The Herald

Youth work can help tackle violent extremism

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FOLLOWING events in Berlin and others before it we run the risk of fearing and hating whole cultures, faiths and nationalit­ies because of the actions of a small number of individual­s.

It is easy to feel threatened by anyone who appears different – refugees, asylum seekers or anyone with a background dissimilar to ours. We fear what we do not understand and hate what threatens us.

Extremist and radicalise­d behaviour are a threat to our security but there are many strands of extremism. We have a responsibi­lity to remember that extremism and radicalisa­tion do not just exist within one nation, community or faith group. In the UK, for example, we still face the threat of sectarian violence in parts of the country as well as far-right extremism. If the feeling of threat leads to radicalisa­tion and extremism, then we need to look within ourselves and work out how we tackle it and prevent it taking root in other communitie­s too.

We all have the potential to fear and stereotype and to then exclude, belittle or ridicule. Recognisin­g the potential in ourselves to fear and hate is key to overcoming it. By doing so we minimise the opportunit­ies for people to be radicalise­d as we create a community that embraces the difference­s in people.

Youth work has a particular­ly significan­t role to play in this. In May 2016, the Council of the European Union said the safe environmen­t it provides can allow young people to feel a sense of belonging, give them positive peer influences and prevent negative peer pressure leading to violent radicalisa­tion.

Youth work methods support young people to be themselves and part of a community, and to find positive ways in which to address the issues they are passionate about.

I run the Action on Sectariani­sm website for YouthLink Scotland (www. actiononse­ctarianism.info) and have seen how, given the opportunit­y to discuss their views and be presented with alternativ­e options, young people’s attitudes change.

It is extremist views which validate violence. Let us not focus on who is to blame for these awful events. Instead we should focus on preventing it from happening again and creating a safer, more inclusive and accepting future for young people.

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