Colombo, Sri Lanka, February 14 to 16, 2017 – The Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) in partnership with Near East South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies, National Defence University, Washington DC, had a workshop on ‘Radicalization in the Levant, North Africa and South Asia’.
There were about 30 participants representing various countries in the three regions. The government officials, military personnel, non-state actors and academia engaged in dialogue and discussions on radicalization and the strategies and approaches on counter radicalization and de-radicalization in their respective countries and the regions.
On the first day, the session focused on the Levant as various speakers delivered presentations on the radicalization, violent extremism and the impact of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the region and the society in general. The discussions were focused on radicalization in the region particularly in the countries that the participants represented.
During the second and third days, there was dialogue on the pull-push factors and security implications in the sub regions and their perspectives on the pull-push factors. Among many other factors discussed, shifting identities of youth; lack of socio-economic opportunities and psychological dilemma due to lack of feeling of fulfillment, and the appealing messages of the ISIS were flagged as key factors for radicalization.
Most importantly, discussions focused on countering radicalization through various means and de-radicalization through rehabilitation. Many of the discussants agreed on the need for education and a system of education that could lead to finding an identity that fits the youth. By way of introducing educational programmes that teach religion and theology in depth which has different connotations to militancy was thought to be successful in providing an alternative to violent extremism propagated by the militant groups. Also inter country cooperation to counter radicalization in the regions, creating counter narratives of religious extremism such as the use of a different approach from the religion to teach life philosophy, creating tolerant societies, and making available spaces to express anger and resentment were proposed as transformative acts while as a countering measure making a strong intelligence service across countries was also proposed by the participants.
The debate on how youth get radicalized continued as different opinions surfaced on how radicalization happens. An idea surfaced that immediate networks have an impact on youth while returning fighters in the case of the Levant and North Africa also seem to impact on youth remaining in the region to get attracted to the ‘cause’. Therefore the need to implement de-radicalization rehabilitation was seen as a key component in the strategy in countering radicalization that leads to extremism and terrorism.
However much the effort is put on these strategies and action to counter radicalization and de-radicalize youth or whoever could fall victim to terrorism, not having counter extremism propaganda was seen as a shortcoming in pursing the challenge of facing radicalization. While strengthening security is also a priority in this plan, that alone is not effective to counter violent extremism and terrorism. Having the will to find a political solution altogether was seen as the major requirement as that could be the most effective way of offering something more appealing than what organizations like ISIS offer to the youth.