in any systematic way. Metrics of success and failure have yet to be fully developed, and very little is publically known as to what might differentiate a great and successful P2P campaign from a mediocre one. This article will provide first-hand insight on orchestrating a publically funded, university-based, online, peer-to-peer PVE campaign – 60 Days of PVE – based on the experience of a group of Canadian graduate students. The article provides an account of the group’s approach to PVE. It highlights the entirety of the group’s campaign, from theory and conceptualization to branding, media strategy, and evaluation, and describes the campaign’s core objectives and implementation. The article also analyzes the campaign’s digital footprint and reach using data gleamed from social media. Finally, the article discusses the challenges and difficulties the group faced in running their campaign, lessons that are pertinent for others contemplating a similar endeavour.
Exit work helping people leave an extremist movement, stop their use of violence and change their
opinions has only emerged fairly recently as a field of work. Programmes first came into existence in the
Western world at the end of the last century. The number of radicalised persons as such is rather limited in
size and heterogenous when it comes to kind of extremist ideology, background and motivations that make
them to leave the radical environment in the end. The approach adopted by the various existing exit
programmes differs. Some tend to put more emphasis on behavioural aspects (disengagement), others on
the ideology (deradicalisation). Some programmes are based on therapeutic psychologic insights, others on
youth-work methods. There are no standards in exit work when it comes to assessment, treatment and
registering casesThis range of methodologies and the limited number of cases make it interesting to look at
One field that is similar in terms of the process of leaving a group observed is that of cults or sects. Here,
there is a longer tradition of trying to help people get out, as well as a longer history of academic research
on both the cultic environment and leaving mechanisms. When scholar Tore Bjørgo designed one of the
first European exit programmes (in Norway, later implemented in Sweden and Germany), he found his
inspiration in Cultic Studies.
Providing a platform for an exchange of views on what exit work can learn from cults – and vice versa – the
RAN EXIT working group organised a meeting in close cooperation with the International Cultic Studies
Association (ICSA). It took place on 27-28 June in Bordeaux, France.
To a certain extent, it is difficult to distinguish between cults and extremist or radical groups Some cults do
commit violent acts that can be considered as disruptive for society, like the sarin attack on a Tokyo metro
station in 1995 by members of the cult movement Aum Shinrikyo.
Like cults, many extremist or radical groups also have strong internal control mechanisms, create
psychological changes in their members (such as a dependence and a strong degree of identification) and
have a ‘guru’ personality as leader, just like the invisible but always present figure of Al-Baghdadi in Daesh.
So there is no clear-cut line between the two, and there is rather a continuum on which groups can be
placed. For both cults and extremist or radical groups, the groups concerned will sometimes categorise
themselves in that way, but most are more likely to reject the label they are given by the outside world as
either prejudiced or pejorative.
Bringing two fields together also implies bringing together two vocabularies, both of which have their own
rich history of debate when it comes to definitions. To leapfrog this and keep the paper understandable, we
note the differing history of work on ‘cults’ and ‘recovery’ (leaving it) and ‘extremist groups’ and ‘exit’
(leaving it), whilst also noting the overlaps between the two, including with definitions1
This paper zooms in on the similarities and differences in terms of leaving cultic and radical groups. Before
concentrating on exit work / recovery, this paper will first look at the group mechanisms that are typical for
both extremist groups and cults, and the variations that can be found here. In the final section, challenges
and opportunities for further cross fertilisation will be explored.
Building resilience to violent extremism has become a matter of great concern for European cities that have experienced attacks or that fear experiencing them in the future. Mayors, municipal leaders and other local authority representatives are leading efforts to empower city governments across the EU and develop pragmatic and non-ideological policies. As increasing numbers of citizens rank violent extremism as one of their top worries, urban centres have effectively become the front line of the fight against radicalisation. It is in European cities where transnational extremist threats take shape in the forms of hate speech, recruitment networks, radical cells and terrorist attacks, and it is also in European cities where evidence-based plans to counter and prevent violent extremism at local level need urgently to be devised. Cities are obvious settings in which to implement the motto “think globally and act locally”.
Youth participatory action research is an approach where young people are trained in research skills to deliver their own research projects as a means of improving their own lives or the lives of those in their neighbourhoods. In this way, it flips perceptions about young people: rather than regarding young people primarily as subjects of research, it positions them as co-researchers, recognises the value of their ideas and opinions, and strengthens their contribution to bringing about change. (based on VeLure Roholt and Baizerman, 2013). This approach has been used by PUKAR, a research-focused non-governmental organisation in Mumbai, India. In response to increasing urbanisation – specifically, through the eyes of young people – youth participatory research has helped to encourage sustainability through innovation. http://pukar.org.in
Building relationships with young people could be described as the currency of youth work. The success of all of our other activities with young people depends on the rapport and trust created in this way. Our values and our perspectives on young people are central to this process. A concept developed by the psychologist, Carl Rogers, is useful in this context; ‘unconditional positive regard’ refers to the respect we hold for young people, a respect that is not based on their behaviour or attainment. Relationships are also central to how young people experience community. A way of understanding community is to consider the ‘three S’s of community’ – security, solidarity and significance – often thought of as the key requirements for human beings to experience a positive sense of community with each other. It is also worth reflecting on how far these are present in our own youth and non-formal learning activities with young people. Security means safety – not just physical, but also emotional and social safety to express fears or concerns, plus the extent to which young people feel they can be themselves when they are part of a group. Solidarity is that shared understanding of group purpose – and the accompanying feelings of belonging and being supported. Significance refers to a young person’s sense of being valued and listened to by others in the group – the sense that their existence and their contribution matters. (based on Clark, 1996) The GROW model The GROW model is a coaching model developed in the 1980s for use by youth workers to support individual young people in setting goals, solving problems and identifying appropriate actions to achieve their goals. The model guides a participant through a four-step process where GROW is an acronym for Goals, Reality, Options, and Will. See opposite link for a case study on how young people can be supported through mentoring.
Any kind of activity undertaken with others in relation to an issue of public interest or concern can be considered political activity – for example, getting together with others to set up a food bank for families who are struggling financially, or joining with others to respond to changes in a public service, such as, the closure of a hospital. When we do something like this we are not only being political, we are also acting out our citizenship. This reflects an understanding of citizenship that goes far beyond the limited notion of having a passport or voting in elections. When applied to youth work, these ideas build further on the perspective that sees young people in terms of their capacity. Rather than being seen as people who will attain full citizenship once they are old enough to vote or have acquired certain kinds of knowledge, young people are interpreted as ‘citizens now.’ Civic youth work is a practice that has emerged as a result of this interpretation of citizenship and of seeing young people’s capacity to be initiators and agents of social change. In contrast to a purely skills-based approach to citizenship, civic youth work draws on the concept of ‘civic literacy.’ This encourages young people’s learning on what it means to be democratic and to live democratically – and to learn by doing through addressing common problems in collaboration with others. Civic youth work could be described as a political approach to youth work. It challenges accepted social norms and asks questions – such as, ‘What is normal’, and ‘Who decides?’ Civic youth work also supports young people to analyse power relationships and challenge power dynamics, particularly in situations where they feel disempowered. Civic youth work recognises the importance of its underlying values – particularly fairness, diversity and democracy.